Stop Crash Diets

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What is a crash diet?

Crash diets are low calorie, restrictive diets. Crash diets, and particularly those low in carbohydrates, cause the body to use up carbohydrate stores, known as glycogen, in the liver and muscle.

How does a crash diet affect health?

A crash diet is nutritionally inadequate. Low carb diets lack and restrict nutritious natural foods. Frequent use of crash diets could affect your bone health, and increase the risk of iron deficiency and anaemia which cause lethargy, poor concentration and irritability. Also, low protein consumption with crash diets can compromise your immune health, inhibit your growth, weaken your heart and lungs and reduce your muscle mass. Lack of dietary fat can be an issue as well. This nutrient provides energy, insulates your body, aids in nutrient absorption, brain development and blood clotting.

Do crash diets lead to weight loss?

We do lose weight when we eat fewer calories than we burn; however, much of the weight lost on a crash diet is fluid (glycogen weighs three times that of water) and will return once normal eating resumes.

If we follow crash diets for longer periods, it is likely that you will experience some fat loss, but you will also lose lean muscle mass. Including regular exercise into your daily routine can minimize loss of muscle mass. Yet, most crash diets do not emphasis exercise due to the low-calorie nature of the diet.

Do crash diets help you keep the weight off?

No. Crash diets try to lure us with testimonials and anecdotal success stories, but they lack important scientific research and results. Short term crash diets are all about rigid limitations and undermine healthy weight control messages. They reinforce a mindset of ‘strict dieting’ rather than gradual, sustained lifestyle change which is important for long-term success.

What are the psychological effects of crash dieting?

Crash dieting affects not only our body but our mind, too.  It often leads to a cycle of yo-yo dieting, in turn reducing people’s confidence in their ability to lose weight.  Dieters feel like they have failed when in reality, the rigid, extreme diet is the failure because it is impossible to follow long term.

Repeatedly following crash diets can also increase the risk of binge eating, and developing “all or nothing” thinking. People feel they have failed if they eat a ‘bad’ food and totally relapse and keep on eating.

Dos and Don’ts of Healthy Dieting

Do:

  • Set realistic goals (lose 1 to 2 pounds per week)
  • Eat regular meals
  • Choose a variety of healthy foods from each of our macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats)
  • Keep a food and thoughts diary
  • Adopt a ‘more or less’ rather than ‘all or nothing’ approach to eating
  • Learn how to cope with feelings, not feed them
  • Participate in regular exercise
  • Get someone to hold you accountable

Don’t:

  • Give up if you feel you’ve had a bad day
  • Get impatient with gradual weight loss
  • Be lured by the claims for rapid weight loss


Article written by Courtney Chisholm, registered dietitian at Calgary Place World Health.

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