Establishing healthy dieting habits important for students

Sydney Johansen, a sophomore education major from Tooele, makes her daily protein shake after her workout. It’s important for students to establish a healthy balance between working out and nutritious food. Photo by Bailey Chism.

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As the weather starts to warm up, students want to achieve the “perfect” summer body; but the ways they’re trying to accomplish that can sometimes be unhealthy and cause more damage than good.

It’s common to find some students that think the only way to lose weight is to go on diets, but that’s a big misconception in the world.

There are a ton of ways to diet, some healthy and some not. There are forms of dieting that will actually cause weight gain instead of weight loss.

“The word ‘diet’ itself means that you’re depriving yourself of something,” said Tamra Stephenson, a VASA fitness instructor and personal trainer. “Your body will go into what’s called starvation mode if it doesn’t get enough calories over a long period of time.”

Stephenson said your body will see it as not getting enough food so your metabolism slows down to conserve more energy and the body hangs on to more fat. Risk for other health issues will go up in this case.

It is important for students to understand how to properly fuel their bodies, especially when trying to lose weight. Stephenson said your body has to have the right kinds of foods to fuel your workouts.

“I like to use the example of: you wouldn’t drive out of town on an empty tank of gas, so imagine what happens to your body if you were trying to do workouts without the proper fuel, it’s not going to work right,” Stephenson said.

In an article from Precision Nutrition, Brian St. Pierre, director of nutrition at Precision Nutrition, said if you are absorbing more energy than you expend, you will gain weight and vice versa.

There are plenty of effective ways to diet in a safe and healthy way. 

“The most effective way to ‘diet’ is to choose a lifelong healthy eating pattern,” said Linda Wright, family studies and human development instructor. “A healthy eating pattern supports a positive self-image and reduces the risk of chronic diseases.”

Wright said dieting can feel very limited and often doesn’t include the behavior modification strategies that support a healthy lifestyle. She recommends using the ChooseMyPlate.gov website to track calories and keep a healthy diet going. 

“There are statistics from the National Association for Eating Disorders that actually indicates that up to around as much as 40% and maybe even more of individuals have some disorder with eating,” said Lauren Absher, a registered dietitian and nutritionist. “A high risk that can come with dieting is that we never know if someone is going to have a diet turn into a form of disordered eating.” 

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While dieting may help your physical health, it can impact your life in dangerous ways. When you don’t get enough calories or the right amount of nutrients, there is always a consequence. Whether it’s immediate or not, there will be downfalls.

An article by Eating Disorder Hope explains that dieting in the wrong way, eating too little, or binging in one session can cause different kinds of eating disorders, which can take your whole life to beat. 

Absher said if people aren’t eating enough calories, it can actually have an effect on their mental health. She said with dieting, there can tend to be a hyperfocus on food and body size to where it becomes a sort of an obsession.

The Mental Health Foundation conducted a study on how dieting impacts mental health, which found that eating a well-balanced diet rich in vegetables and nutrients may be associated with our well-being. The importance of good nutritional intake at an early age can be explored in many stages, including a systematic review done in 2014 that found that a poor diet is linked to poorer mental health.

UPMC gives students advice about the right way to fuel their bodies correctly in order to find the outcome they want. Students need to make sure they are getting all the calories they need and eating healthy foods to fill that. Exercising often is also the safest key to losing weight, but students should make sure not to exercise too much. The article also said to listen to your body because it always knows when you’ve reached your limits.

“If you have a goal of losing weight, proper nutrition combined with exercise generally results in weight loss,” Stephenson said. “But there are a lot of factors to consider other than the right kinds of food. Stress, health conditions, work and intensity of workouts all play a role in weight loss.”

Stephenson recommends combining your gym workouts with activities you love to do. Those who hike, run, bike, kayak, SUP surf, swim, etc have more success combined with the gym than just the gym alone.