Resist the Temptation to “Crash Diet”

Measuring weight lossWhen it comes to weight loss, many of us are looking for a “quick fix”.  The faster the weight loss the better, right? Wrong! Extremely fast weight loss resulting from a very low calorie intake, also known as crash dieting, can actually hinder your future weight loss and weight maintenance efforts for the rest of your life.

A pound of fat stores 3500 calories. Decreasing your calorie intake from your basic calorie needs (approximately your current weight multiplied by 10) by 500 calories a day should result in a pound of fat loss in a week.  For example a 160 pound woman who wishes to lose weight will lose at this rate on 1200 calories (1600 minus 500 calories). You may be thinking that by decreasing your calories even more will result in more weight loss at a quicker rate. But our bodies don’t work this way. Your body doesn’t know that you want to look good in a bikini. When your caloric intake drops sharply, your body thinks you’re starving in a cave and enters survival mode – slowing down to defensively conserve calories.

The key to “fooling” your body out of this perception is to eat a reduced calorie diet but not starve, spread your calories out evenly throughout the day and to consistently exercise to keep that metabolism burning bright.

Maintaining lean muscle tissue is also crucial for increasing your metabolic rate.  Muscle tissue is metabolically active and burns calories even at rest.  Weight loss resulting from crash dieting and severe calorie restriction is unfortunately not all fat loss but lean muscle tissue loss and fluid as well.

Consider the case of this chronic crash dieter: A woman who weighs 135 pounds wishes to lose 20 pounds in time for a wedding in one month’s time.  She does not have time to exercise and decides to skip meals and keep her calorie intake down below 600-700 calories a day.  She is very excited to reach her goal of 115 pounds in time for the wedding.  While she fits into her dress, she notices that her body lacks muscle tone and looks a bit ‘loose”.  After the wedding, the woman goes back to her old eating habits, continues not to exercise and gains back the 20 pounds she has lost. In her mind, she is no worse off as she weighs the same as before her diet, but this could not be further from the truth.

Before the crash diet the woman weighed 135 pounds and was 30% body fat.  After she lost the 20 pounds and then regains it, she weighs 135 pounds again but is now 36% body fat. This shows that when she lost the weight she lost muscle tissue in addition to fat but when she regained the weight it came back as just fat.  While the scale showed the same weight as the start-her crash diet actually made her fatter! This also will slow her metabolic rate making it even harder for her to lose weight the next time she tries.  Maintaining muscle mass is key.

Crash dieting can really work against us.  Instead, keep the following tips in mind as you strive to get in shape:

  1. Reduce calories reasonably; cut out excess sweets, refined carbohydrates and added fats  while maintaining your intake of lean protein foods.  For most people it is not recommended to go below 1100 calories.
  2. Spread your calories throughout the day and prevent your body from slipping into “survival mode.”
  3. Always combine your reduced calorie eating plan with regular exercise to maintain muscle mass while promoting fat loss.

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About Judy Mitnick, MS, RD, CSSD, CDE
Judy has provided nutrition education and counseling to individuals and groups in a variety of settings including schools, worksites, public health, private physician practices and clinical research sites. At In Motion, she works with both physician referred patients, athletes and fitness clients.  She also provides nutrition presentations and workshops to groups all over the community.

We will be publishing expert fitness and nutrition blogs from the In Motion experts through October as part of our Team Lean Challenge. You can also keep up with the weight loss group and learn expert weight loss tips on the official Bon Secours Hampton Roads Facebook page and Bon Secours In Motion Facebook page! Through this process, we hope our Bon Secours Wellness team will inspire others to begin or continue on their own wellness journey.

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