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What Are Crash Dieting Side Effects?

Learn about the side effects of crash dieting from Allegra Broft, M.D. in this Howcast video.


One of the things we know about side effects of severe dieting is that psychological effects that can come out of severe dieting can actually look a whole lot like symptoms that we see in patients with anorexia nervosa. I'm going to tell you about a study that was conducted in the 1940's. It was called the Minnesota Semi Starvation Experiments, where conscientious war objectors were actually allowed to enroll in a research protocol that took place in Minnesota, in which men, without a history of any sorts of eating problems were put on a crash diet. They were severely food restricted to the point where they lost about 25 percent of their body weight. And what did they see amongst these men?

They saw that the men were obsessing about food all the time, that they were very preoccupied with food. There were long drawn out rituals in which the men dawdled in the cafeteria where they were eating for one, two hours, cutting up on their meals into little pieces and really exhibiting a lot of the obsessionality around food that we see in patients with anorexia nervosa.

So a crash diet is likely to make you crazy with thoughts about food. So that's one of the worst side effects that I can think of with respect to crash dieting from a psychological point of view. Anxiety, depression, can all come out as a part of crash dieting and were seen in those men as well.

There are physical effects from crash dieting as well and obviously, as we see in anorexia nervosa if your body gets to a medically underweight place, there are medical features that can begin to emerge. Losing your period can happen. It can be bad for your bones. People that are maintaining very extremely low body physics can develop osteoporosis, which is irreversible once it has set in, or very difficult to reverse. And there can be a variety of electrolyte changes. If a person gets to below 75 percent of what's considered a medically appropriate weight for them, a person is at increased risk for death from cardiac causes.

So, not only are these side effects, these are actually potentially lethal effects that a person is bringing on if crash dieting is continuing to an extreme.

So, if you're interested in helpful weight loss, working with a nutritionist to develop a daily pattern, a sustainable pattern, with adequate caloric intake, adequate nutritional value, a good balance of different types of foods, that's not overly rule bound, is the surest way to develop life-long patterns of healthful eating approaches that will allow our weight to stabilize in a healthful place.

Crash dieting not the answer. Not sustainable. Bad for your health. Not the way to go.

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