The Dangers of Crash Dieting
By: Grace Derocha, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
If diets worked, why do so many people try a new one every year?
A crash diet, or a restrictive meal plan focused on fast-turn weight loss, can be dangerous to a person’s physical and mental health. Regardless of short-term results, a deprivation-driven meal plan may lead to more serious, long-term health issues down the road. The word “diet” alone has the connotation of having a beginning and an end. Eating healthy and incorporating good nutrition into meals should be an everyday, lifelong habit.
- It Impacts Body Image and Self-Esteem: The relationship a person shares with food goes far beyond the need to eat – it’s linked to emotions, memories, events and people. Crash dieting, often driven by poor body image, can alter a person’s perception of food and turn eating into a negative experience. Research also shows that even moderate dieting is capable of leading to more serious eating disorders, depression or anxiety.
- It Slows the Metabolism: Believe it or not, an extreme low-calorie diet can have an adverse effect on a person’s weight loss goals. When the body is put into “starvation mode,” it will preserve energy—not burn it. This response often carries on beyond the diet period. More than half of those who diet return to their pre-diet weight within three years, while others can gain even more weight.
- It Puts Stress on the Heart: One study found that individuals on a very low-calorie diet suffered deteriorating heart function. Excessive dieting can also cause cardiac stress, potentially leading to heart attack. The American Heart Association recommends individuals consume a nutrient-dense diet that include vitamins, minerals, protein and whole grains in order to control weight, cholesterol and blood pressure.
- It Can Cause Dehydration: Crash diets, especially those dependent on supplements from smoothies to teas or pills, may yield fast results; However, they are short-lived and ultimately ineffective. The primary ingredient is typically a laxative or diuretic that can cause severe dehydration, muscle cramps and even diarrhea. Many are marketed as detoxes that flush the body of unwanted calories, but unfortunately, it’s mostly water weight.
- It Poses a Risk for Malnutrition: Most crash diets are void of essential vitamins and nutrients necessary for the body to function. This creates a dietary deficiency or malnutrition which can cause you to feel tired, cold and irritable. More serious complications include a weakening of the immune system, trouble breathing, fertility issues and even premature death.
- It Can Damage Hair and Skin Health: Research has found that strict dieting and poor nutrition can lead to excessive hair loss. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, individuals may develop alopecia three to six months after losing 15 pounds or more. An unbalanced diet can also cause excessive dryness, breakouts and rash.
- It Can Lead to Weight Gain: Due to their restrictive nature, crash diets are difficult to maintain. Drastic deprivation often leads to a pattern of banning and then binge eating. This roller coaster effect may seem like a good idea for quick results, but in the long run can be detrimental to the body, spirit and mind. The safest way to achieve long-term weight loss is to eat a balanced diet consisting of whole grains, lean protein, fruits, vegetables and heart healthy fats. It’s also important to limit added sugar and sodium, portion properly and avoid empty calories that could lead to overeating.