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Why Crash Diets Will Only Capsize Your Weight Loss Efforts And What To Do Instead

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Jan 3, 2023

Crash diets rarely last for the long term. The best diet plan is one that stresses realistic long-term expectations.

 

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

My take on crash dieting

I’m not a fan of crash dieting. Plain and simple. Yet, many people will still rely on these weight loss methods. And when people ask my opinion of the latest crazy crash diet circulating on social media, this is what I tell them and what I am telling you: If the diet is followed as written, there’s doubt you will lose some weight fairly rapidly – but at a cost to your health, metabolism, muscle mass, and ability to sustain weight loss long-term.

Nutrition and health professionals know keeping weight loss off long-term after following a crash diet rarely works. Once you go off the diet, weight regain begins. You end up feeling like a failure until the next trending crash diet comes along, promising yet another “easy” solution setting you up, once again, for frustration and defeat.

Crash diets depend on selling you “quick” weight loss. They’re designed that way for a reason. Immediate gratification is motivating. You experience speedy success with a quick drop in weight, a thrilling and intoxicating influence. But, the rapid drop in pounds is most likely water weight loss. In addition, shedding weight too fast can lead to muscle mass loss, eventually slowing down your metabolism and weakening strength and endurance.

Achieving and maintaining optimal body weight is 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 understanding 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 learning new habits while unlearning old habits you’ve ingrained in your day-to-day decisions and activities over a long period.  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 to a new metabolic adaptation mode.  In other words, your body’s rate at which it burns calories, known as metabolism, becomes very efficient.  As a result, your body perceives you as starving, so it wants to protect you by using less energy or calories to maintain body functions.  This adaptation slows everything down, from nerve activity to heart rate, to keep 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 see, your body despises crash diets. So it will fight the dietary changes you are making by making hormonal adjustments telling you to “eat,” making you hyper-focused on food and feeling hungrier than ever.

So, once you quit following an unsustainable crash diet, you’ll find yourself returning to how you were eating before the diet.  Unfortunately, any weight you lose is usually regained rapidly.

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 and creating feelings of shame and frustration.  So, 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 a focus on good nutrition is a win-win for losing weight without compromising body composition or 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. You can do this by coupling a reduced calorie intake with physical activity and strength training.
  • 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.  So, every day, work in movement to burn more energy.
  • Plan meals and, if possible, prep meals several days in advance to help prevent reliance on ultra-processed convenience foods or picking up meals at a drive-through.
  • Eat meals and snacks at the same time every day, as much as you can, within reason.
  • Always have satiating fiber and protein at every meal. They help you feel fuller, longer.
  • Slow down and become a mindful eater, savoring food’s taste, texture, sight, and smell.
  • Avoid emotional eating triggers causing you to use food for comfort. Instead of seeking food as a temporary mood fix, consider meditating, taking a walk, or listening to music.
  • Put away all distractions when eating a meal – cell phones, laptops, watching TV, etc. This creates a situation of mindless eating leading likely to overeating. Instead, focus solely on the food on your plate, thoroughly enjoying every bite.

Takeaway message

Weight loss is a journey. It’s not a sprint. Excess body weight happens for many reasons other than simply overeating or under-exercising. Numerous factors include genetics, stress, environment, hormonal shifts, and certain medications that may cause weight gain. In other words, certain aspects may be beyond your control. But, it does mean your approach will need to be individualized according to your specific circumstances to help you reach your goals, something crash dieting rarely takes into account.

Everyone is different in their approach to what works best for them.  But following a crash diet is not your solution. Overly strict food rules, such as eliminating entire food groups or drastic calorie reductions, are not the answer.

Your body deserves better. Take care of it by treating it, first and foremost, kindly. Begin with wise food choices promoting bodily health. Food is ranked number three in the hierarchy of essential human needs, right after oxygen and water. Choose healthy foods that nourish your body the majority of the time. Enjoy eating – I do! Allow yourself a treat but be mindful of the frequency and amount. Eating should be one of the top pleasures in our lives.

Most of all, eat well to be well. You only have one body. Treat it well, and it will most likely sustain you throughout your life.

 

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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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