Why Crash Dieting Is A Bad Idea

I was talking to a new client the other day and she was telling me about her ongoing weight loss battles.
She told me that she had once found huge success with a very popular and restrictive weight loss plan. She had an important event and she wanted to lose a lot of weight to fit into a particular outfit this plan was easy to follow, she lost the weight quickly, looked great in the outfit and was happy. Of course once the event had passed , her eating became more relaxed and she put the weight back on. Some time later she had another important event, so she embarked on another restrictive diet and again the weight came off, albeit it was a lot harder to lose the weight this time. Once the event was done and eating was restored to normal, the weight came back.
This cycle continued and continued and now today, with another important event looming she is really struggling to lose the weight and says that her metabolism seems to have slowed right down.
This story sounded so familiar to me, maybe to you too, so I thought you it might be useful to set out a few reasons why crash dieting doesn’t work.

Firstly there is physiology. The body doesn’t understand the concept of “dieting”.  It simply recognises dieting as a sign of starvation so it goes into “starvation mode” which basically means that it becomes very efficient at using the calories it obtains from food and drink.
The main thing that happens is that the body starts to protect the stores of energy or fat that have accumulated and it turns to lean muscle as its calorie source. This directly leads to loss of muscle which in turn lowers the metabolic rate so that the body needs fewer calories to keep functioning and weight loss slows down.
Generally the more muscle we have, the higher our metabolic rate, the less we have, the lower our metabolic rate.
When we start eating normally again we gain weight more easily because our metabolic rate is still low.  Sometimes it take months to readjust especially if we have lost a lot of muscle mass during the diet.  Also, your body will hoard as much fat as it can, just in case the “starvation” happens again. This explains why people gain so much weight after a bout of crash dieting.
Luckily, the negative effects of yoyo dieting on your metabolism can be reversed by building muscle through exercise and eating the right foods.

The body will also set up an “anti starvation” trigger if weight loss is too quick. This basically means that it sets itself up to take advantage of any food source it finds, so when food becomes available there will be a tendency to binge as the brain assumes that this food might be the only calorie source for a long time. So when we haven’t eaten for a while and then we overeat, this is not down to lack of willpower but the physiological programming of our bodies.

Studies show that restricting calories will bring about weight loss inside a 6 month period but that the weight will be gained back within 12 – 18 months. Other studies indicate that calorie restriction is only 50% effective in achieving mathematical projections for weight loss.  In other words it is possible that excess calorie intake may not be the primary cause of obesity, just another symptom. If some hormonal or genetic abnormality has triggered an issue which causes overeating, then how can forcibly restricting food intake solve the problem? It may mask the symptom i.e. weight gain, for a while but it will not correct the underlying hormonal or genetic dysfunction. If this remains unchanged then the risk of weight gain is still present because the stimulus has been ignored.

The mind can also affect our ability to diet, as well as be impacted by our diet. Nutritionists talk about a deprivation – binge cycle which is both physiological and psychological. Not only will the  body crave missing nutrients, the mind will also crave what’s forbidden and when we give in, which experts say will happen 2 out of 3 times, it is very likely that we will overeat or binge which will then lead to feelings of guilt, which leads again to crash dieting and so on ..
Crash dieters get into a cycle of yoyo dieting and then may lose confidence in their ability to lose weight and feel miserable as a result.
Self denial and repeated crash dieting can also increase the risk of the “all or nothing” mentality where we think, what the hell I just “relapsed” so I may as well go the whole hog and eat big time and I’ll start again tomorrow.
Also extreme dieting makes you moody, irritable and lethargic and research has shown that crash diets can decrease your attention span, dull your memory and lower your IQ as early as 48 hours from when the diet was started.

So, does crash dieting work? Definitely not …

If you need to lose weight do it sensibly and slowly through exercise and sensible balanced eating rather than going to extreme crash diets which may help you lose weight in the short term but will definitely slow down your ability to lose weight and keep it off for the long term.
Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live shutterstock_238348891

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