I was thinking about my weight loss struggles the other day and I realized that one of the things that had always sabotaged my efforts was the desire to lose weight fast.
By the time I decided to go on another diet, I was so unhappy with myself that I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting for months to achieve results. So naturally, I turned to diets that promised the quickest weight loss.
Of course, these crash diets NEVER worked. And no, it wasn’t because I didn’t have enough willpower to say no to sweets. It was because all crash diets are built on the same ineffective foundation – strict calorie restriction, which essentially means starving yourself.
Besides actually hurting your weight loss efforts and driving you mad, strict dieting can also lead to all sorts of health problems.
In this article, I will share five reasons why crash diets never work. We’ll also take a quick look at some of the strategies that CAN work for sustained weight loss.
Five Reasons Fad Diets Don’t Work
You’re Not Losing Fat but Water Weight
When you start a new diet, you usually get great results in the first couple of weeks. After all, you’re restricting your calories and cutting down on carbohydrate-rich foods like sweets, pastries bread, and pasta.
The problem is, it’s not REAL weight you’re losing. Sure, the number on the scale is getting lower, but it won’t stay there once you start eating normally again.
Why? Because most of the initial weight loss on a new diet comes from lost water and not body fat.
I don’t want to make things too complicated, but basically, for every gram of glycogen your body stores as energy, it also stores 3-4 grams of water. When you keep your carb intake low for a certain period, your body digs into those stored energy reserves. By using glycogen for energy, it also drops all the water it holds along with it. So, when you go back to eating normally, your carb intake increases and so does the number on the scale because your body starts to store water again.
If you keep your calories low for too long, your body starts breaking down muscle to cover the energy deficit. It also wants to get rid of the bulk ASAP because muscle is metabolically very active and requires a lot of calories for maintenance. So, you do end up with a lower number on the scale but also with less muscle mass. Less muscle means less fat is burned over time, which only ends up hindering your weight loss progress.
They Aren’t Sustainable in the Long Run
A lot of things happen in your body when you start restricting calories but I want to talk about the effect dieting has on your mental wellbeing. Yes, losing weight is all about creating a calorie deficit by eating less than your body consumes or burning more than your body needs. But if it were that simple, we’d all be stick skinny by now!
Restricting foods and calories has an enormous effect on our mental health, and this is why most diets fail. It’s not because you don’t have enough willpower and motivation, it’s because you don’t realize there are lots of psychological challenges that arise from dieting.
Have you ever noticed that as soon as you decide to go on a diet, you start craving all of your favorite foods? And the longer you restrict yourself, the stronger these cravings get? It’s not “sugar addiction” or “being weak” that create these thoughts, it’s just your brain reacting to food restriction in the only way possible – by making you think about food all the time!
Most people also don’t realize that emotions play a huge role in what, how or why we eat. You may be able to avoid emotional eating for a month or two, but your reasons for overeating will ALWAYS come back to haunt you.
Your Bad Eating Habits Are Only Temporarily Docked
Fad diets are nothing but a quick fix to a long-term problem. If you have issues with overeating, irregular feeding patterns or compulsive consumption of unhealthy foods, then these diets will not help you fix things.
Sure, you may feel a sense of control over yourself during the diet, but the moment you achieve your goals, you’ll find yourself falling back into old habits.
Because you’re not actually working on changing your habits. You’re just following rules that someone else has put together. You won’t be avoiding eating cookies, cakes, and chocolate ice cream for dinner because it’s unhealthy, you’re avoiding it because someone else is telling you to. And unfortunately, the moment you don’t have to follow these rules anymore, you’ll start eating like you used to.
It Is a Form of Cruelty Against Yourself
Fad diets fail to work because they are not fun.
Don’t you just feel like you’re punishing yourself? You are low on energy; your moods are all over the place; you’re constantly starving and thinking about all the forbidden foods. Not to mention the feelings of guilt and disappointment when you fail to follow the diet to the latter.
This creates negative attitudes towards dieting and a healthy lifestyle which will only hold you back on your journey towards health and weight loss.
They Can Wreak Havoc on Your Health
Besides heavily restricting calories, most crash diets also cut out entire food groups, such as dairy or carbohydrates. Not only does this approach create a negative association with certain foods, but it can also put you at risk of serious nutrient deficiencies that can really hurt your health.
For example, research has found that high protein diets can lead to dehydration and eventually kidney stones (1). Yo-yo dieting is associated with higher risk for cardiovascular and heart diseases (2). Long-term dieting can damage our bones, which, in turn, puts us at higher risk of injuries as we age (3).
How to Make Your Diet Plan Work
There are a couple of things you can do to ensure you healthily lose weight. This topic deserves its own blog post, but I want to finish on a positive note and share three strategies that I have used to lose weight in the past year.
- Take it slow
Healthy change takes time. I’m talking about months or even years of discipline and focus. Accepting that healthy weight loss is a long-term process puts you on a path of success.
I’m serious! As soon as I gave myself time to achieve my goals, I felt calmer and more at peace than ever before. It allowed me to take a step back, analyze my behavior and come up with a plan that is now working for me.
- Make it a lifestyle change
Do not follow a diet that is touted as the hot trend of the month. Instead, start making permanent lifestyle changes by focusing on small habits one by one.
If you’re used to having midnight snacks, consider substituting chips for carrot sticks or healthy nuts and seeds. If you’re usually skipping breakfast, try to include healthy smoothies or freshly pressed juices in your morning routine. You’ll be surprised to see how big an effect small changes can have.
- Be realistic about what you expect
Don’t be too hard on yourself. You do not need to lose half of your body weight in a week. If possible, consult a professional to figure out the healthiest weight loss rate for your situation and expectations. I set a goal of losing about 10% of my body weight in six months, and it worked well for me.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight. The problem lies in going on starvation diets and expecting miraculous results within a short time.
If you want a weight loss program to work out for you, make it a long-term change. Start small and slowly figure out what works for you and what you are most comfortable with. That way, whether it is cutting carbs or upping your protein intake, you will get the results you want without harming yourself.