‘Tis the season, it seems, for slimming down and subjecting yourself to a deprivation diet and an intense exercise regimen. Have you noticed there are about two times per year where people tend to get crazy and obsessive about their weights? Right after the holidays, in January (have to start the new year off “right!”), and once around June, for swimsuit season. There’s something about these times of year that make people desperate to get skinny quickly. Fasts, yo-yo diets, detox programs, and “cleanses” are all go-to options for fad dieters, who are often negligent about learning the serious consequences to their sudden weight loss and nutrient restriction. The excitement of losing a few pounds, in addition to the national outcry over rising obesity rates, tend to outweigh messages about how crash diets are dangerous and do not work as long-term diets. It doesn’t help that, while experts stress how very low-calorie diets should only be followed with a doctor's supervision, most crash dieters are more likely to consult with friends than a doctor.
A survey conducted last year found that for every American woman who has never gone on a diet, there are three who have gone on nearly half a dozen. Specifically, half of the 1,064 adult women surveyed had tried five or more diets in their lifetime. If that doesn’t surprise you, there are other surveys claiming that the average 45-year-old woman has tried 61 diets since the age of 16, averaging about two per year. While these polls are not backed by scientific research, the results are still rather shocking. It’s no wonder that millions of people are spending billions of dollars on weight loss tactics, considering ours is a culture of dieting. So, if we’re all spending so much money on pills, cleanses, and special diet foods, why aren’t we a super skinny nation? Here’s the cold reality for you: despite the claims of “get skinny fast!” and “you’re three days away from a super skinny you!” crash diets don’t work.
“But my friend lost ten pounds following the x diet!” You might protest, and maybe that’s true. The thing about crash diets, however, is that while initially they can live up to their claims and cause you to lose weight in the beginning stages of the diet, you most likely will be unable to either sustain your weight loss or to reach your desired weight. This is because fad diets are unsustainable, encourage unhealthy behaviors, and temporarily slow your metabolism. Think about it: do you think you could only eat one food for the rest of your life? Probably not, and why would you ever want to? It’s illogical to think you can eat a very low calorie diet for extended periods of time without suffering severe consequences, or to avoid a certain food group (or groups) forever. “So I won’t keep it off forever, but at least I’ll have lost x pounds of fat for my event!”
Unfortunately, most of the weight lost on a fad diet isn’t actually fat, but water weight and muscle tissue. If your crash diet requires an unhealthy caloric intake level, your body will go into “starvation mode.” Once your body’s carbohydrate reserves are depleted, the tendency for the body is to hold on to fat and to consume muscle tissue (including heart muscle tissue) for energy. Considering that muscle tissue burns more calories than fat, the less muscle you have, the slower your metabolism will be. The rapid weight loss you see from a crash diet will slow your metabolism and cause you to regain the weight you lost, in addition to a few extra pounds when you return to your regular eating habits. Your body also suffers from a deprivation of essential nutrients when you crash diet, which can lead to a weakening of your immune system and an increase in risk for serious problems such as dehydration, heart palpitations, and cardiac stress.
Aside from losing muscle tissue, your body will also obtain nutrients from other parts of your body to make up for deficiencies, such as leeching calcium from your bones. The reason people often experience food cravings on a crash diet (or any other diet) is because they aren’t obtaining the essential nutrients their body needs to function. While one crash diet may not cause too much damage, constant dieting can be very costly. It’s important to follow a healthy eating plan, educate yourself on the importance of proper eating, and to participate in regular exercise, losing weight at a rate of only 1 to 2 lbs per week or as advised by your doctor (if weight loss is your goal). When you take steps to make lifestyle changes and to control your weight healthfully, you are putting yourself on the path to a successful sustained weight loss and healthy weight management.