How Dieting Young Can Backfire Later in Life

The earlier in life you start dieting, the worse long-term consequences it can have.

August 14, 2017
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How young is too young to go on a diet? Researchers from Florida State University examined the long-term consequences of dieting trends among girls and young women, discovering that the younger a woman is when she goes on her first diet, the more likely she is to experience negative health outcomes later in life. 

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Led by Dr. Pamela Keel, researchers asked a sample of college-age women to report their dieting and weight history in 1982, 1992, 2002, and 2012. Since these same women were examined over a ten year span, researchers could assess the long-term impact of their dieting history. 

"Dieting is very common among girls and young women; however, people fail to consider the long-term consequences of weight-loss diets, particularly in those who begin dieting at a young age," explain researchers in a written statement from the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior. "The younger a woman was when she started her first diet, the more likely she was to use extreme weight control behaviors like self-induced vomiting, misuse alcohol, and be overweight or obese when she reached her 30s."

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With an estimated 1 to 4.2 percent of women suffering from anorexia in their lifetime, 4 percent suffering from bulimia, and 2.8 percent suffering from binge eating disorders, researchers stress the importance of discouraging weight loss diets in young girls by instituting public health initiatives to promote wellness behaviors such as increased activity and healthier food consumption. To affect girls entering puberty, researchers believe that such interventions need to begin as early as elementary school. 

More: 8 Surprising Side Effects of Weight Loss

Psychologist Vivian Diller, PhD, explains that younger women cannot distinguish reality from fantasy, making them super susceptible to the idea that beauty equates to perfection.  

"Many simply try to control their developing bodies," explains Dr. Diller. "Rather than learn who they are and what they really look like. The result? They set themselves up for a lifetime of eating habits based on yearning for the unattainable, rather than nourishing themselves in a healthy way." 


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Breaking the dieting mentality of young women falls primarily into the hands of parents, according to Dr. Robert Schachter, assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. 

"There's a relationship between eating disorders and the emphasis that parent's put on weight loss for young kids," explains Dr. Schachter. "A lot of times, the issue is the child's reaction to the controlling parent so it's a way for them to assert some kind of independence around their body." According to Schachter, it's a responsibilty for the parents provide as stress-free of a home environment as possible.

More: 6 Key Factors That Make Healthy Living Easy

So how can families make the home a healthier atmosphere? According to Thinfluence authors Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, and Malissa Wood, MD, it's a few easy tweaks away. Simple home improvements, like ditching the soda and banishing bad foods to the back of the pantry and fridge, can have a major impact on both your weight and the weight of those with whom you live with, without the negative connotations. Check out these 4 easy home improvements families can make for a better life.