Risks of rapid weight loss diets

Spurred on by TV's Biggest Loser and Excess Baggage, you may want to strip that excess body fat quickly. But if your New Year's resolution is to lose weight fast, then this could trigger some bad side-effects and make you feel unhealthy rather than healthier.

It is possible to lose weight fast. You've seen the heavy contestants strip the weight down but you don't see what happens to them in 6 months, 12 months or years later. Jockeys also strip the weight fast to make weight for races but most of their weight loss is fluid; they don't have much fat to strip.

Do you know what the risks of fast weight loss diets are? Have you be warned about what could happen when you follow a severe diet plan to get rapid weight loss?  This page reveals some of the risks.

Risks of rapid weight loss and severe diets:

  1. Trigger painful gout ‘attack’. Ketosis associated with low carbohydrate plans appears to the culprit trigger. Gout is very painful and if you have suffered in the past, then speak with your doctor about what you can do to reduce the risk of ‘attack’. It is critical to drink plenty of water when you are on a rapid weight loss plan but this alone won’t help you avoid a gout ‘attack’.
  2. Trigger gall bladder ‘attack’. Biliary sludge appears to build up during rapid weight loss diets and fasting and this in turn causes gall stones to form. You may not have had any before the severe diet but afterwards they appear. Gall bladder 'attacks' cause great pain and discomfort.
  3. Loss of energy to get out and continue to do physical exercise. The majority of rapid weight loss diets are very low in carbohydrate content. Your muscles perform best when carbs are available. If your rapid weight loss plan lacks breads, grains, fruits and starchy vegetables then you’re at risk of losing energy. The other down side when the carb content is low is that your bowels may seize up - constipation, straining, haemarrohoids - due to a lower than usual fibre and fat intake.
  4. Inadequate vitamin, mineral and trace element intake which will leave you feeling run-down and tired. There is absolutely no way to get enough nutrients through food with any weight loss diets but the risks of deficiency are bigger when the diet is stricter. If you fail to take a comprehensive multi-vitamin and mineral then you will run your body down but the symptoms of deficiency are fairly general so you may not put them down to a lack of nutrients. The signs and symptoms range from low energy, tiredness, fatigue and tendency to infection/colds in the short-term, slow to recover or heal after injury through to confusion and vagueness in the medium-term, right up to loss of bone density and damage to nervous system in the long term. If you are already running low before you start your diet, then the impact of deficiencies will show sooner.
  5. Loss of muscle mass even with continued good exercise due to an inadequate protein and essential (indispensable) amino acid intake. Protein contains calories/kilojoules so it is restricted along with carbohydrate, fats and alcohol in weight loss plans. A rough rule of thumb is that you need about 0.68 g pure protein per kg body weight. The protein must be high quality and add to your indispensable amino acid intake. Note: Do not confuse protein food with protein content when you are doing your protein calculations. Beef and egg are very good protein sources but ... a beef steak weighing about 170 g only contains 54 g of protein*. Two small eggs with a total weight of 100 g only contain 13 g protein.
  6. Rapid drop in blood glucose levels and hypo events. If you have diabetes and take tablets or inject insulin to control it then you must speak with a doctor or diabetes educator before you start a rapid weight loss plan. Unless you adjust your treatment to match the change in carbohydrate in your diet then you risk rapid drops in blood glucose levels and these may cause hypoglycemic reactions.
  7. Risk of fall or light-headedness due to drop in blood pressure. One of the benefits of weight loss is often a drop in blood pressure levels. This improvement sometimes happens quite quickly. If your blood pressure is ‘good’ because you are taking anti-hypertensive drugs to control it then you need to speak with your doctor before starting any severe weight loss plan. You will probably need to monitor your blood pressure and have your doctor check your medications. Unfortunately, not all high blood pressure is fixed with weight loss. It’s not uncommon to see fantastic improvements in blood pressure during the active weight loss phase but shortly after going into maintenance (no further weight loss), the blood pressure levels start to rise again. Continue to see your doctor when you ‘come off’ the fast weight loss plan for medical and health checks.
  8. Strong likelihood that you’ll regain the lost weight plus more when you come off the plan. If the diet plan was a low carb plan then you will rapidly regain some weight when you come off it - no ifs, no buts. The simple explanation for this is that your body is naturally restoring glycogen in your muscles and liver and along with the glycogen goes water. Glycogen is an ‘instant’ fuel source and it really makes a positive difference to muscle and brain performance. But in the longer-term, you will regain flesh/fat weight if you go back to old habits and haven’t worked on a good eating plan to suit your lifestyle to prevent regain.

Rapid weight loss is not sustainable.You and your body simply can’t keep up the pace. You might drop a dress size or two in time for a wedding or special event but typically after the special day, you relax the diet plan and the weight is regained.

Far better to leave yourself plenty of time to get the results and firm up new habits.

Plan for hiccoughs by adding some extra ‘just-in-case’ contingency time into your schedule.

By tackling your weight loss this way, you will find an eating plan that suits your style. A plan* that is flexible enough to include your favourite foods and drinks yet still give you results now and life-long.

A luxury approach for your precious body.

If you don’t have time for this luxury approach to weight loss then start with a supervised VLCD/VLED product program. Wean off that program by moving onto the steady approach with modest rather than radical food and drink changes.

* My award-winning book "this=that: a life-size photo guide to food serves" gives the protein content of more than 500 foods and shows the portion serve in real life-size food and drink photos. A two-page photo spread shows all the low carb vegetables and salad. "this=that" also takes you through to the luxury approach of steady continued results.

As always, speak with your medical doctor before starting any weight loss plan. The information here is of a general nature only and does not replace advice that you must obtain from your own doctor and dietitian.