Crash dieting – More harm than good?

Crash dieting – More harm than good?

We have all been there; bloated, lethargic and not feeling our best. For me, it usually happens after a weekend of indulgence or following a prolonged period spent on the sofa, which, given the recent lockdowns, has been a hard thing to avoid.

Whether we have a holiday booked (at this moment, that would be a wonderful thing), or you are returning to the office after months working at home, you might well go in search of a quick body transformation, one that comes with minimum effort.

One glance at the internet, and you will be inundated with quick fixes on the lines of “how to get a flat belly in 10 days”, with a list of crash diets that claim they will take all of us from couch potatoes to bikini models in weeks.

So, what is the catch?

Continue reading if you want to find out why crash dieting could have some detrimental effects on your physical and mental health whilst also promoting weight gain in the long run.

What Is A Crash Diet?

A crash diet is an extreme dieting form, incorporating a sudden and drastic reduction in your calorie intake; the most popular forms including juice cleanses, cutting out whole food groups, fasting or consuming pre-packaged dieting products. Whilst these diets may vary in their macronutrient composition, they all follow the same fundamental principle to deliver fast results — by producing a large calorie deficit.

In fact, many of these diets advocate food intake below that required to maintain your basic bodily functions (i.e. your basal metabolic rate (BMR)), which will leave you feeling lethargic, dizzy and ready to give up your quest within days.

Is It Really Worth The Torture?

The short answer to that question is NO.  It might seem logical that drastically reducing your calorie intake will lead to weight loss but eating too few calories can actually backfire and sabotage your efforts, not to mention the physical and psychological impact of drastically restricting food intake.

Why Can You Not  Keep The Pounds Off?

It would be great if you could talk to your body.

 “Hey, I’ve got a huge event coming up next weekend, and I was wondering if you could drop a couple of pounds. Oh, and by the way, do you mind not touching my boobs or ass? Thanks!”

Sadly your body is oblivious to your intentions for weight loss, so when calorie intake is cut drastically, it assumes food is scarce and reacts in an attempt to minimise energy expenditure and to protect you from starvation (which compromises bodily function). Warning signals are sent out within the body to increase appetite and reduce metabolic rate, allowing you to conserve as much energy as possible and promote survival. . This leads to that weight loss plateau that is so familiar to anyone trying to diet. Also, bodily functions that are not essential to survival (i.e. reproduction and growth) are sacrificed to spare fuel for cell survival, which can have some detrimental effects on your health over a long period of calorie restriction.

So let us assume your torturous diet is over, and you have lost a couple of pounds (which, might I add, is mostly just water and muscle loss).

Instead of feeling good, the most likely scenario is you are ravenously hungry, and if you are anything like me, you will be counting down the minutes until you can get your chops around a big juicy burger. Sadly for us, the large gap created between hunger and energy expenditure will not disappear following the end of the diet, meaning that when you return to your normal eating habits, you will be burning fewer calories than before, whilst also being increasingly hungry.  The consequence is, the weight piles back on and, in some cases, can lead to people weighing more than they did before they began dieting.

These diets’ constant failure to produce long-term results can lead you into a vicious cycle of dieting, with your weight fluctuating in the process. This is referred to as “Yo-Yo” dieting and will be doing you more harm than good, as it is associated with several long-term health consequences;

  1. Increased risk of obesity
  2. Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  3. Increased risk of type 2 diabetes
  4. Increased blood pressure
  5. Muscle Loss
  6. Increased body fat percentage

“Yo-Yo” dieting can also have serious effects on your mental health. Trust me, I have been there.

The extreme fluctuations in weight that comes with crash dieting can leave you feeling defeated, blaming yourself for your failure to keep the weight off, which in itself can lead to more restrictive eating habits, predisposing an individual to develop an eating disorder (ED), disinhibited eating or binge eating.

What Is The Take Home Message If You Are A Yo-Yo Dieter?

Remind yourself that crash diet products and plans are not created to produce long-term results.  Instead, think about it from the crash diet industries point of view; they need returning customers so they can continue to make money from their products or schemes.

If there were one product that produced lasting results, their industry would be obsolete. Therefore, they benefit hugely from your failure to sustain a weight loss.

Some of you may not have participated in these diets for weight loss but instead were drawn in by their detox and cleansing claims, with suggestions that they will improve your health (i.e. improved digestion, liver function, shiny hair and strong nails) and remove toxins from your body. However, despite attractive packaging and sales patter, these claims are not backed by scientific evidence. Instead, this is simply another marketing attempt to attract healthy weight and even underweight individuals to invest in these products/diets.

It is important to stop looking for a “miracle diet”, which will transform your body overnight. It simply does not exist.

This is a lesson I learnt after years of struggling. Whilst I was a healthy, athletic teenager, I was drawn into the dieting culture by social media and began jumping from one diet to the next. As I got older, each diet became more extreme than the other and overtime restricting my food intake became normality. I spent years trying to obtain a figure that did not fit my physical frame, which led me to develop an ED with considerable cost to my health, developing both irritable bowel disease (IBS) and functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA).

I broke my cycle of dieting two years ago and have never looked back. I am now the happiest, healthiest and strongest I have ever been. By making lifestyle changes that support my body rather than work against it, I have managed to regain my period and eliminate my severe IBS symptoms.

If you start by focusing on eating for your health rather than to lose weight, you will begin to feel happier and healthier. If your body needs to shed some weight, this will be a knock-on effect. If you are truly living your healthiest lifestyle, everything else will fall into place.  Note the word lifestyle. I do not believe in dieting but instead think that people should make health-conscious decisions daily. There are many small changes you can make to your life, which together will greatly benefit your overall health and happiness.

If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be to learn to love yourself and stop fixating on obtaining society’s perfect body. Firstly, it doesn’t exist. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, with our uniqueness and individualism making us who we are. And secondly, next year society will have changed their mind on what “perfect” is.

How To Be Your Happiest Healthiest Self

Below are my top tips for living your happiest, healthiest life. It can be tempting to go from 0 to 100 when introducing a healthier lifestyle, so take your time and slowly introduce these new habits to be sustainable over the long term.

1. Cut Out The Junk Food

We all know it is bad for us, and yet it can be hard to resist. Processed foods are generally high in calories but have minimal nutritional content. Cutting out junk food (e.g. chips, fizzy drinks and sweets) can drastically reduce your calorie intake, leaving more room for nutrient-dense food. This will naturally aid weight loss whilst significantly improving your health which is a “win-win”. 

2. Focus On Eating Wholefoods.

I cannot stress this enough.  Cutting out the junk food and concentrating on eating whole foods (i.e. lean protein, legumes, fruits, vegetables and whole grains) will ensure that you are getting all the macro-and micro-nutrients you need aiding weight loss in the long term. Eating healthily does not have to mean steamed vegetables and fish every night. With a bit of creativity in the kitchen, you can whip up endless yummy dishes which all the family will love.

Check out the recipe section on my blog for some quick, easy and yummy dishes.

3. Move More

This does not mean go outside and run 5 miles every day (If you can do that, then wow, you are a lot fitter than me!) Instead, commit yourself to move more each day, whether that means a gentle stroll in the park or attending a gym class. I aim to do 10k steps a day which is a great goal for anyone starting on their healthy journey. Once you can sustain that, then up the workout intensity. To reduce my internal stress levels, I have recently focused on low-intensity exercise (i.e. Pilates and yoga) rather than intense cardio (i.e. running). I find this works best for my body, but you may be entirely different. The most important thing is to incorporate exercise you enjoy.

4. Get Enough Sleep

Getting enough sleep is imperative to good health and will increase your energy levels and productivity and is also vital for weight loss. There is evidence that getting a good amount of sleep can help a person reduce the number of calories they consume in a day and increase athletic performance. I struggled with insomnia for years and found it hard to get more than 5-6 hours of sleep a night. What helped me transform my sleep quality was implementing a night-time routine, which ensured I had at least an hour of unwinding time before bed, where I read instead of sitting on an electronic device. Taking a magnesium supplement an hour before bed has also been shown to boost sleep quality and quantity.  Another tip is to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, which helps regulate your sleeping pattern.

5.  Practice Mindfulness

For many, stress can have an impact on their weight.  When you are stressed, cortisol (stress hormone) is heightened. This “fight or flight” mode can cause us to crave sugary and fatty foods, increasing our likelihood of overeating.  Minimising your stress levels can have a major effect on your weight and improve your overall health. When we think of mindfulness, we immediately think of yoga or meditation; however, journaling, focused breathing, saying affirmations, or just being present in the moment are all mindful practices.

6. Get a routine

Sustaining a healthy lifestyle can seem overwhelming at first. Trying to make three healthy meals a day, exercise and finding time to relax on top of running your “normal” life may feel like an impossible task.  That is why creating a routine and being organised is vital as it will improve your time management, organisation and productivity level.

With correct scheduling it is crazy how much more you can get done in a day.

The best place to start is getting yourself a solid morning routine which will set you up for your day.

I like to get my workouts done first thing so I can tick that off before my day has even begun. I also put time aside time on Sundays to meal-prep as this saves me a vast amount of time during the week and stops me from finding an excuse to order Deliveroo!

How to begin implementing healthy habits into your daily life

We are all guilty of setting unrealistic and unsustainable goals.

Like crash dieting, the failure to sustain our new healthy habits can leave us feeling worse than we did before we started.

Maybe your goals are to cut down on the amount of sugar you consume, get more sleep, or work out five days a week, but remember, it is easy to get overwhelmed, which will lead to failure. Instead, focus your attention on one goal and when you have achieved that, slowly introduce another.

It is imperative you make your goals measurable, time dependant and specific, otherwise you will find it too hard to focus and will throw in the towel a few weeks in.

For example, if your goal is to work out five times a week, change it from “I want to work out five times a week” to something more manageable. “In six months, I want to work out for 30 minutes each day, five times a week”.

Then you can make your game plan on how you are going to achieve this. Maybe you start by working out twice a week for 20 minutes. Once you can sustain this, slowly build it up to 20 minutes five times a week.  Then you can start to increase the time spent working out each day until you have reached your final goal.

Do whatever works for your body and make your goals work around your lifestyle.

My health goals for 2021 include trying to meditate more and cut down on my caffeine consumption. What are your health goals for 2021? Let me know in the comments below.

Virtual hugs,

Flora xoxo

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