Whether it’s to fit into that dress before the wedding or impatience to shed pounds in general, many will turn to crash diets to get the job done.
Unfortunately, there is no miracle quick-fix when it comes to weight loss. In fact, relying on crash diets to manage your weight can have a major impact on your health, especially your metabolism, experts say.
If you plan on starting a restive diet, though, remember that if you can’t keep eating that way long-term, you are best to work on ways to make improvements gradually, so that you can keep it up, rather than a “yo-yo diet,” in which people end up gaining more weight, D’Ambrosio says.
“Chronic dieting also has a negative impact on slowing your metabolism,” D’Ambrosio says. “Your body learns to run on fewer calories and to store calories and fat more efficiently when it is preparing for ‘restriction.’”
According to a 2016 study looking at contestants on the television show The Biggest Loser, not only does our metabolism slow when people diet, but it also remains suppressed when people regain the weight they lost while dieting with short-term solutions (like yo-yo dieting).
Another study by the University of Exeter in 2016 backs up those claims. In this study, researchers say that repeated dieting can lead to weight gain because the brain interprets the diets as short famines. This causes the body to store more fat for future shortages.
Crash dieting can also impact heart function, a recent study out of the University of Oxford reports. Better insulin resistance and healthier levels of total cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure were all reported in patients after one week. However, heart fat levels rose by 44 per cent. By week eight, the levels returned to normal, as did heart function, Medical News Today reports.
Researchers at the American Heart Association concluded in 2016 that losing and regaining weight repeatedly through yo-yo dieting increases one’s risk of death from heart disease and/or sudden cardiac death among postmenopausal women in particular. This risk was for women who are of normal weight, but not for women who are overweight or obese.
Then there’s the potential for nutrient deficiencies, D’Ambrosio says.
“Diets that remove whole food groups from the diet run the high risk of leading to nutritional deficiencies unless you make up the lost nutrients in other foods or supplements,” she says. “Working with a dietitian helps to ensure that your nutritional needs are being met from the food you are eating.”
And restricting your calories could put you at a higher risk of short-term effects, such as light-headedness, fatigue and nausea, D’Ambrosio says.
“Many who attempt fasting or severe restriction also find a corresponding increase in cravings or binging after their day of restriction,” she says. “People also run the risk of having less energy to do physical activity. This is not a diet I would recommend and believe more research needs to be done for the long-term health effects.”
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On a positive note, D’Ambrosio says that some of these “diets” encourage people to eat less processed food and eat more fruits and vegetables, which is a good thing, especially since people tend not to get enough in their diets.
“Eating a less processed diet also helps with weight management,” D’Ambrosio says. “Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption is beneficial for boosting potassium intake, which helps protect from high blood pressure and stroke.”
The trick to losing weight and keeping it off, D’Ambrosio says, is by doing it gradually.
“Weight loss is best sustained when it is lost at a gradual pace,” she says. “In order to lose weight, there needs to be a commitment to long-term lifestyle changes in order to keep off weight loss. The yo-yo dieting pattern that promises fast weight loss leads to a slower metabolism and often a higher weight than when the fad diet started in the first place.”
And remember, a restrictive diet is very hard to stick with, D’Ambrosio adds. While you may have short-term results, they’re often based on unsustainable strategies.
Also, try changing your mindset from “weight focused” to “health focused,” D’Ambrosio suggests.
“If we are only driven by the number on the scale or yearning to look like a photo-shopped celebrity, we are likely to feel frustrated and deflated,” she says. “Bodies come in all different shapes and sizes and by being ‘health-focused.’ You will be able to direct your energy on nurturing yourself and making lasting changes for a healthier tomorrow.”
Losing weight slows your metabolism, so try to keep it revving through meal regularity. Also, implement resistance-training exercises.
Lastly, find some support in your weight loss journey. This can be done through a professional dietitian.