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Crash diets can cause more harm than good

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

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At this time of year, many people are trying to lose some weight and often are tempted to drastically reduce their calorie consumption. While this could result in weight loss for the short term, it will backfire on you in the long run.

One negative consequence of an extremely low-calorie or crash diet relates to your metabolism. Metabolism is the chemical process in your body that converts the food you eat into energy to maintain life processes like breathing, blood circulation, cell repair, and building bones. There is not a lot you can do to alter your metabolism. Your body naturally regulates itself, balancing energy needs with consumption.

Metabolism will be affected if there are not enough calories available to support these basic functions. When you starve yourself, your metabolism recognizes the absence of available fuel and slows downs to conserve energy, thereby burning fewer calories.

Eating too few calories also will deprive your body of the essential nutrients it needs to stay healthy. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to get enough of the recommended servings of all of the food groups on a very low-calorie diet.

According to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., the majority of weight lost with a crash diet is due to water weight or a loss of muscle tissue. This type of dieting does not encourage the body to burn fat deposits, and as a result, you may retain body fat while losing muscle tone. Dehydration and lack of nutrients also will leave you feeling weak and fatigued.

Starvation diets may also increase the likelihood of gallstones, can result in cognitive impairment, and in extreme cases, can damage the heart and brain, resulting in heart attack, heart failure or stroke. 

How many calories should you eat each day? The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans represent the best scientific-based advice for a healthy diet and are provided at no cost. You can discover your own daily calorie needs by using the USDA’s SuperTracker tool found at At the SuperTracker website, you complete a profile with your age, gender, and activity level and receive a personalized food plan.

While crash diets are tempting, the best thing you can do to maintain your weight is try to adopt a pattern of healthy eating and exercise for the rest of your life. It may take a while and some trial and error, but it will be worth the effort. 

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