Why Crash Diets are Bad for Your Heart, and How to Fix It

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The idea of dieting has been around since before the 18th century. The first popular diet, “banting”, was born in the 1860’s. Named aptly after its creator, William Banting, the diet encouraged  a strict meal plan with a low calorie intake, and a restriction on carbohydrates in an effort to cause dramatic weight loss (sound familiar?). Banting, who was struggling with obesity, was recommended this diet by his doctor. When he lost weight, he released a booklet called "Letter on Corpulence," which gave rise to the popular diet.

To this day, diets promoting rapid weight loss, such as Banting, are still common and go by many names - crash diets, yo-yo diets, FAD diets. Although popular, these diets may be doing you more harm than good.  

The issue is that diets (as we define them today) are not sustainable. Once people see the results they want, or grow tired of the strict rules, they stop “dieting”.  We’ve taken a word that once referred to how someone ate as a way of living and twisted it to entail a restriction or enhancement of nutrients for a finite period of time.  

Even though dramatic weight loss may be achieved with extreme dieting, people typically gain more weight than they lost once they go off these diets. And your waistline isn’t the only thing in trouble, studies show these diets are also hurting your cardiovascular health.

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Impact on Heart Health

The American Heart Association recently published a study that showed higher rates of heart attack and stroke in those with fluctuating weight, blood pressure, and other measures. [1] Though experts don’t know exactly why rapid weight loss and subsequent weight gain impacts the heart, there are some potential explanations.

First, sudden weight loss is very stressful on the body. Due to the extreme nature of restrictive diets, you may be giving your body only one-third of the calories (or energy) it needs to thrive. Doing this forces your body to take energy from its fat cells, which is what helps people ultimately lose weight. As your body burns this fat, it deposits it in your bloodstream to be pumped out. When losing too much fat at one time, these fat deposits can bombard your heart and make it difficult to do its job.

Another explanation is that, in response to stressful dieting, the body will increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is the body’s alarm system. When your body senses it’s in danger, cortisol levels rise. Long term elevation of cortisol can cause weight gain, increased cholesterol, blood pressure and triglycerides, and increased anxiety or depression - all of which can have negative effects on your heart. [2]

Could persistent fluctuation in weight and cortisol be a contributing factor of heart disease? It very well could be. Therefore, we need a solution for gradual and sustainable health. So what are we to do? The answer is not sexy, it’s not quick, it may not be convenient, but it’s sustainable.

A Better Approach to Health

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Limit Processed Foods

Many people have their own definition for the word processed. Almost all of the foods we eat are somehow "processed." Oranges are cut from trees, beans are packaged into cans, and skim milk gets its fat separated out. But these are all examples of mechanical processing. Chemical processing is what makes our food unhealthy in many ways. Foods that have been chemically processed and made from refined ingredients and artificial substances, are generally known as “processed foods”.

These foods are unhealthy for multiple reasons. Many processed foods have excessive carbohydrates and contain fats that are destructive for the body. In addition, many processing methods themselves can remove or destroy certain nutrients, like fiber. Some food manufacturers try adding these nutrients back in the form of additives, but this does not seem to solve the problem.

Added preservatives, chemicals, and other synthetic substances present in processed foods are another reason to avoid processed foods. Studies have shown that these additives can both damage your heart and disrupt your hormones. [3]

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Be Physically Active, and Control Stress.

Physical activity can strengthen your heart, which allows it to more effectively pump blood throughout your body. Physical activity can also burn off excess calories and keep you lean. Experts recommend getting about 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. [4] Exercising for 300 minutes or more a week can provide even more health benefits. [4]

If you don’t have big chunks of time to work out, don’t fret. Anything is better than nothing. Try incorporating smaller bursts of exercises into your daily routine, like taking the stairs or going for short walks. These smaller bouts of exercise can add up to improve your well-being.

Any form or length of exercise can benefit your health - both physically and mentally. Studies show that being more active can also help relieve stress. [5] It boosts your endorphins and can lift your mood. [5] So next time you’re feeling too stressed to fit in a workout, maybe you’ll reconsider.

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Eat Sensibly

If you eat right in your everyday life, you won’t have to go on strict diets. This includes regularly getting a good balance of all three macronutrients: fats, proteins, and yes, even carbohydrates. Each of these nutrients plays a significant role in your body, so making sure you get enough of each is essential for good health (to find more about how your genetics influence your ideal balance of these nutrients, order a GenoPalate Report here).  It’s also important to get these nutrients from whole foods. For example, you can reach your daily carbohydrate needs by eating more fruits, vegetables, or whole grains. These foods are high in fiber, which is good for heart health.

Although incorporating more healthy, whole foods into your diet will improve your heart’s well-being, this is only one part of eating sensibly. Eating sensibly also means limiting foods that may be hurting your heart. This includes foods with high amounts of unhealthy fats and sodium, which can cause stress on your heart by affecting your cholesterol levels and increasing your blood pressure.

Reducing these foods can help both your heart and your overall well-being, but don’t get too hung up on certain dieting “rules”. Being too strict with your eating habits can negatively impact your emotional health, which can be counterproductive. To combat this, allow yourself the occasional treat. Rewarding yourself with a small indulgence every once in awhile can also prevent bigger splurges in the future.

The last part of eating sensibly includes not what you eat, but how you eat. This means watching your portion sizes and chewing slower and longer. Smaller portion sizes will encourage you to not overeat, while chewing slower and longer can help improve digestion and make you feel full for longer.

Ask Your Genes

Stop crash dieting and become a healthier you - the sustainable way. Order a GenoPalate Report today to begin your journey to better health. We’ll tell you how your genetics play into what you should be eating. Don’t stress over food. Instead, make it easy and enjoyable. Make it yours.

References

  1. Piening, Brian D, et al. “Integrative Personal Omics Profiles during Periods of Weight Gain and Loss.” Cell Systems, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 28 Feb. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29361466.

  2. “Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 19 Mar. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037.

  3. Sciammaco, S. Analysis Finds Hormone Disruptor Used In Cosmetics In Nearly 50 Different Foods. Environmental Working Group.

  4. Edward R. Laskowski, M.D. “How Much Exercise Do You Really Need?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 27 Apr. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/exercise/faq-20057916.

  5. “Exercise and Stress: Get Moving to Manage Stress.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 8 Mar. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469.

 
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