Can Past Nutritional Sins Affect Your Health?

If you've made nutrition mistakes in the past, your body may still forgive you if you change -- now!

By Jennifer Nelson
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

So you may not have made all the right nutrition choices in the past, but it's unlikely you caused any permanent harm, right?

WebMD wanted to be sure, so we took it to the experts to get the scoop on why some of the nutritional missteps you were guilty of in the past are taboo. And what, if any permanent effects, these prior dietary failings have in store for you. Can these past nutritional skeletons haunt your health today?

Yo-Yo Dieting

If your weight has fluctuated up and down the scale -- and your closet houses an array of pant sizes to accommodate your ever-changing waistline, you're not alone.

Yo-yo dieting is one of the most common nutrition mistakes you can get caught up in. Lose a few pounds here, gain them back there. What's the big deal, right? The National Task Force on the Prevention and Treatment of Obesity from the National Institutes of Health looked at whether yo-yoing, also known as weight cycling, had an adverse effect on body composition, energy expenditure, risk factors for cardiovascular disease, or interfered with future efforts at weight loss. Although conclusive data on the long-term health effects of weight cycling are lacking, the task force determined that maintaining a stable weight should be a priority. Anything beyond a 5-pound variation should tip you off.

However the WISE study (Women's Ischema Symptom Evaluation) funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute did find that yo-yo dieting actually lowers levels of good cholesterol (HDL).

"One problem with past yo-yoing is that it can mess up your metabolism," says Keri Glassman, MS, RD, a New York City-based dietitian. When you yo-yo diet, you never really learn to eat normally. Weight cycling sets you up for binges. Plus, you probably aren't eating a variety of healthy foods. You're always either getting too many calories, which turn to fat, or your body is in deprivation mode from eating too little, so your metabolism is constantly thrown out of whack and never burns calories efficiently, which hampers any effort at weight loss.

To boost calorie burn and return metabolism to normal, stop the ups and downs and acquire a balanced healthy diet. Eat consistently every three to four hours and never go too long without food. Glassman tells WebMD, "Once you're eating regularly, you can get your metabolism back on track."

Skimping on Carbs

If tallying carbs and keeping them low was your M.O., you might have easily gone overboard. Carbohydrates are a source of concentrated energy so contrary to some beliefs the ideal is not to eliminate them at all costs. Carbs are a rich source of B vitamins and contribute to skin, hair, eye, and liver health. They also help regulate appetite and keep the brain and nervous system running optimally.

"Skimping on carbs can throw the body out of balance because something it needs isn't showing up for work," says Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, a Florida-based dietitian.

Too few carbs may lead to increased appetite and insatiable cravings. And severely restricting carbohydrates can cause you to eat too much fat -- think a whole jar of nuts in one sitting.

If eating a low-carb diet equals eating lots of saturated fat and cholesterol-heavy foods, these can increase your risk of high cholesterol, heart disease, and cancer, Sass tells WebMD.

It could also up your risk of diverticulitis, an infection in the pouches within the colon, because of the lack of dietary fiber typical on low-carb plans.

The quick fix is to jump on the veggie bandwagon ASAP. Strive for five to nine servings of produce per day to boost intake of disease fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals. This will also increase fiber, as a typical serving of fruit or vegetables contains 2-3 grams of fiber.


"Breakfast skippers may have wreaked havoc on their metabolisms."

Read labels to keep saturated fat, hydrogenated fat, and cholesterol to the USDA Dietary Guidelines limits, which is 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day from food, 10% of total calories from saturated fat (about 22 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet), and as little hydrogenated fat as possible. Hydrogenated fats come from liquid vegetables oils, which are converted into solid form during manufacturing. They are used mostly in processed baked goods, such as cookies and cakes, and can help increase the shelf life of many products. But these fats have a negative effect on cholesterol, increasing "bad" LDL cholesterol while lowering "good" HDL cholesterol.

Breakfast Skipper

Whether you were too busy sleeping in, just not hungry or truly thought this was a good way to keep your weight in check, former breakfast skippers may have wreaked havoc on their metabolisms, too. Research shows skipping the morning meal slows resting metabolism and keeps our bodies from burning calories until lunchtime. A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition shows breakfast skippers have a higher body mass index (BMI).