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Women's Weight Concerns and Body Image

The Problems with Dieting
To function most effectively as an athlete, and in all roles of life, your body must have enough fuel. Food is fuel. Not having enough interferes with your performance. It also causes overall fatigue, mood changes, weak muscles, and poor health. Restrictive dieting can also lead to eating disorders, which can be lifelong, and, at times, life-threatening.

Risks of Restrictive Dieting

  • Temporary weight loss
  • Eating disorders
  • Rebound weight gain
  • Poor athletic performance
  • Slower metabolism
  • Impaired mental functioning
  • Serious health risks
  • Mood Changes
Restrictive dieting—in which you eat less than 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day (depending on height, muscle, and bone mass) and less than 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day if you are very active in athletics and fitness activities—ultimately results in mood and mind changes, including depression, loss of control, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and poor sleep. Dieting also negatively affects exercise, including poor balance, overheating, poor endurance, earlier exhaustion, and muscle weakness. Other physical problems include headaches, light-headedness, fatigue, digestive problems, and bowel problems. High-protein diets can cause very serious problems with kidneys, cholesterol levels, and bone strength. Diet supplements can cause liver and heart failure. These health risks outweigh any health benefits of being thin.

Physical Problems of Restrictive Dieting That Interfere with Exercise

  • Poor balance
  • Light-headedness
  • Overheating
  • Fatigue
  • Poor endurance
  • Digestive problems
  • Muscle weakness
  • Illness
  • Headaches
  • Injury
Chances are, you have been on at least one diet. Think about how you have felt while on a very limiting diet. Were you more likely to get angry, irritable, sad, and frustrated? Were you snippety, less patient, dependent on caffeine, and jittery? These mood changes try the patience of everyone around you and can even cause you to lose friends, jobs, or positions on the team. You probably lacked energy and lost steam halfway through workouts or competitions. Dieting does not allow your fuel stores to work effectively. Thus, if you are in a hard workout or competition, you run out of energy like a car without gas.

Mind and Mood Changes Common to Restrictive Dieting

  • Unable to concentrate
  • Impatient
  • Irritable
  • Frustrated
  • Angry
  • Depressed
  • Exhausted
  • Sluggish Your body needs fuel to run effectively. If it does not get enough fuel, your body will do everything it can to conserve energy and run at a lower metabolic rate, thinking you are in starvation mode, trying to stay alive. A lower metabolic rate is one that burns calories slower. This change in rate can stay around for longer than you are on the diet, causing you to quickly gain back the weight once you are off the diet. The healthiest and longest-lasting method of effective weight management is to avoid restrictive dieting altogether. This will allow you to avoid failure, rebound weight gain, slower metabolism, and health risks associated with limited food types, calories, and possible eating disorders. The slower you lose weight, the easier it will be to keep it off.

    From The Active Woman's Health and Fitness Handbook by Nadya Swedan. Copyright © 2003 by Nadya Swedan. Used by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

    To order this book visit Amazon.

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