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The Dangers of Crash Dieting

By Michael Simmer BS, CSCS, LMT, FST

Many of us especially here in the valley of the sun, have come to love and hate swimming season, and it has nothing to do with whether we like to swim. For countless people swimming season and the warmer weather means bathing suit season, and for far too many of us this leads to unhealthy eating decisions based around wanting to look swim suit ready. I am sure you have heard the phrase crash dieting, sometimes it will be called a master cleanse, but it means the same thing. It is when people will severely cut calories in order to rapidly lose weight, usually around a specific event such as a vacation or a wedding. I myself have been part of crash dieting, every wrestling season, doing whatever I needed to do to make weight. I would eat half an orange for breakfast, and then half a tuna sandwich for dinner, and have water only when necessary. This would start early in the week, then I would make weight, and would go back to my normal eating habits for a few days allowing my weight to get back to normal, and then would start the process all over again, while also only losing water weight and often times muscle to begin with. It is only now after years of school and continuing education do I realize the harm I was doing to my body. So here are a few things to consider before resorting to these measures to fit into a new bathing suit or pair of jeans.

One of the big things people who crash diet do not realize is that while yes, they may be losing weight, it is not the weight they want to be losing. As our body starts being neglected with food sources to provide energy with, it begins to go into survival mode, believing that the body is in a state of starvation, so it will hold on to your fat stores because those are the easiest to turn into quick energy for the body to survive. Meaning that while you are crash dieting your body will not let go of fat readily, and will sacrifice muscle instead. So, that 15 pounds you lost will end up being more muscle then fat, and will leave you with a higher body fat percentage then you started with at the time of your diet. Don’t get caught up with the number on the scale, it’s not just about losing weight it is about losing the right weight.

Crash Dieting doesn’t just affect your waist line, it can also be doing damage to your heart.  The shrinking, growing and tearing around your muscles and capillaries can lead to damaged blood vessels which leave you susceptible to heart disease, heart failure and heart palpitations. Cardiologist Isadore Rosenfeld, MD, a professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, has said that “A crash diet once won’t hurt your heart, but crash dieting repeatedly increases the risk of heart attacks.” The problem lies in the first part of that quote, most people who do a crash diet do not only do it once.

The problem with fad diets is exactly that they are a fad and not sustainable long term. How many times has a family member or friend told you about their newest diet, or weight loss program. They will be all excited, and won’t mention that this is the third diet they have done? So why do you keep changing diets? Cause these master cleanse diets do not work, you are losing mostly all water weight and muscle which is what you do not want to be losing. Fad diets come and go with various promises, but again the reason so many exist is because none of them can be kept long term, stop dieting and instead learn what a proper daily meal plan is for you.

So, what should you be doing? It doesn’t have to be complicated, I am sure you know that you should not eat that piece of cake for breakfast, or have a box of girl scout cookies at dinner. In America the number one item consumed is sugary beverages, if you are someone who drinks beverages with added sugar, start your weight loss goal by cutting out those sodas, certain fruit juices, and no more added sugar to your coffee and that small change will help you get on a safe path towards your goal weight this swimming season. Even just changing to proper portions can have a large impact on your weight loss goals, and knowing what to eat and when to eat it. Carbs do not have to be the devil, in fact we need carbs to live, it is our energy source, but staying away from them at dinner time can be very helpful since the reason we need carbs is for energy and for most of us after dinner time not a lot of energy is needed nor used, meaning those dinner carbs are not being used by the body as energy and will be stored as fat which can lead to weight gain. If you still are not sure about the best meal plan for you and your weight loss goals, then reach out to your coaches for support and ideas. For most of you who are already involved with an exercise program, the next step will be learning the proper portions and break down and servings for your meals.

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