Crash Dieting

Crash dieting is severely cutting your calories or attempting to follow an unrealistic diet. Diet is a term originally used to describe the food and drink regularly consumed by people or animals for a specific reason. In 2011, diet is truly a four-letter word.

Dieting has become an out-of-control, multi-billion dollar industry that thrives on people’s confusion and dependence. There are fad diets telling you that bananas make you fat, gluten will go right to your hips and red meat will kill you, it’s no wonder people think the only way to lose weight is to simply cut out everything. The ineffective concept of the “super strict” will lead to drastic calorie reduction, unrealistic meal plans, and temporary changes…with consequences. This is assuming you aren’t one of the millions that don’t even bother to try because eating “healthy” is made out to be such a drag.

Severely cutting calories sucks

Cutting calories leads to lean muscle wasting, metabolic slow down, and consequently faster weight gain of what is likely to be more poundage than you lost.  Here are two equations you’ll want to become familiar with:

  • Your Body – Too Many Calories = Muscle Loss + Slower Metabolism

  • Less Muscle + Slower Metabolism + Previous Eating Habits = Easier and Faster Weight Gain

Let’s be honest, no one can keep up that miserable lifestyle forever. At best, you will return to your previous habits. At worst your deprivation will lead to a body and mind that you do not want. Repeat the above equations enough (this varies from person to person) and you can cause long term or even permanent metabolic damage. Yes. Permanent.

Other smaller but more obvious cons are:

  • Constant fatigue - Never having the right amount of fuel for your workouts and your life.
  • Shortness of temper - Being moody because you are always hungry.
  • Lack of motivation to exercise.
  • Poor recovery from exercise - You are always sore and exhausted.
  • Inability to manage emotional stress - Always a meal away from a personal, physical or emotional breakdown.

It’s not hard to come to additional conclusions that barely eating what your body needs for your lifestyle will minimize your patience with your kids, your focus for an important work project and likely make you a drag to meet out for dinner. Any of this sounding familiar for you or someone you know? Eating better as opposed to eating minimal is far more productive.

The Unrealistic Diet

If I wanted to knit pick, I would say that all “diets” are unrealistic in the long term. But in sticking with the true meaning of the word, we can go into more about which diet strategies are unrealistic and why the results are a tease. You’ve heard dozens of times that it’s all about lifestyle.

  • “Yeah, yeah, yeah… but what’s the fastest way?”
  • “I’m more advanced because I already eat good so I need a detailed program.”
  • “I know you don’t recommend fad diets or pills but if you HAD to pick…which one would it be???”

Mmmm…hmm. I see where this is going. My answer remains the same.

The biggest problem with diets is that everyone wants them to end and thus, they always do. They drastically restrict or eliminate favorite foods or even worse- healthy foods like certain fruits, meats or starches or they eliminate food all together. Most women want the hardest, most awful diet because they promise the fastest and most dramatic results; they feel they need to suffer to see results. But the more the diet sucks, the more unrealistic it is. In this respect, you can be the judge. Convincing yourself that a crash diet is a good way to jump start your progress is a recipe for failure.

Any physical benefit from a crash diet isn’t nearly as detrimental as the up and down ride on which they take you. Let the emotional, mental and physical roller coaster begin. It starts with the first time you get on “The Wagon”. Once this imaginary diet cart of doom exists in your mind you will always consider yourself either on or off. This is where the real danger lies. The in- between lifestyle stuff fades away and you’re either “on” and dieting, or “off” and feeling lost or out of control.

You can also consider the lure of the binge and quick fix as your official economic contribution to the billion dollar diet conglomerate: diet books, several body image related magazine subscriptions, prepackaged diet products (daily meal bars/replacement shakes, frozen meals, low fat- taste free desserts), pricey supplement routines, gimmicky workout toys that promise to whittle your middle, and of course, the added whammy of two different wardrobes (one for the “skinny” you and one for the “why am I even leaving the house” you).

But I wouldn’t be totally upfront if I didn’t admit that the first 2-3 weeks of any strict diet do actually knock some pounds off the face of the scale. It’s my challenge to show you that where those pounds came from is more important. You did not lose 7-10 pounds of fat in one week. You did not do 24,500-35,000 calories worth of metabolic activity in a week…unless you’re Michael Phelps, which I’ll take a stab in the dark and say you're not. The initial drop is from lowering your sodium, losing excess water weight, and minimizing bloat from junk foods, high carb/high fat goods, and artificial stuff. It’s also from the digestive clean out from the increase in fibrous veggies, select fruit and many times supplements to evacuate your colon AND depending on which diet, the sheer fact that your stomach and digestive track are practically empty at all times (for example a liquid only diet.) I’m being nice by even generalizing that the diet allows you to eat whole or blended foods. Let’s cover some logical indicators that point to poor dieting tactics. However advanced you feel you are (last stage of show prep competitors excluded), these are not healthy, long- term methods of weight reduction or management.

Fad and Crash Tactics

1.     Elimination Diets - Some examples are the grapefruit diet, fruit only cleanses, liquid diets, vegan eating for weight loss and even the gluten-free diet. In this case, it’s not about what you are eating. It’s about what you’re NOT eating anymore. Of course you’re going to initially drop some weight when you inherently eliminate tons of foods, most of which are higher calorie. This also depends on which fad diet is being analyzed. Take a second and dissect them yourself to see what foods each one eliminates. Find the foods that would obviously lead to severe calorie drops and junk food reduction. I’m serious. Examine three common diets or trends and see what you find. Common sense is nothing unless you apply it.

2.     No “Something Important” Diets - Similar to the above but still deserving of its own niche. Take the Atkins or Ornish Diets for example - one eliminating all carbs and the other severely restricting/eliminating fat. No carbs, no fat, no protein…pick one of these NO diets and you’ve picked wrong. A balanced diet of proteins, carbs and fats provide your body with all the essential nutrients and building blocks it needs to function, build, repair, look good and feel well for THE LONG HAUL. To permanently eliminate a macronutrient for weight loss purposes is potentially harmful and definitely short lived for the majority of people. Removing one from your diet can affect your muscle tone, skin and hair, cholesterol, mood/well-being and your ability to focus. It all comes down to the proper balance. Enjoy eating your favorite, healthy choices from each category. You will look, feel, and perform better for it.

3.     Precision Out of the Gate Diets - You’re just getting in shape and trying to look better in your jeans! You’re not stepping on stage in a posing bikini. You do not need the Ultimate Super Duper Mega Body Buster Precision Eating Program. If you go from eating whatever, whenever you want, to counting every calorie, gram of fat and eating only from a strict selection of foods…what do you think is going to happen? It also begins an obsession with food and your next meal. This is not how you begin a healthy and positive change. You will get better results by picking a few things to commit to and sticking to them until they feel easy. After that step it up another notch for continued results.

4.     Corporate Diets (aka Dependency Plans) -  Think Jenny Craig, Nutri-System, Slim Fast, the Hollywood Cookie Diet etc. These plans require you to consume their products in order to maintain the program and get results. You eat from their pre packaged menu items of frozen meals, prepared drinks and processed snacks with minimal exceptions. If you were on vacation, out of the country on business, suddenly broke, or the world was coming to an end, what would you do then? Would you know how to eat without low cal/low fat vegetarian lasagna microwavable meals or worse…no chocolate chip mint snack bars? Total dependence is not only crippling, it’s tiresome and eventually you will want to eat like a normal, happy person.

So we’ve established that both whacking down your calories and super restrictive diets are less than glamorous solutions to improving your body. Why do so many women still do it? What could possibly be so alluring about crash dieting that women continue to try it over and over again? Here are some of the most popular reasons I’ve come across that might help shed some light on yourself, your friends, your girl, or your clients:

  • Fear - being so unhappy with your body that you actually take comfort in knowing that “I might be starving, but at least I can’t possibly gain any more weight." Or, “I don’t care how I lose it or whether it’s muscle or fat…just get it off now.”
  • Deadlines - waiting too long to try to look good for a special event like a vacation or a wedding. This is your fault. Better get started now for whatever’s next.
  • Uneducated - thinking there are no repercussions beyond weight loss for putting your body through hell.
  • Unwillingness - not stepping it up to educate yourself or put in the time and effort to truly changing your life and therefore your body.
  • “It’s Worked Before” - this is a dangerous one. You or a friend has lost a bunch of weight on a crappy diet and just can’t seem to get in the same mind frame to suffer through it again. (I don’t blame you, nor should you keep trying.) If you can’t maintain the diet or keep the weight off it’s just pointless and most likely detrimental to your overall health or well-being.


You must change your mindset. If you yo-yo diet or engage in some other serious diet tactics that are harmful, you need to get to the root of it. Just trying another food program is not enough. It’ll be a Band-aid for your real problem. You need to know why you’re doing what your doing and what thoughts or feelings have you up to no good in the kitchen. Here are some great methods for personal growth in helping you change your mindset and realize who you are.

  • Journaling - Besides your foods, write down your thoughts and feelings. This is especially important for people that binge eat or use food as an emotional outlet. A pint of Ben & Jerry’s after a break up only looks good in the movies. It feels like crap in real life. Reading your thoughts, feelings and emotions will lead you to some amazing self-discovery.
  • Talking - Feeling weak, confused or overwhelmed? Talk about your problems or have your nutrition questions answered by a professional that you find through a referral. Whatever question you have or whatever you’re problem is, an experienced professional has heard it before.  There is no shame or embarrassment to tell someone the truth. This will give you the proper direction.
  • Changing Habits - Always celebrating with food and always finding a reason to celebrate? Is having one, two, (or who’s counting) glasses of wine become a regular part of your evening? Do you mindlessly snack or pick while cooking, watching TV or trying to unwind at night? Pick a new “thing” and do it.
  • Get a Life - This is my favorite. The best way to stop obsessing over your food and your body is to get real hobby. Working out and dieting should not be your “thing”. Food and exercise is a part of life. NOT A LIFE. Try new things. Look for another way to find self worth within yourself. What else can you do for you that will make you feel good or excited? Not just being a good wife or girlfriend or a good parent…something that you do for yourself as an individual. This will get you away from dwelling on the superficial stuff. Funny how things work themselves out when you release an obsessive grip on them.

My Diet turned Lifestyle Solution

Make a simple grid that shows each day of the week and allows six or so empty boxes for meals and snacks each day. Pick a few goals and guidelines for the next 2-3 weeks and write them at the bottom. Now, log your meals in those boxes each day. Don’t get over whelmed, make your log very general. You don’t even need to start with exact amounts. If the meal is in accordance with your goals, that’s great. You can see it easily and copy it later and stay on track. If it’s a little off (for example, you had some fries with your grilled chicken sandwich) then give THAT MEAL a checkmark. If you have an all out splurge meal because you planned ahead for it or you binged…the meal gets an “X”. At the end of the week you count the X’s (two checks counting as another X). It’s actually very simple and gives you goals each meal, each day, each week AND you get to grade your own paper for immediate feedback. It’s a constant reminder that you can start over anytime, at any meal. No day is “ruined”.

How do you know how well you did? You’ll see the difference as the weeks go on, but you can get more immediate feedback. Count the total number of meals/snacks. Then count the number of total X’s. Use these two numbers to see what percentage you're actually eating healthy. So if you had 30 meals/snacks that week you can see if you ate well 90% of the time by multiplying 30 x .90 which is 27 good meals. If you didn’t have that, try the next one down and see if you were 80% by multiplying by .8 and so on. Do this at the end of every week and write your percent of success at the bottom. Watch yourself progress. Never throw these out. Even if one week looks like hell and you ate awful. You really need to move past the “all or nothing” concept and watch yourself find balance.  You need to work through your setbacks and grow.

I have used this myself with much success to enjoy relaxed eating. I have also done this with many of my clients. Depending on how you’re eating right now, you can be realistic with your food selections. If you eat kind of crappy, it’s ok to eat stuffing or macaroni and cheese to be an “approved” carb source or cheese to be a fat source. Remember, you're setting goals for yourself that you know are appropriate for where you’re starting. Don’t make it miserable! It’ll still work.  You’ll notice the less you eat out, the fewer X’s you’ll have, and the more meals and snacks you eat the less X’s you’ll have too. I’ll let you notice other patterns on your own.

I will say this once, with conviction, that until you are eating healthy 90% of the time, you do NOT need anything more detailed. Changing too much too soon, can lead to binging, feelings of failure, and ultimately quitting. Do that a few times around and you have a serious built in “I can’t do it,” mentality and your body will fight you on every diet go-around there after, unless you shape up.

The benefits of a logical approach are long term results, less binges, and no more mood swings. You won’t drag others down, comment on others’ choices, push your goals and changes on others, and talk incessantly about your diet. You'll feel better, look better, will be healthy and most importantly, you'll be in control.

So in closing, what IS the best diet out there? If you’re actually reading this and expecting the answer, you’ve officially missed the point. There is no “one way” for all but a best way for one. Only you know what you are willing to do and what you are doing when no one is looking. The best changes and diet strategies are the ones you can stick to. A nutrition plan is only as good as your ability to be compliant to it.

© Juliet Deane, 2011