Diet culture is unsustainable and could actually lead to gaining more weight, says dietitian

Aileen Sengupta, electrical engineering doctoral student, said she tried dieting and exercising during the pandemic but it didn’t stick.

Over the summer break, Sengupta said she did her yearly blood work and didn’t like the results. She then began dieting and exercising again in July.

“I got a little bit scared,” she said. “Rather than taking medications, which is always an alternative option, I wanted to see if I can do something about trying to control it by myself with specific diets or exercise.”

As campus returns to normal, the UTA community shared tips on how to stay active while also addressing stereotypes in diet culture and working out.

Registered dietitian Stacie Ellis said diet culture and the way people lose weight is not sustainable. She said people start thinking they have to eat a certain way and they begin to categorize foods into those they should and shouldn’t eat, which puts them in a stressful mindset.

Once we tell ourselves we can’t have something, we feel deprived and want it more, she said.

“What ends up happening when people try to lose weight, though, you’ll know they’ll cut calories, and they get very stressed,” she said. “They get more and more hungry, like the longer their diet goes, the more hungry they get and they’ll get to a point, most people will get to a point where they give in, and then they end up eating.”

Sengupta said she cut unnecessary salt and sugar from her diet. She also started buying fresh produce and meal prepping, which has helped her control her weight.

“Even if you microwave and eat the food, it would be much healthier than actually buying oily food or buying sweet products,” she said.

Ellis said people can lose weight, but the type of weight they lose, fat mass or muscle mass, influences their metabolism. Keeping it off is the issue, she said.

“People who diet chronically — they actually are more prone to gain weight, more weight,” Ellis said.

She said an increased amount of people not satisfied with their body image are coming to her to change their diets. What we see on social media isn’t always a realistic goal, she said.

Visual communications junior Bryant Chavez started working out his freshman year while he attended Tarrant County Community College. Chavez said social media didn’t play a huge role when he started, but he used YouTube to find exercise routines.

Other people’s transformation pictures motivated him, he said.

“I imagined that could be me one day, so I decided to actually pursue that,” he said. “This started [the] beginning of me wanting to transform myself.”

Ellis recommends lifestyle changes like creating healthy habits rather than consistently dieting. These habits don’t happen overnight and individuals will face difficult challenges.

“If you want it long-term, slow and steady is the way to go,” she said.

Chavez said it’s hard to actually lose weight, but once you start seeing your first little loss of fat, you’ll start to see that you can keep going.

He recommends starting with small things like slowly replacing soda with water.

International business senior Yauncee Yeager said social media can put a positive image in your head or take you on a negative path.

Ellis said affirmations are also something that she tells her clients to do. It’s good to reaffirm yourself regardless of social standards.

“You have to be compassionate with yourself, you have to be gracious with yourself and understanding of where you’re going and what, what is actually capable for you,” she said. “You have to come to a place where you’re okay with that. And learning to love yourself for who you are.”

She also recommends individuals go to Counseling and Psychological Services to discuss mental health when considering a lifestyle change. If someone begins this lifestyle with hating themselves and wanting to change, she says an individual is more prone to be harder on themselves if they mess up.

“But if it comes from a place where [you] love yourself, and you see that, you know, your health is worth it,” she said. “This health journey is just part of the process and your journey, you’re enjoying the process and not necessarily the end goal. Then, you know, it really does make a difference in terms of your mindset.”

If a client is in a negative mindset, Ellis said she asks them questions like ‘Why do you want this?’ and ‘Why is it important to you?’

Yeager said sometimes he works out at the Maverick Activities Center, but he has found running outside more enjoyable than a treadmill. “

I find it easy to run outside than inside on a treadmill because I can actually see where I’m going,” Yeager said.

His workout habits have been intermittent, he said. But that changed when he came to UTA and lived on campus his freshmen year.

“I didn’t want to gain the fearful freshman 15,” he said. “So I started to work out.” Yeager said it was hard at first, but over time he stopped dieting. He now works out three to four times a week and finds it easier to count calories instead of choosing specific types of food that will help him lose weight or gain protein.

“Working out is a mindset, getting into the mentality of actually going out and doing it,” he said. “Once you can get through the mindset thing and actually getting out and working out, it’s a lot easier to keep a routine and do it often.”


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