Crash dieting this time of year is unfortunately pretty common. Holidays are looming, which means self-esteem ends up plummeting at the realisation we don't all look like Kendall Jenner in a bikini. And so the crash diets commence...
Body confidence, or the general lack of it, is an issue in itself. But the other concern about the above scenario playing out is the damage it can do to your health.
"While a crash diet may help you lose those extra pounds in time for that week on the Costa Del Sol, the results are generally short-lived and can ultimately have a negative impact on your body and mind," Dr Julianne Barry, General Practitioner at London Doctors Clinic, told Cosmopolitan UK.
It can be easy to be tempted by the quick fix of a crash diet but here, Dr Julianne lays out exactly how crash dieting can impact your body so you might just reconsider:
1. It can reduce your metabolic rate
A high metabolism is key to losing weight, but crash dieting can actually make your metabolic rate lower. "Muscle breakdown is much greater with extreme dieting, rather than a steady prolonged approach. Less muscle reduces your metabolic rate, which is the number of calories you burn while resting and can ultimately result in weight gain later on," explains the doctor.
2. It can weaken your immune system
"By depriving yourself of essential minerals and vitamins you risk weakening your immune system," says Dr Julianne. And we all know that a low immune system makes getting ill far more likely - not what you want while you're away on holiday. "If you cut out all fatty foods from your diet, absorbing fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K may prove problematic," the doctor explains. "These vitamins are necessary as they help to support your immune system, so lacking in them could cause future issues."
3. It can cause ketone production
"With a very low carbohydrate diet, your body may start to break down fatty acids to produce ketones," says Dr Julianne. You might have heard of ketones if you've ever read up on the keto diet. Sure, it might cause you to drop a few pounds, but it's also got some damaging side effects too, including "nausea, bad breath and liver or kidney problems".
4. It can cause dehydration
Have you ever wondered why some diets, like juicing, lead to such quick weight loss? It's because you're losing water weight - but that's not ideal for longer-term weight loss. "Glycogen stores, which are a source of energy that binds water, are depleted faster than the fat cells releasing the water. So, when you start eating again, your body will replenish glycogen and water store and weight gain follows," Dr Julianne explains. "You run the risk of dehydration as a result, which can manifest with a headache and dizziness."
5. It can trigger heart issues
"Crash dieting can have some positive outcomes, for example, lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels," notes the doctor. But they can also have some potentially harmful effects on the heart as a result of increased heart fat levels which can occur. "Anyone with heart problems should discuss with their doctor prior to embarking on a crash diet due to the risk of heart problems arising early on in the diet," she adds.
6. It can damage your hair and skin quality
If vanity's your thing, this might convince you to avoid crash dieting. "When you go on a crash diet, you limit the amount of vital vitamins and nutrients that your body absorbs," explains Dr Julianne. And this, in turn, may have a negative impact on your physical appearance. "The lack of nourishment may be reflected in your hair, causing it to look lacklustre, fall out and generally reflect your lack of the right vitamins. Similarly, your skin could be left feeling dry and you may experience an acne breakout," adds the GP.
7. It can disturb bowel habits
A crash diet can also result in some tummy trouble. As the expert explains, "if you are not getting the right nutrients in your diet, this could result in irregular or inconsistent bowel movements." Dr Julianne advises taking note of the consistency of your stool to work out whether your diet is healthy. "If it is either too runny or very difficult to pass, it is a sign that you should make a dietary change," says the GP, adding: "If you are worried be sure to contact your GP."
8. It can leave you with low energy levels
"While crash diets may lead to weight loss, most of this weight comes from the reduction of glycogen and water stores in the body which can result in the loss of energy, making you feel fatigued," says the doctor. "Similarly, due to the reduction of vitamins and nutrients taken in while doing a crash diet, your body is unable to produce energy, leaving you feeling sluggish and tired."
9. It can make you irritable
Don't want to be a grump on holiday? Crash dieting might not be the way forward. Dr Julianne explains how fad diets "can trigger the release of corticosterone from the brain, which predisposes us to heightened stress levels, irritability and risk of depression. You may also experience poor concentration and disturbed sleep which can lead to fatigue," she adds.
An alternative to crash diets
"Rather than putting yourself under the pressure and perils of a crash diet," Dr Julianne advises, "try to give yourself more time with regular realistic weight loss goals."
With longer-term lifestyle changes you will be more likely to make a long-term difference of a more toned and healthy physique, while avoiding the turmoil of depriving yourself of a nutritious and balanced diet.
Here are 11 little things the GP advises you can do instead of crash dieting to improve your health:
- Reduce alcohol intake
- Reduce intake of sugary foods and less processed foods
- Include more lean protein in your diet
- Aim for a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and nuts, pulses and whole grains
- Reduce stress levels
- Avoid foods that contain trans fats but do go for healthy fats
- Increase dietary soluble fibre
- Maintaining a regular level of physical activity will keep your metabolic rate higher, not to mention the hugely positive effects of exercise on your mental health
- Try to find a form of exercise that you enjoy and make an effort to fit it into your daily routine. Lifting weights is known to build muscle and muscle burns more calories than fat
- 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise per week, with some resistance training is recommended
- Try to achieve your 10,000 steps per day
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