Skinny & sick: a lesson in crash dieting

Skinny & sick: a lesson in crash dieting

When you’re sitting in a body that you hate, the road to change can seem just too far way. Weight loss takes time and hard work, and it can be tempting to cut corners just to speed up the process. But there’s no fast track to a six-pack or an easy fix to your dream body. What sounds like a quick solution can actually have serious long-term consequences that are difficult to undo. Getting skinny doesn’t always mean getting healthy and no matter how satisfying the external results can be, the internal damage may be something you regret.

I think a big misunderstanding about the human body is that less food always means weight loss. If I just starve myself my body will have no choice, but to melt all my fat away. But that’s not the case. Our bodies are miraculously adaptive and are made to support our survival in the most unbearable conditions. 

Picture your body like a person stranded on a raft in the ocean. All you have is a handful of snacks and a bottle of water, with no rescue in sight. If you’re going to survive, you’re not just going to scarf down all the food at once. You have to make it last. Our metabolism works the same way. If scarce amounts of food are the new normal, then it will slow down and adapt to that amount of food to support itself. Not only will it learn to hold on to the food you’re eating, but it will also learn to hold on to fat that’s already stored. That’s why restricting your calories to super low numbers won’t always show on the scale. Your body thinks that you’re starving, so it’s holding on to all that it can to stay functional. 

Metabolic damage is caused by excessive caloric restriction, cardio, and stress on the body, according to BodyBuilding.com. When the body realizes that your body fat is getting to dangerously low levels, it will drop your thyroid levels and nervous system output to try to stop the weight loss. Before your diet, your body could maintain itself at over 2000 calories. Now you’re barely eating 1200 and not losing any weight. That’s a prime example of metabolic adaptation and the rough side effects. Only months if not years of reverse dieting and slowly bumping up your calories will heal the damage done.

You can’t see your damaged metabolism in the mirror, but other signs of crash dieting are much more visible. One of the first things to go in a weight loss diet is fat. Fat makes you fat right? Wrong. Fats are made up of essential omega 3’s and vitamins that stimulate your hair follicles. When you are no longer getting those nutrients, your hair will start to thin and in severe cases, fall out. It’s not just fats either. When it comes to survival, hair isn’t a necessity. In the event of starvation, our body has no problem borrowing energy from other places, like your hair follicles, according to MYN Hair Studio. And even when you stop crash dieting, your body is going to focus on healing your organs and all the other essential processes long before your hair. It can take months for healthy hair growth to start up again. 

If you notice your trips to the bathroom getting a lot less frequent that’s no coincidence either. Severe dieting gets your bowel movements all out of whack. Your body is hoarding the tiny amount of food that you are eating so you’re not excreting much. And a restricted diet probably doesn’t have enough of the fibers and fats that keep your digestive system pumping. Depending on how much soluble or insoluble fiber you are getting down, it can leave you stopped up like a cork or running to the toilet with the always unpleasant stream of diarrhea. 

Low carb diets are a common method for weight loss, but they can have downsides. Carbs are not the culprit for all your weight gain, on the contrary, carbs are your body’s main source of energy. It looks to carbs to fuel your muscles, nervous system, immune system, and most importantly, your brain. If you’ve ever been in a diet phase and stood up too fast, you’ve probably experienced some dizziness. Your brain, along with endless other essential functions, controls your balance. To keep things steady, it needs carbs for fuel. Your not just dizzy because you’re tired, you’re dizzy because your brain function has been compromised. Still want to cut carbs?

More often than not, people trying to lose weight not only want to be skinny, but “toned”. Whether or not they actually know what that means. The reality is, toned means you have some muscle underneath to give you a full, athletic figure. Muscle is built through plenty of food and exercise, two things you are sacrificing when you crash diet. When your body can’t get enough energy from food, it will steal it from your muscles. The tissues you’ve worked so hard to create will start being broken down. And without adequate nutrition, you won’t have the energy to get a good workout anyways. Excessive cardio is a typical tool to fast weight loss, but toned isn’t the body type you’ll get out of it. Cardio has a way of just “shrinking” everything down and leaving you “soft”. No muscle, just less body fat. Women in particular stand to lose more feminine features that are primarily body fat, like breasts and butt cheeks, which for many, might not be good news. 

The female body will send other warning signals too. Amenorrhea is the loss of a regular period because of malnutrition or a host of other problems, according to Livestrong. Like your hair, the ability to get pregnant is not a necessity for survival so your body will abandon that function just to keep you going. If you continue crash dieting and overexercising, you can do long-term damage to your reproductive system and struggle to start a family in the future.

 Yes, weight loss takes time. It can take years. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have little wins along the way. Your end goal may be down the line, but you will be constantly improving every single day. It’s a long journey worth having. It teaches you patience, discipline and a willingness to put effort into things that matter. Skinny might be your dream right now, but one day you may want something different. Make decisions that you will be proud of years from now. Don’t do unnecessary damage for immediate gratification. Do things the slow way. Be kind to your body in all its shapes and sizes.

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Take it from me

I say all of this because I was a crash dietter. I starved and walked on a stairmaster for hours at a time. I thought fitness was supposed to feel like torture and I caused myself all kinds of side effects. My metabolism crashed. I was permanently exhausted all day every day. I got dizzy and saw spots every time I stood up. My hair started thinning and coming out in clumps. I missed a period for a month. I was so obsessed with skinny that I spent months hurting my body over and over again. Months I could’ve spent building a muscular foundation. If I would’ve just done things the right way, I could’ve gotten to my goal without having to take so many steps back. I realized that when you finally achieve skinny, it’s not nearly as satisfying as being strong.

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