Many women turn to strict workout routines and diets to lose weight quickly. At times they are motivated by a desire to improve their health, at others by unrealistic "thinspiration" images. Too rigorous a regimen can wreak havoc on a woman’s health and can prevent her from achieving weight loss and fitness goals, so it is important to find balance in both diet and exercise.
Strict Dieting and Metabolism
Restricting calories reduces resting metabolism and decreases voluntary and involuntary movement throughout the day. In his book “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” Gary Taubes addresses this phenomenon. Although severe calorie restriction can produce limited initial weight loss, he concludes that the body responds to dieting by reducing energy expenditure. If you’ve ever felt unusually cold when you’re dieting, you have experienced this effect firsthand. Generating body heat is one of the “cost-saving measures” the body takes to reduce energy expenditure. Even more detrimental, even when calorie intake returns to normal, the metabolism does not recover immediately and may not recover at all, according to Taubes.
Strict Dieting and Fitness
Building lean muscle mass -- a goal for many women who engage in a strict workout routine -- requires consuming more calories than are expended. If you aren’t eating enough, your body will not have the raw materials to repair and build muscles. This contributes to lackluster results and increased susceptibility to injury.
Consuming too few calories can also impair cardio workouts. Runners call it “bonking,” that moment when you hit the proverbial wall and can no longer complete your workout. Calorie restriction or specific macronutrient restriction is one of the chief contributors to your body calling it quits midway through your workout.
Strict Dieting and Mood
Strict dieting produces negative effects on mental well-being as well. In the famous Minnesota Semi-Starvation study, 36 men were put on a reduced calorie diet of 1,500 calories per day for six months. A daily intake of 1,500 calories is hardly what we would call “starvation” today; in fact, even lower numbers are prescribed for many women’s diet plans. During that time, most of the subjects reported severe emotional distress, including depression, hysteria and hypochondriasis. Extremely low carbohydrate diets have a similar effect.
A Balanced Approach
Consider a more balanced approach to dieting and fitness. Determine the number of calories needed to fuel your workout and yield gradual weight loss -- one to two pounds per week -- then enjoy a wide range of whole foods, including complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. Restrict processed foods, particularly white flour and other refined grains and all sweeteners, which offer nothing in the way of nutrition and contribute to insulin production and fat storage. Also, ensure that you are well-hydrated, drinking 64 to 96 ounces of water daily. Proper hydration also contributes to healthy weight loss.
Increase your exercise volume gradually: 10 percent each week is a good progression for improving your fitness level. Make sure you take rest days at least once or twice per week.
- Good Calories, Bad Calories; Gary Taubes
- The Biology of Human Starvation; Ancel Keys
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Effects of normal meals rich in carbohydrates or proteins on plasma tryptophan and tyrosine ratios