Summer is fast approaching, which means it will be time to get out the bathing suits and short shorts! Who doesn’t begin to feel a little insecure after a long winter of bundling up? But before you start getting ready to bare your “bikini body” on the beach, AFC wants to know: how do you feel about crash diets?
For those who have never tried one, a crash diet is when you dramatically cut your calorie intake and restrict the variety of foods you eat for a short period of time, with the goal of losing weight quickly. By cutting your calorie and nutrient intake abruptly and then allowing your intake to go back to normal, the hope is that instead of a long-term change in your eating habits, you can achieve weight loss with just a few weeks of starvation. Unfortunately, that’s rarely how it turns out.
During a crash diet, most people will experience the typical symptoms of starvation, including lightheadedness, fatigue, constipation, loss of coordination, irritability and extreme hunger. This is the “crash” part of the diet; your body is trying to conserve as much energy as it can, so its response is to prevent the unnecessary burning of calories. Your body’s starvation response begins within a couple of days of starting your crash diet, after your body burns through its stores of quick energy in the form of glycogen. That’s when your body will begin burning fat and muscle for energy to make up for the deficit. Your metabolism slows to a crawl, and it becomes harder to lose weight as your body clings to every calorie and nutrient you consume.
And here’s the kicker: any weight you lose over the course of your crash diet is highly likely to come back. According to Darcy Johanssen, Ph.D., R.D., an assistant professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, any weight you drop during a crash diet is likely to be a mix of water weight, fat and muscle, and water and fat will return the fastest. This could have long-term implications for your health, since muscle is harder to replace. Additionally, there is evidence that your metabolism remains slower for a period of time after your crash diet ends, which could cause you to regain even more weight. Some studies have also shown that repeated crash diets can affect your insulin sensitivity, leading to a greater risk of metabolic disorders or diabetes.
If the word “crash” in the name wasn’t enough to convince you, hopefully these facts are. Crash diets might seem like a good idea over the short term, but they are bad for your long-term health and weight management. Instead, give the doctors at your local AFC a visit, and discuss building a sustainable plan to manage your weight, and keep your body ready for “bikini season” all year long!