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Health Risks of Crash Dieting


The day before my University prom I decided I wouldn’t mind losing a few extra lbs (a little late admittedly). In classic student style I thought ‘I’m not paying £60 for a weight loss wrap I’ll make my own’. My Uni weight-loss wrap ‘ona shoe string’ comprised wrapping myself head to toe in cling film then sleeping in a sleeping bag, plus hood (the hood merely for dramatic effect). Wrap in place, hood up, I was undeterred by the ridicule of my housemates and assured of success! But alas, needing to desperately go to the loo at 3am (detoxifying effect perchance?) I discovered the perils of trying to wee wrapped in cling film. Enough said.


My (somewhat convoluted) point is this: crash dieting isn’t clever – the risks far outweigh the rewards, and you may just end up unpeeling wee-soaked cling film deep into the night.


How to spot a crash diet:


- Promises ‘miracle’ weight loss in excess of healthy limits (i.e. 0.5-2 pounds a week)


- Encourages a very low calorie consumption, often beneath your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the MINIMUM calories you need to maintain physiological functions in a rested state. Eating beneath your BMR regularly can reduce your metabolic rate, making it harder to stay slimmer. BEWARE any diet that is under or around 1000 calories a day.


- Any diet that focuses on just one food group – i.e. grapefruit diet, cabbage soup diet, maple syrup diet. There are NO superfoods that can produce miracle weight loss results. More on this later! Diets focusing on one food tend to be very low calorie and once normal eating resumes the weight piles back on plus a little extra due to your reduced BMR.


Most of the weight lost in week one of a crash diet is water, creating a false effect. However extreme dieting makes you lose both fat AND muscle, which is undesirable. Lean tissue is also more metabolically active, and so stripping muscle will just mean you could regain fat much more easily. Also to note – it takes 3,500 calories to lose a pound of fat – if you lose 10 pounds in a week, is that really likely to be 10 pounds of fat? In contrast, a loss of 1 litre of water is equivalent to 2.2 pounds (1kg) of weight loss, hence why certain athletes (such as boxers) will dehydrate themselves prior to the pre-match weigh-in.


Crash dieting trains the mind in unhealthy eating patterns. Over restriction of calories results in reduced metabolic rate, strips both fat and lean tissue and is ultimately unsustainable. Furthermore, since it is unsustainable once normal eating is resumed weight is regained, and since BMR has been reduced there will be an overshoot in weight gain (the yo-yo effect), with weight continuing to get higher on each failed dieting attempt. Many overweight persons are serial dieters. The ONLY way to lose weight is regular exercise (burning calories and encouraging the growth of lean tissue) and healthy eating. That’s not to say there aren’t strategies that you can employ, and clearly some diets have some little gems that we can use in a more sustainable way.

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