The Dangers of Extreme Dieting


by Zara Husaini/Medill News Service

During my sophomore year of college, I interned at a woman's magazine. The staff dispelled many of the stereotypes of vain, cut-throat New York City editors. They were savvy but compassionate, creative and socially conscious.

But not surprisingly, weight loss tips were traded around the office like baseball cards. One editor (a woman of supermodel svelte proportions) swore by one simple stay-slim secret: she drank diet soda throughout the day. She claimed that the carbonation kept hunger pangs at bay. She skipped breakfast, skipped lunch, and sipped on calorie-free soda all day long.

Sure, there are tremendous health benefits that come with keeping off weight. On the flip side, women need to understand that there's a huge difference between a low calorie diet and a healthy one. In today's world of radical diets, diet pills and liquid cleanses, healthy dieting is a must.

It seems that women are sacrificing health in their pursuit of perfect bodies. The amount of misinformation surrounding the topic of weight is alarming and could have terrible repercussions.

I spoke to Chicago-based nutritionist Jim Karas to get a reality check.

Karas said that not eating can leave a women nutrient deficient.

A recent study found that women who drank diet soda were more likely to gain weight over time. They were also at greater risk for heart disease and diabetes. Karas explained that often the artifical sweeteners found in these drinks can trigger sugar cravings. He said that these artificial sweeteners can also be found in seemingly healthy foods such as yogurt and cereal.

While Karas does support the idea that calories determine how much weight a person gains or loses, he also said that there's one important component to this that so many people fail to understand: composition of calories.

"You always have to count calories, but you should always think about the thermic effect of food." Karas explained that when someone eats 100 calories of protein, the amount of work that the body performs exhausts 30 percent of those calories. About 70 calories are absorbed by the body. But the body absorbs 98 out of 100 calories of something fatty and sweet like a cookie.

Karas said he hasn't seen many women who aren't eating enough, but he has encountered many who are what he calls "sweet addicts" ?

"They eat 800 calories a day of just sweets and that's their diets," he said.

But what about crash diets and cleanses? "Disaster. Absolute disaster," Karas said. "They rid the body of metabolic reactive tissue. The scale goes down when you do these cleanses, but it's a loss of water." Karas said that pounds are not the only things that go missing when a person crash diets and goes on a cleanse: muscle composition and metabolic rates can drop as well.

"I cannot tell you how horrible they are," Karas said about cleanses.

And what about indulging? I've always heard that it's good to indulge in moderation, but what exactly does moderation mean? I asked Karas.

"We've lost all concept of moderation. People indulge every day. If you're at Starbucks, you're indulging, unless you're drinking black coffee or shaken iced tea that's unsweetened."

Karas said he believes that planning is the key to indulgence. While the idea of a "cheat day" is a big part of many weight loss plans, Karas said that too many are women are consuming close to 5,000 calories on cheat days.

If you ask me, the take away message from all this is simple: moderation is the key to a healthy diet and lifestyle.

View nutritionists and dieticians in Chicago in a larger map.


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