Does Dieting Cause Psychological Problems?

Photo credit: Bigstockphoto
Photo credit: Bigstockphoto

Dieting isn’t a healthy approach to weight loss. Reducing calories too much not only slows down your metabolism and leaves you nutrient-deprived – it can also affect you psychologically. Have you ever noticed how you have more cravings for unhealthy foods as soon as you start a diet? Dieting does bad things for your body – and your head. What are the psychological effects of dieting?

The Risks of Dieting: It’s Not Good for Your Brain

Your brain, muscles and other organs depend on an adequate supply of glucose to function. When you restrict calories too much it can lead to low blood sugar levels and fatigue – and even affect your personality.

According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, people on a diet can become irritable and hostile when they cut back on calories and are forced to use too much self-control when making food choices. They found while restricting calories, dieters preferred watching movies with angry characters and revenge themes and gravitated towards angry faces and gestures over fearful or sad ones.

Other research shows that dieters are more prone to anxiety and depression, and if they calorie restrict too much, they can become fixated on food. This is the same type of response victims of starvation and people with eating disorders have. There’s also the danger of becoming so frustrated that dieting turns into bingeing – and then guilt for having given in to temptation. This type of behavior can be a forerunner to an eating disorder.

Obviously, the risks of dieting go beyond the physical – to the mental. If you’re feeling cranky and are difficult to get along with, you may be taking calorie restriction too far.

If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s not a good idea to cut your calories back by more than 500 calories a day. Otherwise, you run the risk of mood changes and a lack of energy and motivation. Cutting back by 500 calories a day still allows you to lose about a pound a week. When you cut calories, it’s important to make every calorie count nutritionally to prevent vitamin and nutrient deficiencies.

The Effects of Dieting: The Bottom Line?

Excessive dieting can make you tired, anxious, angry or depressed. Don’t take it to the extreme by cutting your calories too low – and make sure you’re making every calorie count by choosing healthy foods.


Food Production Design. “Dieting Causes Irritability”
Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.

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