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Dieting! Does it really work?

BY: Winifred Atutor & Dr Joana Ainuson-Quampah
Reflection: Does dieting really work?
Reflection: Does dieting really work?

In our world today, the term ‘dieting’ is often misconstrued as merely the bid to "look good" or “lose weight by any possible means!”

Many types and forms of so-called diet programmes and weight loss formulas and products are peddled on-air, in magazines and in newspapers. Several others evolve by the day on social media to mislead the unsuspecting public.

Mostly overlooked is the fact that many of these diets have been formulated for specific purposes; some are designed to address certain medical conditions or developed to deal with peculiar challenges of individuals or populations and not for general consumption.

Definitely not a one-size-fits-all concept as it’s being propagated! Expert advice and professional guidance are required if the full benefits of dieting can be realised.

Understanding dieting

But in an actual sense, diet may refer to the food and beverage a person or animal consumes or could mean, ‘to regulate an individual’s food intake; while ‘dieting’, may simply be the act of following a diet.

Dieting may be defined as the practice of eating food in a regulated way to decrease, maintain or increase body weight, or to prevent, treat or manage diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and other diet-related disorders.

Dieting, therefore, involves the modification and prescription of varied sources of food to meet specific dietary needs of an individual and not just for weight loss. However, in recent times, dieting has been so confused with calorie restriction with a sole focus on weight loss.

Lamentably, the quest to improve one’s self-image is what is deemed acceptable, healthy, and beautiful within a society has led many to adopt various dietary practices (fad diets), and enticed others to engage in trendy weight-loss plans that promises drastic results, consequently, many suffering terrible health implications.

Diet culture vs Anti-diet culture

Diet culture is the pervasive belief that one needs to achieve a certain body thinness to attain "perfect" health and beauty.

It emphasises the belief that appearance and body shape are more important than physical, psychological and general well-being. It is centered primarily on weight loss through restrictions on what to eat and drink.

This concept has been associated with recurrent weight gain or weight cycling, disordered eating and other mental health issues. On the other hand, the anti-diet culture promotes eating freely and feeling better in one’s body, instead of swearing off entire categories of foods.

They also believe that the desire to lose weight is always a sign of self-loathing. The anti-diet culture has also been linked to excessive weight gain and other negative health outcomes, especially for individuals who are overweight or obese or with related health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and stroke. 

Healthy eating lifestyle is recommended

Healthy eating goes beyond just losing weight (diet-culture) or otherwise (anti-diet culture). Instead, it emphasises on a varied diet that provides all the necessary food nutrients in their right quantities for proper function of the body and total well-being of a person (a balanced diet). Meals should be based on high fibre foods such as fruits and vegetables and carbohydrates: tubers and grains like wheat, oats, brown rice, millets, corn, etc.

Fish, lean meats, nuts and legumes are good sources of protein that can be considered whilst cutting down on sugar, oil, salt and processed foods (sausage, butter, creams, biscuits, pies, and fatty meat).

A healthy eating lifestyle ensures appropriate portion size; adequate hydration, regular physical activity, as well as making healthy food choices on a daily basis. Furthermore, food hygiene and food safety practices cannot be overemphasised.

It is possible to completely overhaul one’s way of eating with the help of the dietitian through a systematic and gradual process of diet modification to achieve a healthy sustainable weight and state. As a healthcare professional, the dietitian, with gentle guidance, empathetically provides individualised or tailored negotiated nutritional care leading to continual improvement of good health, prevention of diseases, as well as management and treatment of diet-related disorders.

Dieting does work if done the right way, and assures not only a balanced diet but also a strong immune system towards a balanced life!

The writers are with the Department of Dietetics, University of Ghana.