The number of different diets available is overwhelming; Atkins, Gluten-Free, Paleo, South Beach, Vegan, Cookie Diet, Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, Juice Fasting, Mediterranean, Montignac, the list goes on and on. These diets are not necessarily unhealthy, but one diet type, the crash diet, is not recommended because a person is required to drastically change their eating habits in a short period of time. Crash diets are very low in calories and nutrients, so they can potentially damage a person’s health.
Even worst than going on a crash diet is going from one crash diet to the next, or alternating between eating normally and dieting. The yo-yo effect of the back and forth between weight gain and weight loss can not only have a disastrous effect on health, but may affect a person’s ability to maintain a healthy weight or lose extra pounds.
Unpleasant side effects can result from going on a crash diet, and these may reside for a long time even after a change in diet has been made. The body loses important muscle mass, which changes the fat-to-muscle ratio in the body.
“Muscle is a key factor in weight loss because it burns calories more effectively than fat,” says Vanessa Perrone, nutritionist and founder of Motive Nutrition. The speed of a person’s metabolism is also greatly affected by a sudden weight loss; the metabolism “slows things down to hold on to all of its energy” after rapidly losing pounds, explains the expert.
A slower metabolism makes it much harder for the body to burn calories and lose weight. When a person suddenly stops losing weight or rapidly gains the weight back due to the body’s starvation response, they go back on another diet, which starts an endless cycle. Negative effects of chronic dieting include an increased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, nutritional deficiencies, hair loss, as well as psychological effects such as emotional distress and depression.
Emotional eating vs. mindful eating
A crash diet may do more harm than good, and is usually not a long-term answer to weight issues. “The reason most diets fail is that they are restrictive in nature and impose change that the person may not feel ready to sustain long term.” says Vanessa Perrone. Therefore, to get good results, a person should make progressive healthy changes in the diet, instead of crash dieting.
Nichole Kellerman, a former self-proclaimed diet addict, knows all too well about some of the negative effects of yo-yo dieting. When asked what diets she has tried, she says, “you name them, I have tried them”. Going on different diets did help her to lose a few pounds, but for her it was never a long-term solution; diets are not only restrictive, but they also do not work on the “emotional side of food”.
Nichole says that for most our relationship to food is an emotional one, and most diets do not let us give in to our body’s needs. A diet that works for someone may give poor results to another, so it is crucial to develop a good relationship with food and choose the ones that make the body feel great. Constantly being on a diet made Nichole feel anything but great: she says, diets affected “my belief in myself and my self esteem”, leading to feelings of “shame and guilt” when she cheated on the diet or didn’t work out. Now a healthy lifestyle advocate, Nichole is the founder of the Successful Weight Loss School website, where she shares with her clients her bad experiences with diets and tips on how to stay healthy. Instead of crash dieting, she suggests to “tune in to your body” and give it the healthy foods that it craves.
Originally published November 2013. Updated June 2016.