The current statistics on fad diets paint a rather grim picture. Experts estimate that around 45 million Americans go on a diet annually, with half of them falling for fad diets that promise quick weight loss.
But are these fad diets and other quick weight loss schemes truly a scam and unhealthy way of losing weight? Well, science has a lot to say.
Unhealthy Weight Loss vs Healthy Weight Loss
Everyone wants to lose weight as quickly as possible. Experts and dietitians advise that steady weight loss is the healthiest and most sustainable option in most cases. Moreover, fewer health risks are involved with slow but steady weight loss.
But interestingly, some recent studies suggest that rapid weight loss may be healthy and sustainable if done right. What then defines healthy and unhealthy weight loss?
Unhealthy Weight Loss
Doctors recommend a weight loss rate of 1 – 2 pounds or 0.45kg – 0.9kg per week. Losing more than that per week typically ranks as unhealthy weight loss.
Unhealthy weight loss leads to numerous health problems such as muscle loss, gallstones, a dysfunctional metabolism, and nutritional deficiencies1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4989512/.
Unhealthy weight loss plans push you to lose weight rapidly. In reality, your body cannot shed its fat that fast. Instead, you’ll be breaking down muscle and losing water weight which can have dire health consequences.
For instance, low-carb diets force your body to burn more glycogen, a form of stored glucose, to produce the energy needed by the body. Burning glycogen also burns up lots of water used to bind the glycogen in the body, leading to sudden weight loss.
Losing water weight this fast can cause loose skin that appears to hang or droop.
Unhealthy weight loss programs or diets also target the muscles and healthy fat by starving them. On the other hand, some plans involve prolonged starvation or consumption of food that has zero nutritional value to your body.
Some categories of unhealthy weight loss plans include:
- Devices, creams, and magic voodoo spells
- Laxative teas
- Diet supplements and pills
- Very low-calorie diets (VLCD)
- Starvation and fasting diets
- Hyper-normal physical activity routines that involve hours of extreme workout
- Single food-group diets such as all-junk diets or all-protein diets
Related: Healthy Foods for Weight Loss
What is Healthy Weight Loss?
Healthy weight loss involves making a lifetime commitment to a healthy lifestyle. That means using slow-paced but sustainable means to lose weight in the short and long term. Healthy weight loss regimes encourage your body to burn excess fat while increasing muscle mass slowly.
Committing to a healthy lifestyle involves changing things about your daily life. For instance, you can make minor tweaks in your diet and movement, which can have a massive effect at the start of your weight loss journey.
Healthy weight loss also comes with fewer health complications in the short and long term. Ideally, you should be losing about 1 – 2 pounds or 0.45kg – 0.9kg per week with healthy weight loss. This rate may be slightly higher in some cases, especially when you start your weight loss regime.
Health Risks of Fast Weight Loss
Losing weight too quickly, especially through unhealthy means such as starvation, can cause health risks. Some of these risks include:
Depriving Your Body of Essential Nutrients
Most quick diets and weight loss eating plans leave out important food groups in the diet, making the meal plan deficient in key nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that the body needs to stay healthy.
For instance, a dairy-free diet leads to calcium deficiency. A diet low on carbohydrates can lead to your body not getting enough fiber.
Low-calorie diets still need all nutrients, including vitamin D, calcium, vitamin B-12, iron, and folate.
Malnutrition leads to generalized fatigue, brittle hair, anemia, and constipation.
Our bodies are made up of 60% water2https://www.usgs.gov/special-topics/water-science-school/science/water-you-water-and-human-body. Unhealthy weight loss regimes can cause massive water loss within the first few weeks due to glycogen burnout. Thus, the enormous weight loss you may experience is not due to fat being burnt but rather your body losing water.
Rapid dehydration poses massive risks such as constipation, headaches, muscle cramps, irritability, low energy, and persistent thirst.
Slowed Down Metabolism
A recent study shows that metabolism slows down the more weight an individual loses3https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/oby.21538. Most unhealthy weight loss programs rely on extreme calorie deprivation. For instance, someone who used to take 3,000 calories a day gets implored to take 1,200 calories a day.
This sudden drop in calorie count makes the body think it’s getting a limited food supply, forcing it into starvation mode. Starvation mode forces the body to slow down metabolism to preserve as much energy and fat as possible. Ultimately, you end up gaining more weight as a rebound.
Some unhealthy weight loss schemes affect leptin levels in the body. This hormone controls hunger and satiety. Research shows that quick-fix plans and low-calorie diets often lead to heightened food obsession, making you hungrier.
As a result, you’re more likely to binge food which creates a yo-yo dieting experience that is unhealthy for weight loss.
The body takes a while to break down fat. With rapid weight loss programs, what the body is breaking down are the muscles. High muscle mass loss induces slowed metabolism since your body thinks it’s severely lacking the calories needed to produce enough energy.
As a result, you gain more weight than you lost while attempting the fast solution.
Mental Health Risks
Losing weight quickly can have psychological consequences. It takes time for someone to settle into their new body shape and weight.
For most people, losing weight is tied to a contingency, such as if I lose weight, I’ll find love. Not getting enough time to settle can lead to body dysmorphia, bulimia, or anorexia. This can exaggerate preexisting mental health issues or promote body image issues.
Other Unhealthy Ways of Losing Weight
Over the years, numerous other fads have cropped up, promising rapid weight loss. Some of them include:
- Junk food fad diets – These diets suggest that you can lose weight without watching what you take
- Smoking to reduce appetite
- Using a plastic tongue patch
- Tube feeding
- Using stimulants such as amphetamines to stimulate weight loss
- Tapeworm diets or pills filled with tapeworm eggs
- Over relying on low-calorie diets
- Diuretic or laxative abuse and purging, such as self-induced vomiting
- Vinegar diet before food
- Use of laxatives
- Cabbage soup diet
- Strenuous over-exercising
- Use of arsenic diet pills
How to Sustain Healthy Weight Loss
Sustaining healthy weight loss is a lifelong commitment. These are some things you can do to see lasting changes:
- Avoid fad and crash diets to reduce the risk of yo-yo or erratic dieting.
- Eat a wide variety of foods from all five food groups. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating provides good insights.
- Take healthy amounts of food and drinks. The bigger the portion, the more calories you ingest.
- Reduce intake of foods high in saturated fat, added fat, sugar, and salt.
- Have snack foods, lollies, soft drinks, and alcoholic drinks as occasional extras.
- Most adults should not take more than one or two “treats” a day. Ideally, you should not have more than one “treat” a day if overweight or inactive.
- Balance extra food with extra exercise. If you want more treats, you should be willing to exercise more.
- Only add extra food after covering your daily nutrient needs from healthier food choices.
- Go for whole, less-processed foods and don’t eliminate any food group from your diet.
- Create a regular pattern of eating and stick to it.
- Drink water in place of sugary drinks.
- Avoid using food for comfort when angry, sad, or stressed. You can choose other healthier options for dealing with your feelings, such as going for a walk, bathing, reading a book, or listening to music.
- Consider the facts before engaging in unhealthy behavior. For instance, eating a family-sized block of chocolate in one sitting will need 2.5 hours of jogging or over 6 hours of walking to burn off the calories.
Most of these strategies also require you to first understand your current eating and exercise habits before making any changes. Diets account for the energy in your body, while exercise accounts for the energy out. The goal is to balance these figures.
You also need to recognize and then deal with habits that lead to weight gain. Some of them include:
- Night eating
- Social eating
- Distracted eating
- Emotional eating
You can address some of these habits by doing the following:
- Phoning a friend, reading a book, or going for a walk when you’re emotionally distressed instead of emotional eating
- Sitting at a table and focusing on the food you’re eating instead of indulging in distracted eating, which happens while watching the TV or working on your desk
Go for Steady, Sustainable Results
We all want our desired body shape and weight for health and social reasons. The best way to get sustainable results is by choosing healthy weight loss methods.
You can kickstart the process by going for bariatric surgery. Combined with healthy weight loss methods, professional bariatric surgery gives excellent short- and long-term results.