Friday, August 9, 2013

Dieting is Harmful to Your Health

In the last blog I presented overwhelming evidence that our obsessive focus on weight is misguided when it comes to actual mortality data.  In a previous blog I discussed the futility (failure) of dieting.  Whether your goal is prevention of lifestyle disease or weight-loss, I encourage you to take the obsessive focus off of weight and focus on the real problems instead--lack of activity and plant foods, and a high animal (saturated) and processed (trans) fat diet.  Today I hope to strengthen that focus by sharing about the downright danger of dieting.  Again, from the book Big Fat Lies by Glenn Gaesser, a large amount of research (and thus a longer-than-usual blog to make you aware of the danger) shows just how harmful dieting can be:

·   Fifteen studies published between 1983-1993 show that weight loss increases risk of premature death by up to 260%.

·    Dieters, especially yo-yo dieters (who make up about 90% of the dieters in this country), have a risk for Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease that is up to twice that of “overweight” people who remain fat.

·    Weight loss was associated with 40-260% higher death rate when researchers devised 36 different ways of comparing causes of death and amount of body weight lost in a follow-up of the NHANES I study (1971-74) in 2,453 men and 2,739 women.

·        In 20 of 29 groups weight loss increased the death rate from heart disease and stroke from 7-167% in 800,000 men and women tracked by the American Cancer Society.

·     In 1995 the Centers for Disease Control and the American Cancer Society reexamined some of the data from the earlier ACS study focusing specifically on 43,457 women who had never smoked and who were overweight when the study began.  For the 2/3 of the women who were healthy to begin with who intentionally lost between 1-19 pounds premature death rate from all causes was increased 40-70%.  Unintentional weight gain, on the other hand, had no adverse effects on premature death.

·     In a study of 12,000 men at high risk for heart disease men who lost weight actually had a greater risk of dying during the nearly 4 years of follow-up.

·    In the Harvard Alumni study a subgroup of 11,700 men who had a weight loss of more than 11 pounds during 1962-1977 had a 75% greater risk of dying from heart disease by 1988.

·       Dr. Steven Blair and his colleagues studied 10,500 men at high risk for heart disease enrolled in the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial in 1973 and found that weight loss, even for a subgroup of men who would seem to be optimum beneficiaries of weight loss, resulted in 61-242% higher mortality rate from cardiovascular disease.  Weight gain did not significantly increase mortality from heart disease.

·    A study involving 200 extremely heavy young men on a weight loss program at the Veterans Administration Wadsworth Medical Center in Los Angeles between 1960-1975 fasted, lost 60-90 pounds, and were followed for the next 7+ years.  Almost all of the men gained everything back and more.  It was only after the radical weight loss that the men started to have health problems--75 developed diabetes, 39 became hypertensive, 19 were diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, and 27 went undiagnosed and died of cardiovascular disease.

The amount of weight loss associated with the higher mortality rates reported in these studies was, in most cases, between about 10-30 pounds, amounts very similar to what dieters lose, and what health professionals frequently recommend! . . . 

·       A study at Harvard Medical School involved 12 young men and women who agreed to follow Dr. Stillman’s low-carbohydrate plan in The Doctor’s Quick Weight Loss Diet.  Although average weight dropped by 7 pounds during the 3-17 days on the diet, the subjects’ total cholesterol rose from an average of 215 mg/dl to 248, which put them in the high risk category for heart disease.  Five million copies of the book have been sold.

·  A study involving 24 obese men and women who followed the diet plan recommended by Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution found that after 8 weeks on the diet the group’s LDL cholesterol increased by an average of 19%.  The 10 women in the study  lost an average of 15 pounds, but their LDL cholesterol shot up by 33%, and their HDL cholesterol decreased by 10%.  This book sold 20 million copies.

·   Atherosclerosis is a disease characterized NOT by a slow, steady narrowing of the blood vessels over time but by sudden spurts in the growth of the fat-and-cholesterol-loaded deposits that clog arteries.  Just a couple weeks of high-cholesterol counts of 248 mg/dl (the level reached by the men and women on Dr. Stillman’s diet) could do more harm than several years of a cholesterol of 215, the slightly higher-than-recommended level they were at before the study.

·  Ample evidence indicates that other consequences of dieting include increased risk for osteoporosis, abnormally low levels of female reproductive hormones, and of course, the epidemic of eating disorders.

·    Finally, any diet, regardless of its composition, can provoke the artery-clogging process because dieting frequently leads to bingeing, particularly on foods that are not heart-healthy.  Dieting intensifies preferences for high-fat and sugar-laden foods.   

·    Veterinary scientists at University of Illinois put pigs on several yo-yo diets (1 1/4-2 1/2 years, 4-8 diets) and found that after just a few episodes of dieting the pigs developed high blood pressure.  By the end of the study investigators detected severe damage to the heart muscle and coronary blood vessels of most of the pigs.

·    Researchers at University of Mississippi School of Medicine put lab mice on a onetime low-calorie diet.  As soon as the mice were allowed to resume normal, unrestricted eating, their systolic blood pressures more than doubled within a week.  Although the hypertension was transient, lasting just a couple of weeks, the damage was not--coronary artery damage was found in 80% of the mice.

The paradox is that while weight-loss may seem to have a positive effect on many of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, that does not necessarily translate to decreased mortality.  The likely explanation lies in the fact that weight loss (especially by dieting) begets weight gain (yo-yo diets):

·    In the Harvard study those who had a net loss of more than 11 pounds between 1962-1977 had a cumulative weight loss of 99 pounds, which means they had also gained a considerable amount of weight over the years.  Men who had lost and gained the most total pounds had an 80% higher rate of heart disease and a 123% higher rate of Type II diabetes.  Those alumni who had dieted frequently had nearly double the risk for Type II diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease compared with those who never dieted.

·      In the Framingham Heart Study, after more than 3 decades of follow-up evaluations, subjects whose body weights yo-yoed the most had up to 100% greater risk of death from heart disease.

·     Higher rates of heart disease in those who yo-yoed the most were also found in the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial.

·   Dr. Ancel Keys and his colleagues at University of Minnesota found that during the weight-regaining phase of the Minnesota Experiments in which 32 men were put on a 24-week diet with about half the calories they were accustomed to, many of the men seemed to be on the verge of congestive heart failure, with one man hospitalized with severe cardiovascular problems.

·      The experience of the population of Leningrad, after being unintentionally put on a semi-starvation diet for 5 months, not surprisingly fits with current recommendations--people lost weight and hypertension was reduced.  However, after the siege was lifted and food became plentiful, 10,000 people were examined and it was found that the incidence of high blood pressure had shot up by 100-400%, with a similar increase in the incidence of hypertension related vascular damage at autopsy. 

·     Even the U.S. government issued a report on “Obesity and Health” by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1966 in which 9 experts in health and nutrition warned the public that "the frequent weight gains and losses indulged in by many obese patients . . . may be actually more harmful than maintenance of a steady weight at a high level”.

Losing weight seems to increase the chances of dying from a disease for which weight loss is frequently prescribed to help cure!

In conclusion (of the last several blogs), there are absolutely no studies that unequivocally show that weight-loss improves health and lengthens life.  Many studies indicate that voluntary weight loss may compromise health and increase risk for premature death.  The real risks to health and longevity are more likely to come from dieting than from stable weights that are above those recommended by height-weight tables.  Trying to prevent natural weight gain may be not only futile but hazardous. 

In our obsession to blame weight for disease we lose sight of the real culprits--lack of activity and plant foods, and a diet high in animal (saturated) fat and processed (trans) fat.  The excess weight may be nothing more than the benign, visible consequence of a sedentary lifestyle and poor dietary habits.  If you are looking for results, best to target the problems, not the weight associated with the problems.

So let’s concentrate on physical activity, plant food, and animal/processed fat in the diet, and take the obsessive focus off of weight!

Note:  Be reassured that if you are losing weight because of changes in your diet and activity, weight-loss in and of itself is not going to kill you!  The danger of dieting seems to be because of extreme dieting practices (high-protein diets which are low in plant foods and high in saturated fat) and/or subsequent weight-gain after the deprivation of the diet.  The moral of the story is to make sure you do it right with lifestyle change once and for all and prevent the subsequent weight regain often associated with dieting.  I cannot overemphasize the importance of stopping any yo-yo dieting behaviors.  We take diets and weight-loss so flippantly.  Weight-loss is serious business! Besides, you will feel a lot of freedom in getting rid of any “diet mentality” in your life. 

Enjoy a non-dieting healthy life,

Diane Preves, M.S., R.D.

Thank you for sharing this post with others who might benefit from the information shared herein.  Please contact me if you are interested in hosting a 10-week  N.E.W. LIFE program on Long Island.

N.E.W. LIFE copyright 2012


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