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Why “crash” diets capsize weight loss efforts

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Mar 28, 2018

One of the worst things you can do when attempting to reach a healthier body weight is to go on a ‘crash” diet.  Crash dieting takes on many forms – fasting, detox programs, yo-yo diets, ‘cleanses,’ or perhaps extremely low calorie liquid diets, each examples of radical calorie deprivation all in the name of losing weight quickly.

No matter what method a crash diet may use, no doubt you will lose some weight fairly rapidly – but at a cost to your health, metabolism, and ability to sustain weight loss long-term.

Achieving and maintaining an optimal body weight can be challenging.  Wanting to succeed at improving your health and well-being is admirable and should be encouraged.  When the goal is to lose a few pounds, it requires an understanding of the physiology and psychology of how to lose weight successfully and sustainably.  However, if you follow a crash diet lacking competence and a realistic strategy, your prospect of long-term success in keeping whatever weight you lose off for good, will likely be thwarted.

Why crash dieting sets you up for disappointment

The quick fix mentally of crash dieting will not fix a condition needing a lifelong solution. Reaching an optimal body composition requires leaning new habits while unlearning old habits you’ve ingrained in your day-to-day decisions and activities over a long period of time.  Crash diets are aptly named – in just a short matter of time, you will “crash” or find them too difficult to follow for the rest of your life.

Rapid weight loss from crash diets results in your body adapting by switching into a new mode called metabolic adaptation.  In other words, your body’s rate at which it burns calories known as metabolism becomes very efficient.  Your body perceives you are starving so it wants to protect you by using up less energy or calories to maintain body functioning.  This adaptation slows everything down from nerve activity to your heart rate in the sake of keeping you alive.  Since you’ll be burning fewer calories, you will have to reduce your calorie intake even more to sustain the same rate of weight loss.

You’ll find once you quit following a crash diet and go back to regular eating, any weight you lost is rapidly regained.

Take charge using a sensible eating plan

Crash dieting is not a sensible way to lose weight.  They only set you up for weight loss failure making you miserable leading to feelings of shame and frustration.  It’s time to get off the crash dieting weight loss merry-go-round and for once take charge by eating a sensible meal pattern:

  • Achieving weight loss does require a reduction in calories. The key is to adopt a healthy overall eating pattern.  Balancing your calories with the focus on good nutrition is a win-win for losing some weight without compromising body composition or your metabolism.
  • Make every bite count by improving the quality of your food choices – increase fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, lean meat, yogurt, whole grains, and fish. Avoid overly processed foods such as sugary beverages, chips, sweets, and fast foods.
  • Maximize fat loss while minimizing lean muscle mass loss – the less muscle mass you have, the fewer calories you burn. This can be done by coupling a reduced calorie intake with physical activity.
  • Once reaching your weight goal, prevent weight regain by becoming a consistent exerciser. Exercise is your friend in helping you build and maintain muscle.  Muscle burns more calories at rest keeping you from weight regain.  Every day, work in movement to burn more energy.
  • Plan prepare meals several days in advance to help prevent poor last-minute choices
  • Eat meals and snacks at the same time every day.
  • Always have satiating fiber and protein at every meal.
  • Slow down and become a mindful eater, savoring the taste, texture, sight, and smell of food.
  • Avoid emotional eating triggers causing you using food for comfort. Instead of seeking out food as a temporary mood fix, consider meditating, taking a walk, or listening to music.

Blunt food cravings by doing an activity requiring focused attention – yard work or gardening, playing solitaire, doing a hobby, or putting a puzzle together.

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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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