Post No.: 0406
A huge variety of crash or fad diets will work to reduce one’s weight because there are limitless ways to reduce one’s calorie intake, for which a common way with such diets is via a restriction to eating or drinking mainly certain things, such as a specific vegetable, a powder or other product that’s being sold, or even by cutting out an entire food group. You’ll end up not eating so much in total because you’ll get quickly bored with that restricted menu – but is that sustainable as a long-term diet and is it a great life?!
From a heavy starting point, one should find it easy to lose weight doing almost anything other than what one was doing before(!) It’s easier to noticeably improve an unfit body compared to an already-fit body. So this is the illusion that crash diets can give – most will technically work to reduce one’s weight… compared to carrying on as usual! So it’s not difficult to find fad diets that get results in the short-term – but few fad diets help people to sustain their results for the long-term. Well no fad diet does, otherwise it’d be an enduring diet rather than merely a ‘currently trendy’ one. Any short-term success doesn’t necessarily mean that a particular diet is sustainable or healthy for the long-term.
A prolonged drop in daily calories trains your metabolism to slow down, hence why gaining weight after a crash diet becomes far easier. Drinking too little water slows down your metabolism too.
What happens when people expect quick and easy results from a short-term diet is that the weight drops relatively easily during the first couple of weeks, but this is partly down to water loss. As well as burning some fat, reducing our calorie intake signals the body to tap into its liver and muscle sugar energy (glycogen) reserves, which are bound to water, and for every 1g of sugar that’s used up, ~3g of water is lost too via excretion. And when these reserves are largely used up, total weight loss also slows down. This water weight is easily put back on too.
So any diet that restricts calories will, in principle, allow you to lose some weight if kept up for at least a few days. But when you first go on a crash diet, a lot of the weight lost will be water. This can leave you feeling dehydrated. Muscle protein is also a more ready energy source than fat so this breaks down before fat does if one is on an aggressive calorie-restriction diet. The heart is a muscle too so your heart could be affected in extreme cases.
This slowdown in weight-loss progress can be demoralising if people don’t understand what’s going on. Well rates of improvement will and should gradually decrease. In fact, those who’ll find it most difficult to achieve improvements of any kind will be top athletes at their peak even when they’re doing all the right things – they’re seeking those extra fractions of percents. Also, people who don’t normally exercise or eat healthily often compensate – for every day they exercise or healthy meal they eat, they might self-reward themselves too much by moving even less than usual the next day or gorging during the next meal, thus undoing some of, or even totally reversing, the good work that they’d previously done! All this slowdown in progress can make people who crash diet feel mentally tired and de-motivated a few weeks into their change, and stress and tiredness is known to lead to poorer food and consumption choices too – leading them to put the weight back on (and then some) and creating a dangerous and vicious cycle of yoyo dieting.
When your brain and body senses a prolonged drop in calories, it’ll go into a sort of ‘starvation mode’. This will lead to a lower libido, a compromised immune system, you’ll feel colder for the lower metabolic rate, more lethargic, and you’ll feel a raging hunger. Crash diets are therefore tough and most people will give up or rebound from one and end up eating more after one is over. So although people will lose some weight in the short-term, they’ll frequently put on more weight than before the diet afterwards due to the rebound caused by the raging hunger; and a yoyo dieting pattern emerges. Many people overshoot in their consumption after a crash diet ends because the body is saying ‘store up fat reserves in case another starvation event happens again’. Crash diets are thus generally counterproductive and can actually lead to gradual weight gain over time, rather than weight loss, as many people who diet in this way can attest.
All this can leave you feeling weaker, fatigued and dizzy. Ketones are products of broken-down fatty acids, but in too-high levels they can be toxic to the liver and kidneys, and the brain will operate less optimally running on ketones, which leads to lethargy and stress, which in turn can ironically lead to binge-eating behaviours! And, if once you stop your crash diet and try to suddenly return to your former diet – in extreme cases you could suffer from a lethal ‘refeeding syndrome’, which is primarily seen amongst people with anorexia. This is when phosphorus, magnesium and potassium levels can abruptly drop, leading to heart failure, because the body has adapted to a malnourished homeostatic state with these minerals. (This is why people who’ve been stranded on desert islands – emaciated from having so little to eat – mustn’t suddenly gorge themselves on food if they get rescued. They must build up their intake slowly.)
A high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet will slow down your metabolism for the lack of glycogen from carbohydrates. Any weight loss will be due to muscle wastage and water loss, not just fat usage. So complex carbohydrates are vital for healthy, strong living, otherwise you’ll feel sluggish and weak from catabolism. The lack of fibre and associated undesirable side-effects aren’t great either. The brain uses a surprising amount of energy and needs carbohydrates – refined or unrefined – to function optimally. This is just another example of ‘your health does not 1:1 equate to your weight or how you look’ – it’s about how well you can perform and how vital you feel. Woof!
Intermittent or periodic fasting shows some promises, but a problem with some diets where one has restricted days/meals and then non-restricted days/meals within the week/day is that some people over-feast on the non-restricted days/meals. Post No.: 0320 investigated fasting more closely.
If you weigh yourself every single day then you might find that your weight fluctuates by a couple of kilograms from one day to the next naturally – this is mainly due to your water retention rather than fat levels. A high level of salts also increases water retention, but too little is dangerous too. ‘Water cutting’ (a technique used by bodybuilders, and boxers and MMA fighters before weigh-in) is a dangerous technique for losing weight rapidly, and for everyone else it’s completely pointless because this weight loss via water loss will be put right back on almost instantly.
Some people who crash diet also catastrophise their failures – they predict their failure, jump to the conclusion that if they fail then it’d be catastrophic, then if/when they (self-fulfillingly) fall off the wagon they’ll think ‘I’ve failed so I might as well fail big’ and so put on weight again (and likely a bit more). They may then think they’ll never ever succeed in shifting their weight for good.
If the fad diet industry largely worked then fewer people would remain obese – on the contrary, obesity rates have risen and have stayed risen despite so many people trying them. There are many individuals who’ve found such diets have worked for them but overall at the population level, obesity rates remain high and in some places are still rising despite the prevalence of such diets. The industry is governed by supply and demand, but people aren’t keeping the weight off, and most eventually put more back on, hence they end up worse off than if they didn’t ever start them, which isn’t what most of these dieters ‘demanded’ at all! Many do only care to lose enough weight for a special occasion but most want to keep the weight off permanently.
Even though this diet industry is generally failing for the vast majority of people in a health sense, it’s highly lucrative and profitable in a commercial sense. The Internet is full of commercials claiming that their particular diets work, but they would obviously say those things because they’re trying to sell them! Don’t be convinced by the celebrity endorsements either because most of them are being paid to promote particular diets. And don’t be fooled by the charismatic creators of such fad diets, the salespeople with their hard-selling tactics, or their cherry-picked statistics that don’t tell you the whole story. Most lack any independent scientific research to support their claims. Most people do lose pounds in the long-term… from their wallets! In a rational world, this industry would’ve dwindled for being largely a failure, which suggests that free markets can sometimes fail to provide optimal outcomes for society. When a crash or fad diet doesn’t work, most people think ‘just try a different one’, and so on and on, hanging dearly onto the hope of a quick and easy fix. There are diets that work – but they’re not quick fixes, or if they are quick then they won’t be easy or therefore likely sustainable for most.
If these fads worked, there’d not be any need or desire for more novel fads because the existing ideas would’ve worked to get and keep people as slim as they wished already! Places with the longest life expectancies aren’t places where people are trying the most health fads! But novel fads will continually appear because enough people still want the hope of a quick fix and so enough people will continue to fall for them because of their exploited desperation (just like people falling for ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes). And the vast majority of these ideas will be variations of the same theme, full of bunkum, a waste of money, and frequently ironically harmful to one’s health.
…Now crash dieting or losing a lot of weight rapidly is not generally harmful in itself, as long as the nutrition is still balanced and one does still consume enough calories to function i.e. if it’s done with relevantly-qualified supervision and without fad ingredient exclusivities or restrictions. But it’s just incredibly difficult to sustain because your body will fight such a rapid change and you’re highly likely going to feel miserable doing it.
Yet if you’re very obese or have type 2 diabetes then losing a lot of weight will improve your health compared to not losing any or as much at all, and it may even reverse your type 2 diabetes. Yoyo crash dieting, even if you put back on exactly the weight you’d lost and no more, may still be better than not dieting at all if you’re overweight. Repeatedly losing weight then putting it back on, just like repeatedly cutting smoking for a week then smoking again, is better than no intervention at all. But it’s even better to find a sustainable diet and make permanent lifestyle changes compared to either being fat or yoyo dieting. (Start with a few small changes, such as choosing lower-calorie drinks.)
Overall, any diet that reduces your calorie intake in any way (and increases your physical activity levels) will enable you to lose weight – and losing some fat, even just temporarily, may be better than not losing any at all. But in the long run we’ll need to find something that’s sustainable, healthy and enjoyable. The best diets that fulfil these criteria are well balanced, varied and are calorie-controlled. Exercise regularly and get enough sleep every night too. Simple.