Crash and Burn: Yo-Yo and Crash Dieting

Trying to fit into that dress you have lined up for your class reunion? Getting ready to hit the beach in that bikini? If so, then you may be thinking about losing a few extra pounds before you slip into that form-fitting outfit. You may even be considering going on a crash diet in order to lose the pounds as quickly as possible. However, crash dieting is an extremely dangerous way to go about losing weight, and can lead to yo-yo dieting and a number of serious health problems. So before you decide to plunge into a crash diet, here are some facts that you need to know.

What is a Crash Diet?
A crash diet is one of the most restrictive types of weight loss plans that you can follow. It involves drastically cutting back on the amount of calories and fat that you take in on a daily basis. Similar to a starvation diet, a crash diet is often paired with other weight loss “fixes,” including extreme exercise routines and the use of diuretics or diet pills. Thousands of men and women follow crash diets every year in the hopes that they will lose a significant amount of weight in a very short period of time. However, crash diets are recognized by health care professionals and dieticians as being a very dangerous way of trying to lose the excess pounds.

Do Crash Diets Work?: The Yo-Yo Diet Cycle
If you follow a crash diet, you will probably notice that you do lose a significant amount of weight in the first week or so. In fact, many men and women notice that they lose five pounds or even more during the first few days of their crash diet. However, this weight loss isn’t true weight loss ‘ instead, it can be attributed to the loss of water weight that happens during crash diets. This is because low-calorie diets cause the body to burn up excess glycogen, a type of glucose that absorbs excess fluid inside the body.

Additionally, weight loss during crash diets doesn’t continue for a very long time. Eventually, you will find yourself hitting a weight loss plateau, during which it will become more and more difficult for you to lose weight. The majority of crash dieters find that this weight loss plateau is followed by a period of weight gain. Many followers of crash diets even end up putting back on all of the weight they lost, along with additional pounds. This is known as the yo-yo diet effect: just like the up and down motion of a yo-yo, crash dieters find that their weight is constantly fluctuating with each diet that they go on.

What Causes The Yo-Yo Effect?
Crash diets are linked to the yo-yo diet effect because of the impact that this type of starvation diet has on your body’s metabolism. In order to support all of the functions that your body performs on a daily basis, your body needs to burn a certain amount of calories. The rate at which your body burns calories is known as your metabolism.

During crash diets, your body eventually clues in to the fact that it is receiving a very low number of calories. As a result, your body actually adjusts its metabolism, so that it burns fewer calories in order to perform all of its necessary bodily functions. This means that it takes fewer calories for you to gain weight, making it more and more likely that you will put on weight at the end of your diet. Your body can maintain this decreased metabolism for a number of months, or even years, after a serious low-calorie diet.

What are the Health Risks of Crash Diets

Crash diets aren’t only a poor way of losing weight and maintaining healthy weight loss, but they are also very dangerous for your body. There are both short-term and long-term health effects that you could experience by following a strict crash diet.

Mental Health Problems
Crash diets are extremely hard on your overall mental and emotional health. Not only do crash diets cause extreme food cravings, but they can also wreak havoc with your mood: you may find yourself feeling more irritable or depressed than usual when you are on a crash diet. Crash diets can also set people up for serious mental health disorders, particularly eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

Nutritional Deficiency
Low calorie diets tend to be very restrictive, and you will find that you will be unable to eat healthy foods. In fact, long-term crash dieting can result in serious nutritional deficiencies, as a result of eating a poor variety of foods. In particular, crash dieters are putting themselves at risk for:

  • iron deficiency anemia
  • vitamin B12 deficiency
  • potassium and sodium deficiency

Potassium and sodium deficiency is particularly dangerous. These electrolytes are used by your body to ensure proper nerve and muscle function. They play a particularly important role in regulating the way that your heart beats. If potassium and sodium levels become low enough, you could suffer from a heart attack.

Vital Organ Damage
Crash diets are extremely dangerous for your vital organs, including your heart, kidneys, liver, and brain. In order to perform their daily functions, your vital organs rely on energy from your carbohydrate intake. During strict crash diets, carbohydrate and calorie intake is so low, that your organs cannot get enough energy from these sources. As a result, your organs begin to burn muscle tissue in order to get adequate amounts of energy to perform vital functions. If your calorie intake becomes low enough, your body will even begin to burn the muscle tissue that makes up your actual organs in order to provide your brain with sufficient energy to function. This can result in serious health problems, including:

  • liver failure
  • kidney failure
  • heart attack
  • stroke

Long-term crash dieters frequently suffer from osteoporosis, a disease that causes the bones in your body to become extremely brittle. This is because fast crash diets severely limit your intake of calcium. As a result, calcium begins to leach out of the bones in your body, leaving them particularly fragile. Many crash dieters suffer broken bones, particularly hips and wrists, as a result of their osteoporosis.

Avoiding Crash Diets: Losing Weight the Healthy Way
If you are intent on losing some weight, it is best to avoid crash and yo-yo diets at all costs. Instead, engage in healthy weight loss methods by following these tips:

  • Speak with your doctor before beginning any weight loss plan. She can provide you with tips on how to lose weight safely.
  • Don’t cut back on calories too quickly. Instead, slowly reduce calories so that your body’s metabolism doesn’t slow down.
  • Focus on limiting portion sizes and choosing healthier food options. Pair this with regular exercise and you will find that the weight drops off!
  • Look at your weight loss plan not as a diet, but as a healthy new lifestyle. This will encourage you to continue to with healthy eating habits on a long-term basis.

Chat with other women about dieting and about which diets are best in our women’s health forum.

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