We live in a world where convenience has become king and we don’t want to wait overly for anything. We want instant gratification and instant results. The rise of the internet means you can watch almost anything ever recorded at the click of a mouse, can order food or almost anything else you can think of.

So acknowledging that people want rapid results with the minimum of effort, we shouldn’t be surprised that people take the same approach to weight loss. The dieting industry plays on this desire and provides all sorts of ‘one size fits all’ approaches to making it ‘easy’ to lose weight. You’ll probably have come across these types of companies. Drink two shakes a day and one ‘normal meal’, take this ‘fat-burning’ supplement, eat these low calorie foods/treats, train like the models in fitness magazines and you too can have a six pack in 6 weeks or the ultimate from the likes of Diet Chef, where they take buying food and cooking totally out of the equation and provide you with all your meals for the day!

However, the most common approach taken to rapid weight loss is the crash diet, whether it’s the cabbage diet or some other low calorie horror.

So people set off on their journey of short term misery, telling themselves no pain, no gain. This process has been adopted by lots of people, often on more than one occasion all over the world and while the short term results show great progress on the scales, the long term results are often very variable and usually unsuccessful.

So are there no pros then?

As with almost anything you look at there will be some pros. Crash diets can be very motivating as you can see the progress on the scales, as the number goes down each week and this is the major reason for their popularity. Crash diets are also often used by bodybuilders and some athletes to lose a particular amount of weight in a short period for competition. While these can be employed successfully on occasion, I don’t believe repeatedly using them is good for your health long term.

But there are a hell of a lot more cons.

Crash dieting on very low amounts of calories will increase your risk of losing muscle tissue. Your muscle tissue is continually being broken down and rebuilt. Very low calorie diets will more than likely not provide sufficient protein to maintain your muscle tissue and so losses will occur. A reduction in muscle tissue will also contribute to a reduction in your metabolic rate. This is important as once your metabolic rate is lowered this will in turn mean that you will need to keep cutting calories to maintain your weight loss, further prolonging the misery. Once your metabolism has been damaged, it takes time to repair and any return to a ‘normal’ diet will lead to weight rebound taking you back to where you started, with possibly even more to lose.

Another major issue are nutrient deficiencies. If you are eating very little food or a very restricted diet, then it is unlikely you will be getting enough protein, fats or vitamins and minerals. Your body needs all  these things to function properly, so if you are creating these deficiencies it will have a negative impact on your health.

It can also play havoc with your hormones and make you feel absolutely crap. Your body is always seeking a state of homeostasis, which means it is always trying to resist dramatic change within the body and return itself to a state of balance. This process is taking place continually, and while most of the time the body achieves this without any drama, when you place your body in extreme conditions, the challenge to maintain homeostasis becomes more difficult and can create a number of adverse effects. A lack of food and nutrients will negatively affect hormone production, and this can lead to a reduction in muscle tone, lethargy, poor concentration and focus, irritability, tiredness, and a drop in sex hormone production, which can lead to low libido and cessation of menstruation in women.

Continuing with a low calorie diet also increases the release of a hormone called ghrelin. This hormone is one of the main triggers of hunger, which will cause cravings and increase your risk of binging, ultimately sabotaging what you are trying to achieve in the first place.

Another consequence of rapid weight loss is loose skin as the skin doesn’t have time to adapt to your drop in weight. This is another reason to moderate your weight loss and take a longer term approach.

Finally, the last downside to crash dieting is the mental aspect. It doesn’t teach you any healthy habits, and is only one step away from disordered eating. Starvation does not lead to good health.

Food should provide pleasure as well as sustenance.

Ensure you are eating frequently enough to provide your body with the nutrients and energy it requires. This will vary from person to person. It is far better to reduce your calories by only a small amount, say 200kcal less than you need to maintain your body and eating nutrient dense foods, especially protein. This will be easier to sustain and will not lead to the issues I have described above. You will feel better and if you are patient, look better in the long term.

The strategy I adopt avoids starving your body; it is about diet optimisation matched to you. The food you eat should energize you, make you productive and feel good at the same time. If you get hungry every couple of hours, then that is your body telling you it needs these nutrients in order to perform at the level you ask.

Hunger and the drop in blood sugar levels also increase the chances of making poorer choices. Aim to eat every 3-4 hours. Providing you eat the right foods at the right time, it is fine to do so – over aggressive calorie restriction is never a long-term template for reaching your fat loss goals.

If you want an individualised plan that makes dieting as easy as possible and successful in the long term, then contact me now.

Published by Neil Elbourne