Crash Dieting and Your Body

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Crash dieting is more damaging to your body than being ten pounds overweight. Women young and old fall victim to crash or fad diets at one time or another. Crash dieting is especially popular and dangerous during the summer months when women realize they have to start wearing less clothing during warm weather.

Why do women crash diet? Advertisers promise us quick weight loss in weeks or days. Usually such diets involve popping miraculous 'pills' or portions, or limiting our dietary intake to shakes or some bizarre combination of fruits and juices. Most crash diets involve caloric consumption under 1000 calories.

Why Crash Diets Are Bad
For your body to work normally, most women need to eat a minimum of 1500 calories per day. If you exercise regularly, you need to eat 2,000 or more calories. When your caloric intake drops too low, as is the case in most crash diets, your body goes into alarm mode. First, your body uses up your carbohydrate stores to provide you with the energy you need to get through the day. Once these are gone, your body panics. It goes into what we call "starvation mode" and starts hoarding calories during the 'dry spell' to make sure it can supply you with the energy it needs in the long-term. Your body starts breaking down the protein in your muscles to create energy. The result? You start to feel weak and tired.

You will start losing weight, but this is because your body is burning muscle to provide you with the energy you need to get through the day. Remember that muscle helps burn fat, so the less you have the less fat you will burn. Muscle is also important for boosting your metabolism.

After your body burns its muscle reserves, your metabolism starts to slow down. Why? Your muscle mass impacts your metabolism. The less muscle you have the slower your metabolism runs. What happens next? When you return to your ordinary diet, you gain weight because your metabolism is now slower than it was before to conserve your energy and fat stores. Thus, not only will you regain any weight you lost during your crash diet, you'll probably gain back even more weight than you initially started with. Severe and frequent crash dieting can also lead to many adverse health conditions including:
  • Kidney problems

  • Dehydrations

  • Malabsorption

  • Vitamin and nutrient deficiencies

  • Nausea

  • Increased risk for heart problems

  • Depression

Alternatives To Crash Dieting
The only way to lose weight effectively and permanently is to take it off slowly. You also have to establish realistic goals for yourself. No fad diet is going to magically transform your body from one shape to another. A sensible diet and exercise program however, will not only shape your body, but will keep it looking and working great for a lifetime.

Once you get into a habit of crash dieting, it's often hard to break the cycle of dieting and could actually be anorexia. You may find initially that your body attempts to put on rather than lose weight because your metabolism is affected by your crash dieting sessions. The good news is you can reset your metabolism to its pre-crash state. In fact, you can even make it work better.

The key to boosting your metabolism is building muscle. That means you need to get to the gym and engage in a routine strength-training program. You should work up to a point where you can lift weights three times per week. You also need to start eating a healthy diet that includes a minimum of 1500 calories every day. If you aren't sure how many calories you need to maintain a healthy body weight, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can work with you to establish a healthy weight loss and fitness regimen that incorporates a safe caloric intake.

If you want to jump start your diet and exercise program, you may consider a brief mini detoxification program at the start of your diet and exercise plan. The point of a detoxification plan is not to lose weight. It is not a crash diet. The point is to help your body function more efficiently. One way to do this is to eat a vegetarian diet for a week that incorporates plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. You'll also need to drink at least 10 large glasses of water every day. A high fiber diet is also essential for helping your body lose weight and fight disease.

If you are a crash dieter, the best thing you can do for yourself is re-evaluate your health goals and start eating a more diverse diet that incorporates plenty of nutritious, nutrient dense foods. Why not ask a friend or buddy to join you in your quest and banish crash diets from your vocabulary forever? Remember, in the long term, a crash diet is far worse for you than simply accepting the weight you are at and starting a long-term healthy diet and exercise plan.