Do Crash Diets Work? The Risks Associated With It

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Crash Diets are quick fixes that work in the short term, but eventually lead to weight gain and larger health problems

The word ‘crash’ in Crash Diets should give an inkling about their success rate. While you may be tempted by the promise of weight loss in a week’s time, know that in the long term, they are bound to fail.

While there is greater awareness about the importance of a balanced exercise and diet plan to lose weight and stay healthy today, there’s no denying that people continue to seek quick fix solutions. Nobody wants to spend one whole month losing two kilos, or exercise when they are hard-pressed for time.

In India, Crash Diets - where someone tries to quickly lose weight by cutting down on what they eat to less than 1,200 calories a day – are the go-to option when there’s a wedding or function on the horizon. Clients who have two weeks or a month to prepare for a big event usually call with questions about Crash Diets. They believe they too can lose 5 kg in a week because somebody they know has, or they’ve read about it online.  The Detox Diet, which involves drinking a whole lot of juice and little else to purge your system, and the General Motors Diet that severely restricts the number of calories you take in on a day to produce fast weight loss results, are the ones most talked about in India. What most people don’t realise is that neither is sustainable in the long term, nor do they emphasise lifestyle changes or give any importance to the role physical activity plays in weight loss. Diet solutions have to be long term, and these are all temporary fixes.

Take the Detox Diet for instance – research has proved that it’s nothing but a myth. The liver and kidneys are the body’s natural inbuilt system of detoxification, so drinking plain water daily is a good enough plan to flush out toxins. You don’t have to put any extra effort into it.  A high-fiber, high-protein diet is your best bet if you want to ‘cleanse’ your system, as you’ll be getting at least 1,000 calories and more nutrients as compared to just juicing which is well below the requisite calorie count.

Quick weight loss is followed by quicker weight gain on Crash Diets

There are a lot of stories out there about people who have instantly lost weight on Crash Diets. What they don’t mention is how quickly the weight lost, is regained.

Here’s what actually happens when you restrict your calorie intake for quick results. When you fail to meet your body’s basic calorie requirements, your body has no choice but to break down lean muscle mass to produce glucose (energy). People on Crash Diets who lose 5 kg in a week or so aren’t burning fat – they’re burning muscle mass, which is essential for the body to maintain a steady metabolic rate and lower the risk of lifestyle disorders such as diabetes and heart disease. Also, most Crash Dieters tend to binge eat after depriving themselves, so the weight lost is regained as fat and the drastic cutting of calories has served no purpose.  Tiredness, weakness, headaches and low energy levels are other fallouts of going on a Crash Diet. Blood pressure and sodium depletion are more serious problems that can develop in the long run. In extreme cases, people who have followed restrictive diets for extensive periods of time have even lost their lives.

quicker weight gain on Crash Diets

Many Crash Diets recommend focusing on one food group or excluding it entirely, but the body needs a certain balance of 40-odd nutrients every day. A few months or a year down the line, a Crash Dieter may be diagnosed with deficiencies. For instance, research has shown that long-term followers of the Atkins Diet are at a higher risk of colon cancer as their fiber intake is very low.

The other problem with Crash Diets is they completely cut out the role of exercise in weight loss. That’s because workouts don’t offer quick-fix solutions -- it can’t be accomplished in one week.  You start with a basic plan and increase intensity or change your workout depending on the results shown over time. Plus for sustained, long-term weight loss, you require muscle and bone strength, and that can only be built through exercise.

The safe way to lose weight

A successful weight loss plan has to be sustainable. Anything that you can only follow for a week – like the 7-Day Detox Diet, Master Cleanse or Cabbage/Chicken Soup Diet - is not sustainable in the long run. Recently, I counselled a lady with several health problems who had tried losing weight on one of these very restricted diet plans. She had little luck, but after joining HealthifyMe, she managed to lose 3 kg just by eating right.  

The safe way to lose weight

These are the cornerstones of a good weight loss plan:

  • Balanced diet
  • Exercise
  • Portion control
  • Healthy snacking

There is no expiry date for a good weight loss plan -- you have to build it into your lifestyle, where after a point you don’t need anyone to coax you and say you have to do it.

Originally Published on the HealthifyMe Blog

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