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Nutritional therapist warns: extreme diets and their risks

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Every day, new tips and advice appear on the internet to help you lose weight quickly and easily. With the prospect of losing weight quickly, many people are therefore turning to various extreme diets with very low calorie intake.

The stumbling block, however, is their short-term nature and the many adverse effects on health. What can losing weight too quickly do to your health and what are the consequences of radical diets?

The principle of extreme diets is to drastically reduce calorie intake in order to lose a lot of weight in a short period of time. Basically, these diets push the body beyond its natural abilities and sacrifice health for temporary weight loss. The consequence of such diets is a host of health problems.

It starts with fatigue, moodiness, irritability and impaired concentration. Eventually, more serious problems such as electrolyte imbalances, abnormal heart function, low blood sugar, dehydration, hair loss, weakness, constipation, and more appear.

Major negative effects of extreme diets:

  • Weakening of immunity
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • moodiness
  • loss of muscle mass
  • hair thinning and hair loss
  • deterioration of skin and nails
  • indigestion
  • hormonal disorders
  • Depression
  • increased risk of osteoporosis

Fatigue and mood changes

If you drastically reduce your dietary calorie intake, you won’t have enough energy for normal functioning during the day, let alone for sports activities. Therefore, the first sign of extremely low caloric intake is permanent fatigue.

The calories we take in through food are our body’s main source of energy. But when our calorie intake is too low, the body uses energy for its most important needs – to provide basic life functions such as breathing, heart function, nervous system function, and more. We then don’t have much energy left for other activities. This is also the reason why dieters prefer to lie down on the couch or straight to bed after work instead of exercising.

In addition to physical fatigue, cognitive function and overall productivity can also be affected. Very low calorie intake further affects dopamine and serotonin levels. Therefore, too low a calorie intake can also affect your mood. Drastic weight loss is often accompanied by constant feelings of irritation and can lead to depression.

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Immunity decline

When you deprive your diet of large amounts of food, you can also deprive yourself of a whole host of vitamins and minerals. This risks weakening your immune system and making you much more likely to get sick. Drastic calorie restriction can increase the risk of infections, colds and flu.

decline in immunity

An unbalanced diet can also weaken our immunity, year-round.

Metabolic slowdown

To lose weight, we really need to reduce our caloric intake (or increase our caloric expenditure). However, a big mistake is to reduce caloric intake too much – often below the basal metabolic rate. Although it might seem that the more calories we reduce in our diet, the more weight we lose, this is not true. It doesn’t actually work that way.

Our body responds to too significant a caloric deficit with a variety of adaptive mechanisms. One of these is to reduce the metabolic rate in order to conserve energy for basic life functions. A number of changes occur, such as A decrease in energy expenditure, decreased production of thyroid hormones and energy storage.

The human body recognizes dieting as a sign of limited food supply and gradually goes into a sparing mode. The body resists drastic diets because they are not natural to it. A common consequence of extreme diets is therefore a phenomenon known as “metabolic slowdown”. Simply put, the body soon gets used to the low calorie intake and the weight stops.

As time passes, the risks increase.

The longer and more drastic the diet, the worse the consequences. In fact, metabolic adaptation to an extremely low-calorie diet can persist long after the diet has ended. This can make any future weight loss efforts difficult.

One is forced to repeat the process of calorie reduction over and over again, falling into a vicious cycle. Caloric intake can then become so extremely low that dieting becomes unsustainable and unhealthy for the person. The result? The effect of the diet is zero and as a bonus you get a disrupted metabolism plus health and mental problems.

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Loss of muscle mass

With extreme dieting, you’re also looking at losing muscle mass. Following a low-calorie restrictive diet often causes the body to break down muscle protein, which it uses for energy. But when we lose weight, we want to get rid of fat tissue – not muscle mass.

Research shows that if you lose weight too quickly and through extreme diets, you lose about 2 to 3 times more muscle than if you took weight loss slowly and sensibly. Even though the pounds will go down, your physique won’t look much better than before because it’s the muscles that make the curves on your body.

The loss of muscle mass may further contribute to a slower metabolism. Muscle is more metabolically active than body fat. This means that one kilogram of muscle burns more calories per day than one kilogram of fat. Therefore, losing muscle means that you burn fewer calories per day at rest and during exercise.

Lack of important nutrients

Many drastic diets and fad diets restrict entire food groups. However, this means you may be missing out on key nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fibre that you need for optimal health.

  1. For example, a diet without dairy products can lead to Deficiency Calcium and worsen the condition of the bones and teeth.
  2. A gluten-free diet can in turn result in a lack of fiber if you eliminate whole grains from your diet.
  3. Low-calorie diets in general may not even provide the body with sufficient amounts of iron, folic acid a vitamin B12. This can lead to anemia and extreme fatigue.
Extreme fatigue

Long-term nutrient deficiencies lead to chronic fatigue.

If you eliminate most fatty foods (even healthy ones) from your diet, you can reduce the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). These vitamins are essential for supporting the immune system, so a deficiency can cause future health problems.

Potential consequences of nutritional deficiencies:

  • Reduced energy
  • poor quality of hair and nails
  • dry skin
  • extreme fatigue
  • decrease in immunity
  • inflammation in the oral cavity
  • weakening of bones and osteoporosis
  • Tooth decay
  • anemia
  • constipation
  • hormonal disorders
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Decrease in fertility

Too drastic a restriction of calories in the diet can negatively affect fertility. This is especially true for women, as the ability to ovulate depends on the level of female sex hormones. More specifically, for ovulation to occur, an increase in estrogen and luteinizing hormone levels is required.

Recent studies show that reproductive function is suppressed in women who consume 22-42% fewer calories than needed to maintain their weight. This is exactly the reason to stick to no more than a 20% caloric deficit when losing weight long term.

The main symptoms of reduced fertility due to restrictive diets include irregular menstrual cycles and loss of libido. In extreme cases, drastic diets can disrupt proper ovarian function and lead to infertility.

Men should also be careful. An inadequately low energy intake can also have a negative effect on male reproductive function. Long-term extreme diets lead to a decrease in male sex hormone levels testosterone.

Bone weakening

Very low-calorie diets negatively affect bone density. Drastic calorie restriction in the diet can reduce estrogen and testosterone levels. Low levels of these two sex hormones are thought to reduce bone formation and increase bone breakdown. Bones weaken, become more susceptible to fractures and increase the risk Osteoporosis.


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Heart problems

Extremely rapid weight loss using crash diets can negatively affect heart health. Common consequences include cardiac arrhythmias, increased blood pressure, heart rate disturbances, as well as changes in blood fats (cholesterol, triglycerides).

Sleep disorders

Adherence to drastic diets has a negative effect on sleep quality and restfulness upon waking. You may notice difficulty falling asleep, poor sleep quality and frequent awakenings during the night.

Deterioration in sports performance

Low energy intake will also affect athletic performance. Strength and endurance performance is reduced, recovery is impaired and the risk of injury increases.. Inadequate caloric intake further decreases coordination and concentration.

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Not to mention that with extremely low caloric intake it is virtually unrealistic to maintain enough muscle mass for optimal athletic performance, let alone build any muscle mass.

What to take away from the article?

  • While rapid weight loss may seem tempting, extreme diets are not something you should mess with.
  • In principle, they carry far more risks than benefits. In addition, most low-calorie diets only work in the short term.
  • The best diet is the one that is sustainable in the long term.

The best way to lose weight and maintain your goal weight is to do long-term changes in diet, exercise and lifestyle. If you want to permanently change your eating habits and don’t know how to do it, contact a qualified nutritional therapist or nutritionist.

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The articles on this site are for information purposes only. The site administrators are not responsible for attempting to apply any recipe, advice or diet, nor do they guarantee that the information provided will help or harm you personally. Be cautious and always consult a doctor or nutritionist!

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