Why crash dieting is never the answer.

crash dieting

A recent brush with food poisoning led me to a couple of interesting observations about weight loss..

After eating out on the Thursday evening I woke up two Fridays ago with a roasting temperature and a weird feeling in my stomach.  This quickly led to me becoming best friends with the toilet for 2 days... Being unwell really made me appreciate what it is to be healthy and how life is so often uncertain: I went to bed with NO idea I would wake up unwell. So aside from getting philosophical it it also led me to other observations that my clients should really understand about weight loss.

I had 2-3 days of ejection from my body, lots of water loss and my whole digestive system was empty and my stomache concave when I looked at it.  With me only taking in small snacks I would say that for about 5-6 days I had no more than 500 calories per day (that's a starvation diet) and for a few days after than, decreased appetite and a general wariness about food meant I definitely ate less than I normally would even when I was no longer sick.

The cruel promises of quick weight loss

With the total nonsense the Government and food industry have been spouting for years, that a 'calories is a calorie.'  We have all been convinced that a restriction of 3 thousand calories apparently equals 1lb in weight loss (yeah right).  This means that I should have lost between 3-4 pounds in measurable fat alone due to the amount of calories I had restricted, as well as extra for water and glycogen loss.  So when I was back in work again the week following I hopped on the scales so I could see how much I had lost.  Interestingly...Nothing had changed, I weighed the exact same 8.5 stone that I always do, my natural steady weight.

Learning no 1:  Your body is not a cash machine for fat.  As I have seen with my clients who had been sold an idea that is out of date and completely untrue. The idea that calorie restriction will lead to automatic weight loss at the rate of 1 pound for every 3thousand calories restricted is at best, idealistic and at worst one of the biggest demoralising reasons why people struggle to lose weight and keep it off.  When it doesn't happen in the way its 'meant to' people feel frustrated and like a failure.   If you would like more knowledge around how wrong the 'calorie theory' is then check out Zoe Harcombes' blog.  This understanding that weight loss is not linear will never occur at the 'projected level' means that we need to set realistic ideas of the rate of weight loss and if you think that you should always lose 1-2pounds per week then sadly you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Sometimes weight loss seems to defy all laws of physics!

Learning no 2: I visibly looked like I had lost weight, around my face, tummy and legs but the scales showed absolutely no difference.  This is important as often body shape can change and clients can change shape and lose inches off their waist but yet it doesn't translate to the number on the scale.  Don't ask me how this is possible, but it is!  If all you are focused on is the not-so- magic number on the scale, which doesn't seem to change you can get locked into the cycle of 'I have failed this week' and can lead to sabotage and giving up.  My clients need to be focused on all the other health benefits and knowing they are moving in the right direction, long term weight loss clients will only weigh themselves 1 a month.  Weighing yourself two times a day is a road to madness.  Don't do it.   Hide those scales and live your life.

Binge follows Restriction.  Feast or famine.

I specialise in working with the emotional connections with food, but there are also important biological changes that kick in when we try to lose weight. When my squeamishness about food left and my digestive system returned to normal, I found I was ravenously hungry- I could eat two dinners, I wanted to snack all the time, I made excuses just to have a wee bit of that just to 'build myself up again' and within 2 weeks I look just like I did before I got sick.  Now I am back to my natural size and shape, still at my steady 8.5stone.  This is really important: FAMINE When we do short term dieting food by severe calorie restriction (crash dieting!) several things happen- 1) our body holds off on non essential processing ("listen lads, lets not build up that bone today...lets just wait...sure leave that damaged muscle there and hold off on making those extra hormones, just til we see what happens").   This means that when you do short term restriction metabolic changes will kick in, and your metabolism really will be lowered.  Your Basal metabolic rate will be reduced (that's the amount of energy it takes just to run your body system without exercise, and it can change) this is why in weight loss people often find that the reduction they lost weight with at the beginning no longer induces weight loss a few months down the line.

Learning no 3: When we go back to normal eating again as INEVITABLY we will, (now with a reduced metabolism for a while) our body encourages us to eat to make up for the hunger and the nutrients we missed out on. When people have gone on an extreme diet, juices, meal replacements or very low calorie dieting the research says again and again that we will regain that weight generally plus 10%.  People may do cleanses or fasting for other reasons, religion or health but DO NOT expect to use this method to lose weight and keep it off.   That meant for me, an extra gnawing hunger that just had to be filled.   It will encourage us to eat more, you can be the strongest willed person in the world, but this biological drive is a very difficult thing to override.  Unless of course you want to start working on creating an eating disorder, both bulima and anorexia both begin with food restriction.  Just don't do it man.

You have a natural weight

and one other note...

Often clients that come to me are very fixed on the weight they want to be.  Now in my experience, all of us have a natural weight (when we are following the correct weight loss advice) that we will reach eventually and stay steady at- and this often is higher than we want it to be.  It depends on genetics, height, body shape, your weight as a child etc etc.  Yes we can force our body to go lower than that, but if it is an unnatural weight for us, you will always be fighting to stay there, and really who can be bothered with that?  I find that a lot of weight loss is about self-acceptance and seeking health, not just numbers on a scale.

If you are interested in the realistic cost of getting lean, check out this wonderful blog piece on the cost of getting lean by Precision Nutrition

I have a specific way that I teach my clients how to eat if they want to lose weight and keep it off.  A high fat low carb diet (HFLC).  If you would like information about our weight loss and comfort eating programme then please check out some further information by clicking here

until next time, thanks for reading!