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More Harm than Good: The Dangers of Fad Diets

Nov 02, 2018

More Harm than Good: The Dangers of Fad Diets

As soon as the holidays are over, women are inundated with “quick fixes” to drop any extra pounds packed on over the holiday season. But rapid weight loss can have negative, long-lasting side effects.

Why do rapid weight loss diets not work?

“I usually tell people to steer clear of anything that promises more than 1-2 pounds of weight loss per week,” says Michele Geiger, RD, LD, certified diabetes educator with Kettering Health Network Diabetes and Nutrition Centers. “If you lose weight any faster than that, you’re probably also losing muscle and bone, due to inadequate calcium intake on very low calorie diets and not exercising,” Geiger says. Diets that promote abnormally rapid weight loss also cause people to lose fluid and electrolytes. Plus, people on highly restrictive diets are at a higher risk of regaining even more weight when they return to a less strict diet.

Geiger advises to be aware of any diet that is specific and extreme in what foods to eat or not eat or that focuses on only one nutrient or food group (for example, eating only protein or following the cabbage soup diet). People should also steer clear of diets that prescribe starvation calories, i.e., less than 1,000 calories per day. “I also tell people to stay away from diets that say you don’t need to exercise,” says Geiger. “You may be able to lose weight initially on a plan like that, but exercise is the best way to stimulate our falling metabolic rate as we age. It’s very difficult to keep weight off long-term without exercise.”

What are the negative side effects of crash diets?

“Any kind of yo-yo dieting is very hard on the cardiovascular system,” Geiger explains. She also explains that when the body breaks down fat rapidly, it has to get rid of that fat with bile, and, as a result, gallstones can occur in about 25% of people who go on crash diets. Severely restricted diets can also bring out a number of gastrointestinal problems, can lead to electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, or muscle cramps from nutrient deficiencies.

How should I lose weight instead?

When looking to lose weight, Geiger advises to ask the question, “Can I do this diet forever?” “Look for information that is science-based from a reputable source, such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and that promotes weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week,” says Geiger. Women who lose weight slowly over a longer period of time are more likely to keep the weight off long-term, and less likely to experience adverse health complications.

“It’s always a good idea to seek the advice of a dietitian or another medical professional,” says Geiger. “Someone who is coaching you through a diet and monitoring your health will help ensure you are eating a nutrient-dense diet and avoiding deficiencies.” Geiger shares that she and all registered dietitians at Kettering Health Network Diabetes and Nutrition Centers help with a variety of concerns, and can see patients for guidance with any nutritional need.

Learn more about safe and sustainable lifestyle changes to maintain your healthy weight. For questions, call (937) 401-7572 or visit