A two-year study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association revealed that dieting may be detrimental to long-term health. Researchers found that self-acceptance and making small behavioral changes worked better at achieving lifelong goals than counting calories.
In the study, one group of obese women was assigned dietary restrictions, while the second group of participants was taught how to pay attention to body cues such as hunger, and how to eat mindfully without judgment.
After two years the researchers reported:
- 92% of the non-dieting group stayed with the study, while 42% of the dieters dropped out.
- Cholesterol levels in non-dieters significantly decreased, while the dieters had no significant changes in their levels.
- Non-dieters lowered their blood pressure, while the dieters did not.
- Amazingly, non-dieters were four times more active than the dieters.
- The non-dieters reported improvements in self-esteem and less depression.
"We have been ingrained to think that large people can only make improvements in their health if they diet and slim down," said Lindo Bacon, Ph.D., one of the researchers and the author of "Health at Every Size."
"But this study tells us that you can make significant improvements in both metabolic and psychological health without ever having to step on the scales or count calories. You can relax about food and eat what you want."
Dr. Ellen Kamhi, Ph.D., said the study demonstrated that while exercising and eating nutritious foods are important to your health, there are other equally important components to well-being.
"The first step is to become aware of your eating patterns," she said. "If you tend to eat when stressed, then make adjustments. If you over eat when you are bored or overwhelmed, make it a point to identify these triggers and turn to another activity instead of food."
Kamhi added that making small changes daily is more doable than aiming for a huge 30-pound weight loss goal. "Just passing on that slice of bread can be a start," she said.
"Finally, stay positive. Think of the lifestyle changes you are making in terms of the benefits they will bring you such as more energy and better health and not what you may be missing," she said. "Give yourself some credit for every positive step you make, such as having a piece of fruit for dessert instead of that piece of cake."
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