Yes, dieting is hard, and most weight-loss behaviors are unlikely to cause harm since most people can’t keep them up for a long period of time. But other types of diets, from drastic detox diets to extreme calorie reduction, can cause serious health consequences almost immediately.
“People get so focused on weight loss they are willing to do unproven and potentially dangerous things that can backfire and cause serious health problems,” says Michelle May, MD, an Arizona-based weight management doctor.
Dramatic Weight Loss – It’s Not What It Seems
Yes, any and all dramatic diet measures can result in quick and dramatic weight loss, but the downside is that, because these are all temporary fixes, the weight loss not only will not be long-term, but in many cases, will re-appear quickly, sometimes along with a few extra pounds. Aside from these diets being non-permanent solutions, medical experts also are alarmed by the extreme dangers that these women are putting themselves at risk for.
“Rapid weight loss increases the risk of heart arrhythmias, dehydration, and electrolyte disturbances,” says Ethan Lazarus, a family doctor in Denver who specializes in obesity medicine. “Shedding pounds this quickly, he says, makes it likely that you will lose more lean body mass and water than fat. This can slow metabolism and result in an instant regain of weight once you go off the diet. You may gain more than you lost,” says Lazarus.
Experts also point out that your waistline isn’t the only thing that suffers from rapid weight loss. Other effects include shrunken fingers and feet and a drooping face—which can result in a loose wedding ring, flopping shoes, and a blushing bride with a dull expression.
So what should you NEVER do for the sake of losing pounds?
Severely slashing calories leads to weight loss but the lost weight includes precious muscle mass and poses health risks — and most people end up regaining all the weight, plus some.
“Rapid weight loss by critical calorie restriction causes water, some fat, and muscle loss, which ultimately decreases metabolism so the body needs fewer calories to survive,” says May, author of Eat What You Love and Love What You Eat. It also causes a shift toward a higher percentage of body fat, which increases the risk for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
Don’t cut calories below 1,200 per day; otherwise you will struggle to meet nutrient needs, fuel activity, and satisfy hunger. Keep in mind that when you lose weight quickly, you tend to pack it back on with more fat and less muscle, which lowers your metabolism and calorie needs.
2. Take Questionable Supplements Making Incredible Statements
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Diet pills, potions, and concoctions purchased over the counter or ordered through the Internet are unlikely to be effective, not necessarily safe or capable of delivering on the oft exaggerated promises.
Over-the-counter diet pills may not appear to be dangerous , but they can still cause harm. “Most diet pills are nothing more than a quick fix loaded with caffeine and diuretics that can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance,” says Diekman, director of nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis.
The FDA does not give supplements the same scrutiny as prescription drugs. Some over-the-counter or Internet products “can be harmful, ineffective, and a waste of money,” says American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, PhD, RD.
The FDA urges people to report dangerous supplements through its MedWatch program. Buyers beware: Just because it says it is natural, doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe or good for you.
The hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) diet is a good example of a plan that isnot FDA approved for weight loss, yet legions of dieters are using it. Weight loss from The hCG Diet, May says, likely has more to do with the 500-calorie restriction, not the hCG from urine of pregnant women. It has the same risks as a very low-calorie diet, along with unknown risks associated with long-term use of hCG. Some doctors even dispense risky therapies from their offices that are not approved for weight loss.
Forget supplements and diet pills. Instead, Moloo says, rely on healthy foods to help you lose weight.
3. Rely On Cleanses/Detox Programs
Most cleanses cause weight loss from water and stool weight, at best, but they can be dangerous and carry risks of dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and more.
“Losing lots of fluid without medical supervision is risky and when combined with fasting, even riskier. Your body is uniquely fine-tuned to detoxify and excrete toxins, so many cleanses are unnecessary and can lead to serious complications by messing with your body’s finely-tuned system,” May says.
Instead of detoxifying, be more mindful of what you eat. If you want to cleanse or detoxify your body, drink plenty of water and eat lots of high-fiber foods.