The trouble with crash diets
Q. I am a 36-year-old mother of two who has been waging an unending battle with my weight in the last few years. My desirable body weight is around 110 pounds, but my weight swings between 120 and 150 pounds. When I hit 150, I go on a crash diet. I usually lose 20–30 lbs in three to four weeks. The problem is I very easily gain back the weight I lose. What should I do to be able to reduce to and maintain a desirable body weight?
– Irma C., Makati City
A. Excess weight is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, that is why you will really be better off without the extra poundage that you now carry. However, your practice of repeatedly losing and gaining weight or “yo-yo” dieting may be as dangerous as being overweight. In the end, you might only lose your self-esteem instead of your unwanted pounds.
Whenever you go on your “get-thin-quick scheme” or “crash diet,” you run the risk of suffering from fluid-electrolyte imbalance and protein, calorie, and micronutrient (i.e., vitamins and minerals) deficiency, which could compromise many of your body functions and even irreparably damage some of your vital tissues and organs. You also increase your risk of developing gallstones.
Crash dieting works in that, as in your experience, one can lose as much as 20–30 lbs in just a few days or weeks. The trouble is, the weight one loses in crash dieting does not really result from the burning of fat alone; in fact, most of it is the result of dehydration and muscle waiting. Furthermore, it is next to impossible to keep the pounds that one loses by crash dieting permanently off. They promptly return, and with vengeance, when the person starts to eat “normally” again.
To lose your extra weight and to keep it off, you need to commit to certain permanent lifestyle changes—you have to modify your eating habits and to exercise.
Your diet should provide enough calories to maintain a desirable body weight, but nothing more. It should be balanced, low in fats, and high in fibers. If you weigh 20% more than your desirable body weight at the moment, this is simply because you are taking in 20% more calories than your body needs. Often, you can remove the extra calories in your diet by simply cutting down on soft drinks, desserts, and snacks. You need not give up chocolates, ice cream, and cakes forever, but you will have to reduce intake of these to occasional small servings. In addition, you can replace some of your viands and rice with a lot of leafy vegetables. If you institute these changes in your diet, you will gradually lose weight (even without the benefit of a reducing diet), one half to one pound a week, until you trim down to your desirable body weight.
Exercise, on the other hand, will raise your body’s metabolic rate and will help you burn calories more efficiently. So, in addition to modifying your diet, you need to exercise regularly.
You don’t have to engage in a structured exercise program to get the exercise you need. You simply need to adopt lifestyle changes such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, doing household chores regularly, walking or biking in going to and from the neighborhood grocery, etc. You are getting enough exercise if these activities lead to palpable physical exertion and add up to more than 30 minutes per day.
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