When dieting becomes dangerous

With Snowball just passing and spring break fast approaching, students have been under pressure to shape up their physiques to fit into the perfect dress or be beach-ready. To do so, many resort to dieting. Dieting, or restricting one’s food intake in order to trigger weight loss, has become a customary aspect to teenage society, despite its sometimes unhealthy implication.

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graphic by Dana Buckhorn

As students attempt to lose weight, favored methods to do so are often unhealthy and ineffective in practice.

Though there are many ways to diet, the most popular methods among teens are unhealthy and harmful for the human body and development. “I think that it’s kind of ridiculous to diet in high school; it can be bad for you,” said junior Jackson Guettler. Fad diets are tactics especially popular among the instant gratification generation due to their immediate results. In a fad diet, participants eliminate essential food groups or focus on one food group in excess for a short period of time.

More often than not, teens participate in fad dieting without professional and proper advisement. “[Students] go to the doctor once a year. Is the doctor concerned with the weight? Or is it just the person’s mentality?” health teacher at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Ms. Alisa May said. Rather than assessing an ideal, desired body image, it is important for one take into account professional input or specific health markers, such as Body Mass Index, before making the decision to diet.

At BSM, students often feel an inclination towards perfection. While this is obviously evident in academics, it is also apparent in areas of appearance and body image. “I think that most students definitely do it to lose weight rather than for their health because a lot of popular diets are actually really unhealthy and can sometimes even be dangerous,” sophomore Nicole Lundeen said.

To achieve the desired body image in a timely manner, students will resort to the more unhealthy methods of dieting. “[A healthy diet is] keeping all the food groups in moderation and around 2000 [calories] is where everyone should be,” Ms. May said.

In contrast, sophomore Parker Breza feels as though he is a healthier person when both meat and dairy are out of his everyday diet. “[Veganism] cuts you off from eating a lot of the processed or fast food options and forces you to look at healthier products as replacements, as well as the fact that an animal based diet is high in cholesterol and fats; I feel healthier,” Breza said.

As students turn to measures that sometimes go as far as eliminating food groups entirely, they miss essential elements to the human diet that allow a person to maintain energy and stay alert. When dieting continues on an unhealthy path, further issues can arise, such as bone density loss and protein deficiency.

However, this is not always the case as those who are serious about taking a few food groups out of their diets know exactly how to balance what they eat. “The average vegan…[doesn’t] need to supplement their protein because a lot of the complex proteins are found in things such as whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, etc), but I also seek out protein in things such as tofu as well as raw vegan protein powder mixed with almond milk,” Breza said.

While adults may view these types of diets as detrimental to one’s health, BSM students boast of feeling more energized and mentally better about themselves while on fad diets, or shortly thereafter. “I was on this diet for a couple weeks where I didn’t eat dairy or fruit because of the sugar. I gained more energy because my body was running off of natural energy instead of salts and sugars. And I just felt better about my body in general,” junior Laurie McKenna said.

I think it’s a problem at any school where perfection is demanded, and people put pressure on themselves or compare themselves, so basically it’s a common problem for teenagers”

— Dr. Steffenson

“I’ve done a cleanse once before. It was a 3 week detox cleanse where I only ate organic food and cut out meats and all processed foods. I was happy with it. But it was more for my overall health and eliminating toxins than losing weight,” Lundeen said. The goal of most cleanses is to achieve a feeling of purity in the body rather than shedding a few pounds by a set date.

“As long as you’re dieting in a healthy way, I think diets are a good thing,” sophomore Heather Hones said. Unfortunately, most are unclear as to what a healthy diet is. Some claim dieting is all about quantity, while others lean towards quality. In reality, it’s a combination of those and several other factors.

Healthy dieting should maintain each food group, while exercising moderation and portion control. “Losing one to two pounds a week is healthy if that’s what you need to do,” Ms. May said. If weight loss goes beyond this healthy limit, it likely signals a loss of water weight, which results in weight gain upon finishing the dieting period.

Even though most are reluctant to admit it, peer approval in appearances is a crucial part of students’ lives and their desire to lose weight. “I think it’s a problem at any school where perfection is demanded, and people put pressure on themselves or compare themselves, so basically it’s a common problem for teenagers,” student counselor Dr. Jeff Steffenson said.

[A healthy diet is] keeping all the food groups in moderation and around 2000 [calories] is where everyone should be”

— Ms. May

This never-ending crave for refinement causes students to strive for perfection beyond that which can be achieved. This common mentality extends towards the perception of one’s body image and causes dieting to play a cardinal role in teenagers’ lifestyles. Students often turn to those short-term dieting methods, such as fad diets and juice fasts, when they want a fast ticket to perfection.

These crash diets that students regularly engage in are by no means beneficial to the body. “I don’t know if [fad diets] cause a problem but it’s definitely not healthy and monotonous. To me it’s all about balance,” Dr. Steffenson said. Eating the same thing everyday–typical fashion for most fad diets–doesn’t allow the body to have exposure to the variety of nutrients necessary for it to receive on a daily basis.

In some situations, it can be imperative to eat, in order to maintain energy levels for performance. Junior Peter Watkins, who pursues his passion for serving his country in the military, attends boot camps where eating what you are given is vital to functionality. “You get limited amount of food, so when you do get your food, you down it no matter if you’re hungry or not. I wasn’t a vegetable eater, but after bootcamp I am now,” Watkin said.

No matter the types or influences of dieting, certain practices are unhealthy in a physical and psychological sense. Dieting should be accomplished with careful consideration and extreme patience, as anything less may create issues for teens.

Dieting cannot simply be a desire to lose weight, it needs to be a commitment to living a better life. “Dieting is a form of a healthy lifestyle. Everyday I change the unhealthy choices I used to make and exchange them with healthy ones, along with a good thirty minutes of exercise a day,” junior Sammie Hackathorn said.

Instead of abstaining from all solid food forms for a week, seek out fruits, vegetables, proteins, and exercise on a daily basis to truly live a healthier life. “Everything is about balance. It’s about eating healthy and exercising enough everyday and getting social support and [figuring] out a lifestyle for yourself that you like and enjoy,” Dr. Steffenson said.