Wellness Wednesday: The Dangers of Extreme Diets
For more than 40 years, the low-fat, high carbohydrate diet was the way to health, the way to lose weight. However, as we know, we have only grown heavier and we’re more unhealthy than ever before. Why? Is it because the low fat diet is wrong? Or, is it because it’s a form of extreme dieting… also called a crash diet or fad diet?
What do you think of when you hear the terms “extreme diets”? For me, juicing, the cabbage soup diet or the master cleanse all come to mind. (among many others) And, indeed, these are all forms of extreme dieting, but there are 2 other diets most people don’t consider extreme… low-fat/high carb and high-fat/low-carb… In my opinion, they are more dangerous than the others.
Why? While juicing, the cabbage soup and the master cleanse or quite extreme, and can be dangerous, they are specifically meant to be done for short amounts of time…days or weeks at the most, after which, you return to a “normal” diet. However, low-fat and low-carb diets are extreme forms of eating that people assume are healthy to do over extended periods of time. They lure people into a false sense of security, into thinking they are living a healthy lifestyle, when quite the opposite is true.
What are extreme diets? (fad diets or crash diets)
An extreme/fad/crash diet is any diet used with the sole purpose of losing large amounts of weight quickly. While there are a vast variety of extreme eating plans, all extreme diets have a few things in common:
- Caloric restriction
- Eliminate (or severely restrict) an entire food group
- Lack a variety of foods
- Do not teach life style skills
- Not healthy or practical over the long term
What are the dangers of extreme diets?
- Slows the metabolism – Metabolism is a key factor when trying to lose weight. However, extreme dieting KILLS the metabolism. When you restrict calories and nutrients, your body severely slows the metabolism. This is a form of “self-preservation”. To keep itself alive, your body begins to store fat and burn muscle for energy.
- Digestive problems – This often happens for a couple reasons:
- In low-carb diets- people don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables and fiber. Like the metabolism, your digestion slows to a crawl when it doesn’t get the proper nutrients. You become bloated and constipated
- In low-fat diets – cholesterol is severely restricted, your gallbladder becomes impaired and you run the risk of forming gallstones.
- Malnutrition– The human body was meant to use all 3 macronutrients. Protein builds up our body, Fat makes up every cell in our body, and Carbs are our our body’s main, and preferred, source of energy. When you severely restrict ANY macronutrient, you’ll probably see weight loss on the scale, but over the long run. this can lead to:
- skin problems
- heart problems
- fertility issues
- MANY MANY other nutrient deficiency diseases…too numerous to name
- Fatigue – A proper and healthy diet will give you energy and make you feel good from the beginning. Extreme dieting, which includes calorie restriction, means stress and lack of energy.
- Constant hunger – Once again, this goes to properly feeding your body. With a healthy diet, filled with all of the nutrients your body needs, you would not be hungry. You could be eating constantly, all day, and your body would still be hungry. The hunger pains aren’t necessarily a cry for calories, but nutrients, or even water.
- Rebound weight gain – Extreme diets are so popular because they are good at helping people lose weight. There is one HUGE catch however…they only work while you’re on the diet. Once you go off, your body’s built in “self-preservation” system kicks in and stores every calorie you eat as fat, for the next time it is “starved”. This constant yo-yo effect damages:
- blood vessels
- digestive system
- Dehydration – During calorie restriction, including low-carb dieting, your body’s first source of fuel is glycogen stores in the liver, which is attached to water. Anyone who’s ever been on a diet knows you lose a ton of weight during the first 3 days…that’s the glycogen burning off, and the excess water leaving the body, which often results in dehydration. This leads to:
- Blood sugar issues – If you’re not giving your body the needed supply of macronutrients and fiber, your blood sugar and insulin levels will not remain steady. Yo-Yo dieting can also result in insulin resistance which can lead to Type 2 Diabetes.
- Brain problems – Guess what? Your brain needs both FAT and CARBS to function properly. Glucose is the preferred fuel for the brain. The brain relies almost exclusively on steady supplies of glucose for fuel, since it can’t store glucose itself. If ketones are providing fuel for the brain, this means the body is in starvation mode, and most likely functioning below normal standards. (4) Also, the brain is 60% fat, so, in order to work properly, they need fat as well. (3) Without either macronutrient, brain problems can occur, including, but not limited to:
- Brain fog
- Memory problems
- decreased brain growth
While the above list is by no means all inclusive, it gives you an idea as to what happens when you go on extreme diet, or at the very least, restrict one of the macronutrients. You’ve seen it before from me and I’ll say it again…whole foods, mainly plants…that’s the key. This is what my plate looks like at every meal:
You didn’t gain weight overnight, so don’t expect to lose it overnight. I’m with you on wanting to be healthy and lose weight. It’s a constant struggle for me as well, but I’ve come to understand that it’s a way of life. I’ve come to understand that it’s a process, of healing, of renewing the body, of feeding it properly. This process takes time… In time, the body will respond…in time health will come…all what is required is a little patience and accepting who I am at this moment. If I can’t accept who I am right now, how will I ever accept who I am later?