One of my core diet beliefs is that every person has the right to decide what type of diet they wish to follow – Paleo, its up to you; quitting sugar, if that’s what you want or low GI, its your choice. As a dietitian it is my job to help any client achieve the dietary goals they are wanting, and educate them on the pros and cons of any approach they are keen to follow. Admittedly by the time the clients come to me many of the huge number of diets out there have failed and they are looking for a safe and sustainable approach they can follow without feeling overly restricted.
Now diet clients are a funny group because even when they think they are following a particular diet, in most cases they are merely using it as a guide. For example, cutting out carbs and sugar in the week but then binge eating and drinking all weekend. It’s called being human and actually enjoying certain foods and drinks even when they may not be all that good for us. But there is an exception to this, when clients take restrictive dietary regimes so seriously that they actually damage there health.
Over the past couple of years I have had a small number of clients visit the clinic who have limited the sugars and ultimately carbs out of their diets to such an extent that they have damaged their body. What started as cutting back on sugars and processed carbs for weight loss has over 2-3 years led to a form of malnutrition in which their carb intake overall has become so low (<20% of intake) that they have wasted away all their muscles and it has impacted their hormonal systems and their pituitary. While eating disorders including anorexia are known to have this effect, low sugar/low carb diets are a little different as the individuals are often still getting enough calories from seeds, nuts, coconut oil and avocad0 so not technically ‘starving’ but starving of carbs which are needed to fuel the brain.
My observation is that these individuals get more and more restrictive with the foods they will eat, presenting with some of the symptoms of a clinical eating disorder but rather their ‘disordered’ eating is slowly breaking down the body’s tissues and long term they are having issues with fertility, mood, thyroid and bone health. Their muscles appear wasted, their heads a little too large for their extra lean body and their thinking extreme, inflexible and extreme which I put down to their brain being constantly starved of carbs.
So as I said, this is an observation only, and most of us eat too much at times to buffer these extreme diet effects but indeed if you have been very strict with your diet for some time, feel that you are obsessed with it and gradually feeling unwell despite your ‘perfect’ diet, it may be time to determine who is telling you that your diet is ‘perfect’. Chances are, if they are selling a diet book they will have no idea what they are ultimately doing with their extreme and uninformed views.