Getting Off the Food Roller Coaster

Yes, weight management is healthy -- but not if you take it to the extreme. Just be mindful of what you eat, substitute some healthier foods, and don't let the scale rule your life.

By Carol Sorgen
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

For many years, says Penny Muir, the scales ruled her mood. But after 3 1/2 years on a program called HUGS that helps women change the way they think about weight, she no longer lets her thoughts about food control her life. "There isn't a moment when I reach for something to eat and think, 'I shouldn't do this,'" Muir now says.

Many other people, however, don't have such an easy relationship with food. Food and weight always weigh heavily upon them. In a recent survey of 107,804 American adults, the CDC found that 64% of the men and 78% of the women surveyed were either on a diet or keeping close tabs on what they ate so as not to gain weight.

Many weight-loss experts say they believe that such "chronic" dieters run the risk of ruining their health. "Dieting disrupts the internal cues to eat," says Bernadette Latson, MS, RD, assistant professor in clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. "When you diet, you're taking external control and applying it to a normal function, the appetite."

Constant dieting can lead to eating disorders, says Latson, especially in susceptible teenage girls, which is one reason Latson strongly discourages parents from talking about dieting in front of their children and making self-deprecating remarks about their own bodies.

"When you diet, you generally eat very little during the day. Then by evening, you're ravenous so you eat uncontrollably. Then you feel guilty and start all over again the next day," says Latson. "Pretty soon you're into a binge-starve cycle -- and may move on to purging."

Latson discourages dieting per se but advises those who want to lose weight to pay attention to what they eat -- but not so closely that it takes over their life. "Rather than 'going on' a diet, look over your usual intake of food, then select one or two items that you may be willing to eliminate and see how that goes."

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