Diet is what one eats on a regular basis, and it can be as varied as people’s individual tastes and preferences, and is often based on popular cuisines of different cultures. But the term ‘dieting’ often has negative connotations because it brings to mind severe food restrictions, deprivation, feeling constantly hungry, etc. That’s because dieting is usually associated with weight loss, and calorie restriction is one way to achieve it.
Aesthetic reasons apart, weight loss should be aimed at promoting good health. As everybody knows, being overweight puts one at great risk of several disease conditions, including hypertension, heart disease, metabolic disorders, and knee problems. That makes weight loss highly desirable. However, dieting shouldn’t be about deprivation. It should be about building a healthy body through optimum nutrition.
If you delve deeper into the original reason of one becoming overweight, you are likely to see some sort of nutritional imbalance or deficiency. It might have resulted from missed meals, overindulgence in certain food items at the expense of others, substance abuse, or lack of vitamins or enzymes that reduced absorption of essential nutrients from food.
Statistics that considered the nutrition of 18,000 Americans over a period of 7 years show that obese people are nutritionally deficient compared to people of normal weight. Deficiency in Vitamins A, D, E and minerals calcium and magnesium were 20% higher in overweight and obese people.
One could argue that this discrepancy comes from overweight people eating more of junk food that generally lacks essential vitamins and minerals. But, research shows that it could actually be the other way around. There’s plenty of evidence that people who get the least amount of essential nutrients end up being overweight. Some of the possible reasons for this are discussed here.
Low nutrition causes fatigue
Our body needs many different nutrients for its metabolic functions. The production as well as actions of enzymes and hormones requires the presence and involvement of a number of vitamins and minerals. Low nutrient levels cause fatigue, making people more lethargic and less inclined to move about. The starting point of weight gain in many people is lowered physical activity.
Fat is another essential nutrient overweight people are commonly advised to remove from their diet. This can actually backfire because fat is necessary for making the cell membranes of every little cell in the body. Brain and nerves are almost entirely made up of fatty substance. Low-fat diets can cause mental fatigue, among many other problems.
Once people become less active and start gaining weight, they become even less inclined to perform physically taxing activities, preferring a sedentary life instead. You can see this even in sportspersons and people who had been physically active earlier.
Low nutrition slows down our metabolism
As we mentioned before, lowering the nutrient intake creates a deficiency of many vitamins and minerals that are essential for the metabolic functions of the body. Naturally, it results in a metabolic slowdown. Not just the lack of nutrients to carry out the life processes is responsible for the slow down. Our body’s defense mechanism, which tries to conserve available resources, also kicks in. Normal activities, like tissue regeneration, muscle building, and even the rate of sugar being burned for energy, come down.
Deficiency of Vitamin A is a typical case in point. We all know that this vitamin is essential for good vision. It is also important for cellular communication, maintaining a healthy immune system, and reproduction. But coming to how Vitamin A deficiency causes weight gain, we should look at its role on thyroid function.
Not many people are aware that Vitamin A is necessary for hormone synthesis, particularly the production of the thyroid hormone T3. Without sufficient amounts of this vitamin around, thyroid function can come down, resulting in hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is characterized by poor digestion, poor blood circulation, constant fatigue, low body temperature, water retention in the tissues, lack of initiative and general sluggishness. You can see that many of these symptoms are interrelated.
Poor digestion can result in lack of energy. Low body temperature and poor circulation can make one sluggish, and cause weight gain from inactivity. Water retention worsens it. Not surprisingly, hypothyroidism is one of the reasons for weight gain as well as the inability to lose excess weight.
Nutritional deficiencies disrupt hormone production
We have seen how Vitamin A efficiency leads to hypothyroidism and weight gain. Now take the case of Vitamin D. Generally considered an essential vitamin for the health of our bones and teeth, not many people know that this compound is actually a precursor hormone in the synthesis of a powerful steroid hormone called calcitriol.
Since vitamin D is essential for the mineralization of bones, its deficiency becomes apparent when children develop rickets or adults have a condition called osteomalacia or “soft bones” or develop osteoporosis or “porous bones.” But the role of Vitamin D deficiency in causing heart disease, cancers, and depression is not always taken seriously. Obesity as well as metabolic disorders like insulin resistance is now recognized as fallout of Vitamin D insufficiency.
Our body can make all the Vitamin D it requires from exposure to the UVB rays of sunlight. However, urban lifestyles and the skin cancer scare are keeping people from getting sufficient amounts of this vitamin naturally. Hence, dietary Vitamin D has become more important than ever in maintaining good health as well as preventing weight gain. Clinical tests show that most people have less than desired levels of this vitamin. That could explain, at least partially, the increasing obesity epidemic in economically developed countries.
Nutritional deficiencies trigger cravings
Our brain keeps track of our nutritional intake and responds to it by making us feel either hungry or satiated. When it senses lower nutrient levels, ravenous appetite is triggered and that results in cravings. Deficiency in Vitamin D, B-complex vitamins, calcium, magnesium, iron etc. commonly induces this response in the brain.
Most people who have been on long fast or severely restrictive diets would have been plagued by images of food and feasts. They become increasingly preoccupied by food as they become more deprived. This is the beginning of cravings. Unlike normal hunger which is easily assuaged by a meal, craving-induced hunger does not always remain under our conscious control. It often leads to abnormal eating patterns like bingeing. Another common feature is that they typically make you crave for high calorie foods that result in excessive weight gain.
A balanced diet is what you need
Calorie restriction may be necessary to reduce weight, but it should not be at the expense of a balanced diet. Meat, fish, pulses, whole grains, vegetables, and whole fruits should be part of the diet, and they should provide all the proteins, fats, complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals that your body needs. Avoid processed food items like refined flour, sugar, hydrogenated fats, alcohol, fruit juices, sweetened beverages etc. Your body has no real need for these man-made foods.
Dieting for life
The usual concept of dieting can be summed up as a short-term activity for immediate results. This is wrong and extremely misleading, to say the least. Ideally, you should follow a healthy, balanced diet tailored to your requirements and lifestyle for a lifetime.