6 Reasons Why Crash Diets Do More Harm Than Good

The desire to get in shape doesn’t often go hand in hand with patience. When we decide we want to make the change to get a bit trimmer, a crash diet can be incredibly tempting but it does not equate to a healthy and successful diet.

However, crash diets are mere smoke and mirrors. They don’t work. And if they do, the results won’t last.

Before we get started, what’s our definition of a crash diet? Any eating plan which drastically cuts your calorie intake (anything below 1000 calories a day), cuts out whole food groups or relies on meal replacements such as shakes.

Basically, any extreme diet which you cannot sustain for more than a few weeks. A healthy diet is one that is full of nutritious foods and moderated sugars, saturated fats and alcohol - your stock-standard balanced diet.


six reasons why crash diets do more harm than good

1. They mess with your metabolism

By putting your body under the stress of an extreme diet, then relapsing back into “normal” or even binge eating, your metabolism gets very confused. When you deprive your body of energy all of a sudden, your metabolism tends to slow down and begins to store fat.

Your body panics and thinks that you’re not feeding it enough to survive, so it tries to keep as much energy as it can. This isn’t what we want when it comes to weight loss. We want to ramp up our metabolism!

Here are some simple ways to do this:

  • Add weight training to your workout plan. Muscle mass increases your metabolism (plus you’ll feel strong and look lean)
  • Eat little and often to keep your metabolism fired up (healthy snacks like raw nuts, canned tuna and veggies with hummus are ideal)
  • Remember that weight loss requires you to eat, so don’t be afraid to fill your plate with bright, fresh, close-to-the-source produce and lean proteins

2. They are not sustainable

A lifestyle change should be something you can adopt into your life and sustain long-term. It should be something which makes you feel good, strong, healthy and happy.

Crash diets do the opposite.

Sure, you may feel a temporary thrill when you feel as though you’ve lost weight, but that weight is likely to be water or muscle loss. After that thrill you’ll begin to feel fed up, tired, irritable and hungry. Then, you’ll get so frustrated and worn down that you’ll binge on junk food and feel terrible about yourself.

That’s the cycle of a crash diet. It lasts a while, then eventually crumbles away. That’s not your fault. It’s not a matter of weakness if you can’t sustain a crash diet. The crash diet was not a good choice in the first place.

Make small, sensible changes over a longer period of time. It’s far better to lose 10 pounds of fat over 6 months than it is to lose 10 pounds of fat, water and muscle over 1 month.

3. They encourage an unhealthy mindset

Brain Map

If you’ve ever counted calories obsessively, tried to cut out whole food groups or tried to follow a diet of supplements and shakes, you’re familiar with the tiresome process. You begin to see food as the enemy, as something to tempt and tease you.

You begin to think of everything in terms of food, for example. Life is far too short to waste on obsessively thinking about food all the time and a crash diet is a sure-fire way to take your mind hostage.

You’re far better off having a simple food mantra such as “I eat fresh food, close to the source and I try to limit sugar and processed foods except when I really crave a treat”. That way, you’ll think of food in a healthy, sensible and freeing way which promotes health but leaves room for fun.

Strong, happy, healthy, stable and fit beats irritable, hungry and despondent any day.

4. They can rob your body of essential nutrients

If you’re going to slash your diet and stick to a small variety of dishes, you’re going to be cutting out nutrients as well as calories. People who crash diet by cutting out ALL carbohydrates including vegetables are at risk of depriving themselves of vitamins and minerals.

People who stick to diet shakes and liquid meals are going to be seriously lacking fiber and a plethora of other vital nutrients. Studies have been conducted which prove that popular fad diets do in fact deprive the dieters of important goodies.

Here are some far better alternatives to crash dieting:

  • check-square-o
    Instead of cutting out calories and certain foods, you could identify a couple of areas in your diet which need some tidying up. For example, you might indulge in a sweet dessert every night. Cut that down to two nights a week. All you’re doing is reducing your sugar and saturated fat intake without robbing your system of nutrients.
  • check-square-o
    You might go back for seconds at dinner time. Try to eat your dinner a little slower and resist going back for that second portion. You’ll easily be cutting out a large chunk of calories without making a change to your diet but limiting your portion sizes.
  • check-square-o
    Add a few more exercise sessions to your week, even if it’s just a brisk walk or a YouTube Zumba class. You’ll be burning more calories but still eating properly and sufficiently, without depriving yourself of nutrients. 

5. They can put you at risk of heart complications

Heart Beat

Yes, even something as serious as heart complications can be a result of serial crash dieting. For those with existing heart issues, crash dieting is particularly risky. Studies have shown that while crash diets can temporarily help those with obesity or diabetes, they can also temporarily damage the heart.

When stored fat is released from the body and into the blood, it bombards the heart. This confuses the heart and causes it to become less functional as the body scrambles to adjust. This is not helpful for hearts which already have complications, even minor ones. 

The takeaway?

Anything that puts pressure on your heart or even threatens to disrupt its optimal function should be avoided. Your heart should be cared for by lots of activity, healthy food and a consistent flow of nutrients. A crash diet isn’t worth making your heart unhappy.

6. They can result in muscle loss...
not fat loss

When you give your body the message that you’ve stopped feeding it properly, it starts to eat away at stored fat. That’s a good thing. But, it also starts to eat away at your muscles. So you may be looking slim, but you won’t be looking lean or toned, and you certainly won’t be feeling it.

The solution is easy: incorporate a bit of high-intensity cardio and some strength training into your workout plan. Eat lots of fresh produce, lean protein and healthy carbs. Your metabolism will be running on all cylinders as your muscles grow, your fat disappears and your mind is clear and happy.

Building muscle helps with fat loss over time. It’s well-known that the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism will be.


Weight loss requires patience, commitment, a balanced diet and an active lifestyle.

If you’re struggling to lose weight despite trying everything (even the good old healthy food and exercise), it’s worth chatting to your doctor. Weight gain and the struggle to lose weight can sometimes be due to underlying conditions or medications.

But whatever you do, don’t be tempted to follow a fad or crash diet. They will only make you tired, hungry, weak and frustrated.

Your mind and body deserve far more than a restrictive eating plan which doesn’t really deliver on what it promises.

     Natasha Leo     

Natasha Leo loves keeping healthy and she writes for her health and fitness blog SlenderSeries.com.

In her spare time, she enjoys cooking for her family and going on long walks with her dogs.

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