The dangers of crash diets


The market is rife with drops, shakes, teas, stimulants, amino acids, and protein powders that promise rapid weight loss and quick ways to get that summer body you so badly want. BUT, is this healthy and what are the long term consequences?

Consequences of crash diets include:

  • Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances
  • heart palpitations or abnormal heart rate and rhythm
  • loss of muscle mass
  • nutrient deficiencies
  • rebound weight gain
  • hair loss
  • constipation
  • fatigue and weakness

Severe nutrient and calorie restriction will always have a negative consequence.

Losing weight too quickly ultimately slows your metabolism which is counterproductive because it leads to rebound weight gain.

Crash diets also weaken your immune system and put stress on your heart muscle as well as other organs and systems in the body. Also, when you follow a severely restricted eating plan, to survive, your body will utilize its own muscle tissue for the energy it needs and this can result in sarcopenia, which is a high body fat ratio and a low muscle ratio despite appearing thinner. When losing weight, we ideally want to lose fat mass and not muscle mass. Unfortunately, any starvation diet is not going to support the right kind of weight loss.

Many fat-free products contain high amounts of sugars or carbohydrates which are also not beneficial since they disrupt blood sugar metabolism making you feel hungry and cranky which makes sticking to a “diet” extremely hard. Even artificially sweetened diet products are not ideal because they still communicate with the receptors in the brain which keep you craving sugars. Healthy fats are necessary as part of a balanced diet and eliminating fats will also have negative consequences on the body.

Adding stimulants to the mix puts pressure on the body and can leave you feeling edgy and anxious if you don’t tolerate them well. 

Certain nutrients such as L-carnitine, CLA and protein powders can have their benefits, however these should form part of a balanced diet and a realistic exercise program.

While calorie reduction may be necessary for weigh loss, calories should never be reduced below a person’s daily requirements.

The average adult female should consume around 1200 calories per day whereas the average male should consume around 1800 calories per day. If your diet consists of lots of starchy carbohydrates, breads, and sugars, simply cutting back on those and replacing them with proteins, vegetables and healthy fats will have a significant impact on your weight without making you feel unwell and putting unnecessary pressure on your body.

Exercise is another component of healthy weight loss because it supports an improved body composition. Weight bearing exercise improves bone density, builds muscle, and tones your body whereas aerobic exercise supports a healthy cardiovascular system. Both are necessary and can be combined or done on alternate days depending on your preference.

There is unfortunately no quick fix to weight loss.

Genetics, body type and hormones all influence our weight as well and these need to be considered when working out a plan for weight loss. With some people, exercise has little effect on their weight, but calorie reduction will help. Others can increase their exercise and maintain a higher calorie intake. We are all individuals and making lifestyle changes that will work specifically for our body type will ultimately be the best bet for long-term results that don’t make us unwell along the way.

Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 30 September 2021 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am