Low calorie diets seem to be very popular these days. People think that eating little to nothing will directly correlate with their weight and appearance. What people don’t understand is that the results are short lived but the side effects can linger or even do permanent damage. The negative side effects of very low-calorie dieting can be physical or mental, but usually both. They include metabolic damage, hormone problems, increase in hunger, binge eating patterns, decreased energy levels, loss of lean body mass, and increased chance of weight gain. Although popular, treating your body poorly by consuming a low calorie diet comes with a whole new mess of problems.
- Metabolic Damage: When you yo-yo diet so frequently, your body stops using food appropriately. Eating a low calorie diet for a long period of time and then binging will cause your body to store all nutrients because it is in starvation mode. Your body is basically worried that it wont be getting food later, so it stores everything that you eat. Coming back from a very low calorie diet takes slow and steady work, allowing your body to understand and use food correctly again.
- Hormone Problems: When you eat at such a low caloric level, you may be missing certain vitamins and nutrients that level out your hormones. Serotonin is one of the main neurotransmitters that control hormone release and it is regulated based on the amount of nutrients in your body at a particular time. Not eating enough can have a major impact on serotonin levels. Serotonin has also been linked to proper thyroid function, which has been known to be impaired during long term restrictive dieting. Without these hormones your body can see even more side effects: skin irritation, hair loss, sleep issues, and emotional irritability.
- Increase in Hunger and Binge Eating Patters: When you deprive your body and mind of the things it craves for such a long time, food can become all-consuming. Again, serotonin comes into play as one of the key factors in regulating hunger. Constantly thinking about food and restricting yourself from it can cause you to feel hungry all the time. Once you do let yourself indulge, it’s easy to end up binging on food. These binges can add to the metabolic damage you’ve already done to your body.
- Loss of Lean Muscle Mass: Your body needs a minimum amount of calories to sustain the amount of lean mass your body holds. When you eat less than your body requires, muscle mass can be broken down and used for energy. Since your body begins to anticipate not having enough energy, it will also down-regulate the amount of muscle it holds so it requires less calories in the future. The risk is even higher if you consume little to no protein.
- Decrease in Energy and Work Ability: The less fuel you put into your body, the less energy you have to do work. Without enough fuel coming in, you will fatigue easier and not be about not be able to work out to the level needed to burn any stored fat. To maximize fat burning you need a minimum amount of calories to work your body to that level. If you’re hardly eating, you can hardly train.
- Increase the Chance of Weight Regain: Most people lose weight when they begin a low caloric diet, but eventually the weight loss slows down or stops all together. When you stall you are likely to quit and binge eat. Then the metabolic damage done from eating so poorly causes you to gain back all of the weight that you lost. In many cases you can even end up gaining back more weight than you had lost. The more you cycle through very low and then very high calorie diets, the less efficient and effective your metabolism becomes.
So the next time you think about skipping a meal or doing a ridiculously low calorie diet, think through the side effects of what your doing to your body. The best way to start is to find a coach that can work with your goals and the time frame you plan to accomplish them in!