Why Crash Diets Don’t Work

Posted on Dec 29 2012 - 12:01am by Demelza Young

‘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.


Demelza Young is an alumni of Northern Kentucky University. She currently enjoys volunteering her time in her local community, reviewing online content with her cat, and sharing quality recipes.

22 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Kelly R December 29, 2012 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    This is wonderful information. Thank you

  2. JaShawndra December 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    Great info! I’ve never been a fan of crash diets, I feel they end up doing more damage then good in the long run!

  3. Sarah @ East9thStreet December 29, 2012 at 4:03 pm - Reply

    I hear that all the time – I lost x amount of pounds with this diet you should try. To me it’s all about portion control. I can easily sit down and eat and entire pizza by myself and then wonder why I feel terrible for the next few days but have to remember, what I consume in mere minutes takes hours to work off in the gym.

  4. Amanda @ Survival Guide by The Working Mom December 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    Great post! I have definitely learned this the HARD way with many many years of unsuccessful dieting. I am finally doing it right and down over 175 pounds!!

  5. amber pafford December 29, 2012 at 7:48 pm - Reply

    I ALWAYS forget to take diet pills and cannot stand diet drinks so I really stay away from diets. I just try to exercise and watch proportions.

  6. Amanda C December 29, 2012 at 8:01 pm - Reply

    I am awful about doing crash diets! Heck I even saw a pin earlier today called the 3 day Military diet.. sucker I am probably would have tried it lol. Done a lot of research though and think I am going for a more long term diet 😉 Thanks for all the tips!

  7. Amanda Seibert December 29, 2012 at 8:18 pm - Reply

    I have never really tried any fast diets because I never knew how they worked. Now I know and won’t try them. I would however like to get myself and my whole family on a balanced meal plan and live healthier! Thanks for the info!

  8. Tara December 29, 2012 at 9:20 pm - Reply

    It’s so easy to want to do it the fast way but it never works! We all know it’s eating healthy & exercise but so often we want that quick fix. It won’t last though 🙂

  9. Annabelle December 30, 2012 at 11:19 am - Reply

    This is so true! Even health magazines perpetuate the crash diet fads, which is very annoying. Exercise more, eat well. Very simple, I have to remind myself every single day, though 🙂

  10. becca December 30, 2012 at 11:21 am - Reply

    I’m a Weight Watcher girl love the program. Great post here you should totally link it to me weekly hop I know my readers would love to read this

  11. nancy Reyes December 30, 2012 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    I tryed everything and at one point lost 60 ilbs

  12. Jacqui Odell December 31, 2012 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    I agree with you a 100 percent. I am currently working on loosing weight now. I plan to change my habits.

  13. Victoria @ Denschool December 31, 2012 at 2:04 pm - Reply

    I have always gained back more than what I started with once I forgo the crash diet. I remember my last one I lost 25 pounds but gained back 30 within months. 🙁

  14. Meagan Paullin December 31, 2012 at 10:01 pm - Reply

    I SOOO agree that these kinds of diets won’t work. I mean – it’s like saying, “I’m going on a crash-exercise. I’ll work out every day 3 times for a couple months, and then when I’ve lost the weight I’ll stop.” And then expecting their body to stay the same, without the effort. lol.

  15. Elizabeth Towns December 31, 2012 at 10:14 pm - Reply

    This is the most relevant information I could have received right now, when I am making a decision about how to follow my fitness plan. No fads for me – a way of life commitment.

  16. Tami January 1, 2013 at 12:06 am - Reply

    This is a great post. Everyone should read it 🙂 A few years back I went on Atkins and lost 70 pounds. Two years later I put back on 80. I realize that it has to be a lifestyle choice. This is what I am going to do this year…make healthier choices for life.

  17. Monique January 1, 2013 at 11:25 am - Reply

    Interesting, I’ve never dieted but I know a lot of friends who do. I’ll have to show this to them, it will help them find something more effective I hope!

  18. Cami April 17, 2013 at 7:55 pm - Reply

    this has so much info! i am true believer you get what you work for!!! if you are healthy all year long then you wont have to worry about crash diets!!!

  19. Maria Iemma May 1, 2013 at 8:49 am - Reply

    I fried many of the so called crash diets, like the carrots and boiled eggs diet.  I got so sick of them by the third day…I lost weight but at too big a prize.  Moderate eating and moderate exercise plus lots of prayers have helped me lose 22 pounds in two months. No more crash diets for me!

    • Susan Bewley May 1, 2013 at 9:19 am - Reply

      I can agree with you there! I gained most of my weight from crash dieting. I was actually bulimic when I was a teenager.

  20. md kennedy May 12, 2013 at 1:49 am - Reply

    Although I've (LUCKILY!) never had to diet, I've watched my husband go up and down and up and down….and the most success he's had was when he was slow and steady (which wins the race!), although he did like to start with a quick first week because it was so motivational.  However, he knew that the speedy loss would not continue and that did not frustrate him.

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