How Quick Fix Diets Could Lead You to Crash and Burn

These days, instant gratification is the name of the game. It's not uncommon to crave a quick and easy fix for a complicated task. And, when weight loss and maintenance is the goal, the idea of a crash diet may seem all too appealing. But when severe energy restrictions work against the body's natural biological adaptations, it can be detrimental to the success of any weight loss plan.
A crash diet is motivated by tomorrow's number on the scale—not the lifelong effect it can have on the body. It's a world away from mindful energy restriction with a focus on good-for-you nutrients. While it may seem like a small tradeoff for a period of weight loss, repeatedly crash dieting can do a real number on your health. Whether you're stuck in a cycle of crash diets or have considered diving into one, take some time to learn about the damaging aftermath—it may be just what you need to get yourself back on a healthy track.

Crash Diets 101

A crash diet is exactly what it sounds like: a sudden restriction of food that shocks your body. It is often characterized by severe limitation through the elimination of certain food groups (such as carbohydrates) or an emphasis on just a few types of food (such as the "grapefruit diet") in order to quickly lose weight. But when your body depends on a balanced diet of vitamins and nutrients, dieting restrictions such as these are a foolproof summons for a weight loss disaster. 

"It's the exact opposite of a balanced, healthy lifestyle," explains Dr. Caroline Cederquist, M.D., creator of bistroMD. Extreme food restriction can send your body into a panic, since it doesn't understand the difference between diet and starvation. Your body will think you're experiencing the latter, thereby stimulating its protection mode to save fuel reserves. It is your system's natural way of making sure your body keeps moving and grooving.
Within 24 hours of starting a crash diet, your carbohydrate reserve is the first to go, according to "Biochemistry." Low blood sugar levels will leave you feeling groggy and irritated. Water loss will disguise itself as shedding pounds. Eventually, your body targets your protein stores, increasing the risk for heart, liver and kidney complications. Once it gets to the fat reserves, adipocytes, or fat cells, become stressed, impacting neurotransmitters that control satiety. This culminates in a greater appetite as your body tries to work with the perceived starvation.

Sarah Koniarski, R.D., L.D. and a physician assistant student at Pace University, shares that the body attempts to conserve energy by adjusting the metabolism. Brain pathways begin to zero in on mechanisms that regulate energy balance. Basically, your body has a way of doing things—and crash dieting is not part of the plan.

Ultimately, the more you don't eat, the more energy your body actually needs. It's a tricky concept that many crash dieters may not know when they start. At the end of the day, your body won't know that you are purposely depriving it of essential nutrients. Instead, it tries to protect you by meddling with the usual ebb and flow of your metabolism.

Your Body When It Crashes

When the body repeatedly experiences a stressful situation, the impacts accumulate over time. As a result, the repercussions of a crash diet can last longer than you think. "The loss of muscle is an important physical aftermath of crash diets," notes Cederquist. And when that muscle is responsible for most of our body's metabolic rate, metabolism inevitably slows down after a crash diet.
When metabolism is negatively influenced, it becomes more difficult to lose weight, which is the goal of the crash diet in the first place, right? In fact, weight gain is actually more likely once the diet stops. The Obesity Action Coalition specifies that 40 percent of crash dieters rebound after diet cessation. Obesity Reviews attributes this to the disruption of the metabolism's homeostasis, something that could lead to overeating down the line.
Repeated crash dieting can also amplify your risk for chronic conditions. The "International Journal of Obesity" links extreme protein degradation to cardiovascular stress, increasing the risk for irregular heartbeat and stroke. The strain on fat reserves can also aggravate fat tissues and contribute to diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Moreover, a study featured in the "American Journal of Physiology" mentions that continuous crash dieting can disrupt gut bacterial balance, negatively impacting digestion and immunity. Digestion problems may even linger in between periods of crash dieting.

"The risk for gallstones also intensifies," adds Koniaraski, who specifies that this is a result of fat breakdown and cholesterol secretion into the bile. Chronic crash diets can also lead to osteoporosis as the body taps into the bone's calcium stores. Clearly, a crash diet can impact more than just the number on the scale.

Even your mental health can take a hit. "When [caloric or nutrient] intake doesn't meet the needs of daily function, you're more likely to lose your mental edge," states Koniarski. Consequently, it may be difficult to perform daily activities without feeling distracted or irritable. This also escalates the risk of making mistakes at work and lashing out at loved ones. There's a reason why the word "hangry" exists, after all.

Aside from hindering your A-game, a crash diet can also disrupt emotional stability. According to Koniarski, the complexity of crash diets can make people lose confidence in their ability to drop weight. "It's common to feel a sense of failure from lack of goal achievements," she says.

It can also mess with your perception of healthy weight loss from the get-go. Koniarski notes that repeatedly following strict, rigid diets can lead to a disruption of normal eating habits. This can, in turn, lead to food preoccupation and overeating—two major factors in the development of eating disorders. Ultimately, crash diets place unhealthy stress on the act of eating, taking away from the enjoyment and nourishment that food can—and should—provide.   

The Lowdown on Long-Term Weight Loss

This is where gradual, long-term weight loss comes into play. While it won't offer an instant solution, it is the safest option for your body and brain. It's also a crucial ingredient in the recipe for success. A study from the American Journal of Physiology reports that regular strategies maintained over time can prevent biological adaptations that lean toward rebound and weight gain.

Plus, habits are more likely to stick when they're developed over time. According to research, it's said that it takes 66 days to form a new habit, considerably more time than most people invest in a crash diet. When you are willing to put in the time, you're rewarded with consistent habits that won't waver over time.
Cederquist also stresses the importance of the relationship between muscle and metabolism. "When you have more muscle, you burn calories faster," she explains. This emphasizes how crucial regular strength training is for long-term weight loss. Simultaneously, as you gain muscle, adipocytes become smaller without the stress, according to a study in "Obesity Reviews." It's a win-win all around.

Tips for Breaking the Crash Diet Cycle for Good

If you're struggling with a crash diet, all hope is not lost. It's possible to get out of the cycle with hard work and dedication. Need some guidance? With these six tips, you can break the unhealthy cycle once and for all.
  • Understand the basics: The simple practice of learning how metabolism works can shift your outlook. It comes down to comprehending the different types of weight (muscle versus fat) and how they can contribute to overall health. It will also arm you with the tools you need to work with your body.
  • Give yourself time: Achieving a healthy weight and breaking out of a crash diet have one thing in common: They take time. Remember, a crash diet is a surprise to the body; reversing it overnight can be just as shocking. Make it a point to implement changes over time.
  • Start small: On a similar note, Koniarski suggests beginning with small, feasible goals. It can be something as simple as eating one to two more fruits a day. Eventually, you can build these actions into habits that stick.
  • Find an accountability partner: Tell someone about your goals and plans. The basic act of having someone hold you responsible can be a major game changer; it can also provide much-needed mental and emotional support. An accountability partner can be anyone from a significant other to a close friend or co-worker.
  • Know the difference between a diet and lifestyle: Ending a crash diet starts with recognizing that it is only a short-term solution. A lifestyle, on the other hand, shifts your entire perception. It's also the key to long-term success.
The hunger pangs and mental stress of a crash diet aren't worth that fleeting moment on the scale. Successful weight loss and maintenance isn't about a one-time program or a quick fix; it's about the lifelong changes that become a part of who you are. Remember, there is no end date for a healthy lifestyle.
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Member Comments

Awesome...thanks! Report
Great tips! Report
Good to know. Report
One pound at a time! Report
I learned a long time ago, that crash diets are unhealthy, but you regain every Oz you lost once you stop crash dieting Report
There is a reason they are called "crash" diets! Report
there are certainly lots of odd ideas floating about... baby food, egg and wine, master cleanse... Report
TANSTAFL. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Quick loss means quick return. Period! Report
Sounds like the same tired old "eat less exercise more" advice that got us fat to start with.

The truth is that diet is critical. so "blah blah blah don't crash diet" is pretty darned useless IIDSSM.

How about this:

1) It is almost certain that you got fat by eating too many high glycemic carbs. Cookies, crackers, chips, cakes, pies, pasta, pizza, potatoes, rice.
2) All of those things convert directly into glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream within an hour, spiking insulin.
3) Insulin drives all that sugar, which the body has no way to use in the present moment, into the cells. The cells gag on the sugar load and turn it into FAT.
4) Constant eating these high glycemic index carbs keeps the insulin levels in the bloodstream high. It is IMPOSSIBLE to burn fat when insulin levels are high. So you constantly store fat and never pull it back out. You get FAT!
5) High insulin levels, ALL BY ITSELF, is bad for the body. REALLY BAD!!! But as you eat all this sugar and starch, the insulin levels rise and the cells become insulin resistant, meaning that it takes MORE AND MORE insulin to stuff all that sugar into the cells. So your pancreas increases the amount of insulin in your body. Remember that high insulin is BAD, even if it succeeds in keeping blood glucose low.
6) Now you are diabetic, EVEN IF BLOOD GLUCOSE IS LOW!!! You are already killing yourself.

ONLY a change in diet can reverse this trend. Unless you are willing to die a gruesome death, continuing to eat this sugar / starch diet has to stop or you will NEVER LOSE WEIGHT, and you will die in your diabetes.

"Eat less and exercise more " doesn't work. How long have you struggled to do this? And you are still FAT. You are FAT because your body is out of control with high insulin levels which absolutely PREVENTS fat from coming back out to be burned by your body. You CANNOT LOSE WEIGHT with high insulin levels. Ask your doctor, ask your dietitian. Or better yet just google it. This is not rocket science.

I find it interesting to see an article advising against "crash diets" on a site which advocates most women eating 1200-1550 calories per day for the duration of weight loss --- which is far below what they would be eating to maintain a healthy lifestyle at a healthy weight. That is still in "crash diet" territory in my opinion, with the oft touted "lifestyle change" not coming in to play until AFTER the "crash diet" is completed. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that so many people who follow the "healthy weight loss guidelines" that promote severe calorie restriction under the guise of "lifestyle change" find their bodies and minds revolting at some point and so they "fall off the wagon"...

It would be nice to see some research in to the long-term effects for individuals who choose a true lifestyle change, incorporating the way of eating that best suits their personal preferences and health needs, and who take the time to gradually incorporate the change to no lower than caloric intake required to maintain a healthy body and body-weight for life. Report
Healthy eating and exercise is the way to go. Report
Quick fix diets don't work, as we all know. Balanced eating and exercise are the successful ways. We have to change our eating habits permanently to lose and keep the weight off. Report
find a plan that works for you can live with FOREVER... Report


About The Author

Kirsten Nunez
Kirsten Nunez
Kirsten Nunez is a health and lifestyle writer, editor and author. She has a Master of Science in Nutrition and is currently based in New York. Kirsten spends her days writing articles and dreaming up healthy recipes.