Whether it's bikini season knocking on your door or an upcoming special occasion, there are a number of reasons why people are looking to lose weight fast, and crash diets are the common outlet for these weight loss goals. However, crash diets can wreak havoc on your body and lead to a number of serious health problems.
What is a Crash Diet?
The one thing all crash diets have in common is that they are the most restrictive means of weight loss that you can follow. Typically, they involve severely cutting back on calories, leaving only 1,000 or even 500 calories per day. Often times they are paired with other "quick fixes" like juice cleanses, diuretics or diet pills. While the length of time varies from diet to diet, crash diets are meant for quick, short-term weight loss.
How Do They Work?
Crash diet fads shock the body, sending it into starvation mode. The severe restriction in calories often appear to be working after only a few days, however, despite the rapid weight loss, the body is not solely burning fat as fuel. First, it utilizes the stored up supply of carbohydrates, in the form of glycogen. As your body utilizes glycogen, you lose water as well, generating what seems like significant weight loss within the first few days of the diet.
Low calorie diets tend to be very restrictive, and during a period of crash dieting, your body will not be able to get the key nutrients that it needs for optimal health. If long term deficiencies persist, a number of things can occur, including leaching minerals from your bones, leading to osteoporosis and fractures or the leaching of iron from the blood, leading to anemia. In addition, low calorie diets can lead to a deficiency in particular nutrients such as sodium and potassium. These electrolytes are used in nerve and muscle function, and play an important role in regulating heart beats. Low enough levels of sodium and potassium can lead to increased risk of heart attack.
The Yo-Yo Effect
When you go for extended periods of time depriving your body of its nutritional needs, your body switches into starvation mode to conserve energy until adequate nutrition is restored. In order to conserve as much energy as possible, the body's natural metabolism will slow down to burn fewer calories, and fat conservation will be preserved. This means that eventually you will find yourself hitting a weight loss plateau, during which time it will become more and more difficult to lose weight. For the majority of the crash dieters, the plateau is followed by a period of weight gain. So, much like the up and down motion of a yo-yo, crash dieters often find that their weight constantly fluctuates with each diet that they go on.
Emotional Side Effects
Not only can crash diets impact your physical health and well-being, they also have a harsh effect on mental and emotional health. Because your body isn't getting the nutrients that it needs to make energy, restricted calories often leave dieters feeling irritable, tired and lethargic. Crash dieting can also lead to more serious emotional consequences such as depression and eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia.
Whether it's a grapefruit a day, cabbage soup or a fancy juice cleanse - there is a reason why "crash" is in the title of these diets. The truth is, there is no quick fix for weight loss. Instead, it requires hard work and dedication to find a weight loss program that works for you. Finding a method to achieving slow and gradual weight loss will not only be sustainable for long-term weight loss goals, but will also have no negative impacts on your health, leaving you succeeding, rather than crashing.
Sarah Dreifke is a freelance writer based in DeKalb, IL with a passion for nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease. She holds a Bachelor of Science in both Dietetics and Life Sciences Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently, she is working towards a combined Master's Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics as well as a dietetic internship at Northern Illinois University.