Most women go on a diet at some point in their lives, but new research suggests this common behavior might have dangerous long-term side effects. A new study from Florida State University finds that the younger a woman is when she first begins to diet, the more likely she is to have health problems later in life.
According to the abstract for the study, which will be presented tonight at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, researchers followed an initial cohort of more than 2,000 women, tracking as many of their dieting behaviors as possible over several decades. They analyzed survey data from 1982, 1992, 2002, and 2012. At the end of the study, the researchers determined that the age a woman started dieting predicted a variety of negative health outcomes: The earlier a young woman began trying to lose weight, the more likely she was to report alcohol abuse or higher levels of consumption, to use extreme measures like self-induced vomiting to drop pounds, and to become overweight or obese by the time she entered her 30s.
While researchers haven't elaborated on why they think this relationship may exist, the fact that dieting is correlated with such scary long-term problems is cause for alarm. Consider it more proof that, instead of focusing on restrictive and punishing “diets,” you're much better off making sustainable lifestyle changes that are focused more on your overall health (and will, in the process, help you maintain a healthy weight). For instance, find out how to eat more veggies, consume your meals mindfully, and make fitness a habit—and encourage other women you know (no matter what their age) to do the same.
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