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A Crash is a Collision

Posted Dec 19 2012 4:58am

I’ve recently been asked about crash diets, an eating pattern that is very short-term, perhaps even just a few days, in order to lose a few pounds. A fad diet is also short-term, but for many is thought of differently than a crash diet. The reality is that they’re very similar, if not the same. They can beckon us for sure, but so can many other things that aren’t good for us.

Let’s be honest. A crash diet is a very calorie restrictive diet that we enter into for a short-term for a big result. Severely limiting calories can harm us in that we don’t get enough energy (think of it as our gasoline) for our bodies to function well. We can become extremely fatigued. Instead of that sleek Porsche cruising along the highway, we become that broken down Pinto on the side of the road. But being very tired isn’t the only problem.

Losing weight too quickly just isn’t good for us. It can affect our bodies in a negative way. Imagine a see-saw. There’s a person on each end, but neither has sat down. The see-saw is a straight line. That’s how we want out bodies to be, in balance. When we do something like go on a crash diet, someone sits down and the see-saw and our body “tilts.” This isn’t how we want to be.

Crash diets typically limit or eliminate food groups, which isn’t ideal. A balanced, healthy diet is what we need. Our bodies want the right amount of lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy and fruits and vegetables. These food groups all have different things like iron, vitamins, minerals and fiber that we need to function well. When we don’t get them, someone might just sit down on that see-saw and issues can befall us.  I’ll just name a few of the potential problems that can occur and believe me; the list could be much longer.

If we have a disease state like diabetes, we can see unhealthy swings in our blood sugar. Not good. High protein diets can have damaging effects on the kidneys. Not good. Too little fiber can cause constipation. Again, not good. Not getting enough vitamins and minerals can do a lot of things to us, including negatively impacting our skin. So, if you embark on a crash diet in order to look better for an event, it may backfire on you! If you are fasting or are close to fasting, you can become dehydrated. Yet another “tilt” on the see-saw, which can cause a host of problems. For example, there are certain medications, like Metformin, that can cause even a life-threatening condition called lactic acidosis if we take it while dehydrated. Taking laxatives, which some look to do, can also cause many issues, including losing water, creating an electrolyte imbalance (including sodium and potassium) and more. Sodium and potassium affect the heart. Who wants that? Some other side effects from crash diets could be vomiting and/or diarrhea. And guess what? Most of us tend to gain the lost weight back. I could continue on, but hopefully I don’t need to.

Many of us tend to forget that our body is a very complex machine that needs to be cared for. It’s the only one we have. Some of us take better care of our cars than we do our bodies. If we don’t have our health, what do we have? As a dietitian who works in a hospital and who sees the impact of how food, being overweight or underweight, lack of exercise and all the other lifestyle choices we make can affect the body, I can tell you with utmost authority that going on a crash diet is just not worth it. If you are overweight, it’s important to lose weight. But slow and steady wins the race. Eating healthy for life is the key. If you are underweight, that’s not good either. Let’s take care of ourselves. We’ll be better off for it.

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