Most people have been there at some point in their lives: a big event is coming up and a favorite outfit is feeling a little bit too snug. Everyone knows that the right way to lose weight is with slow, sustainable change, but many people turn to other alternatives when they’re in a time crunch. When weight loss is the goal, but time is short, quick fix diets seem like a miracle cure. As tempting as the claims of quick fixes may be, these types of diets pose a number of health risks, and cause many people to gain back all the weight they lose- and then some. Let’s talk about why quick fixes don’t work.
Popular Quick Fix Diets
If you pay attention to health and wellness news, you know that “miracle” diets are constantly popping up. From detox plans to prepackaged meal services to keto coffee, it seems like there’s always a new, easy, perfect solution to weight loss just around the corner. These plans make weight loss hopefuls lose weight from their wallets, but they’re rarely effective long-term at helping people lose weight elsewhere.
It’s hard to keep up with the latest fad diets, since they change so quickly. Juicing has been a mainstay in diet culture over the past few years. While juicing can be a great way to get nutrients, it also loads the body with sugar, while leaving behind the valuable fiber of fruits and veggies. Many juice cleanses call for drinking juice- and only drinking juice- for days or weeks on end. While this results in quick weight loss, it also leaves dieters running to the bathroom, sluggish, and can lower the strength of the immune system.
Prepared food home delivery services also have a stronghold in the area of quick fixes. Many people rely on these tiny portions of convenience food to lose weight, only to find that they gain it all back when they decide they’d rather cook for themselves than spend hundreds of dollars a month on frozen microwave meals.
Why Quick Fixes Work… Until They Don’t
There’s no denying that quick fixes can make people lose a few pounds. The overnight drop in weight after day one is enough to convince people that they’re doing the right thing for their health, motivating them to keep going. Once the newness of the plan wears off, things begin to change.
Many quick fix diets rely on bizarre methods, and include a novelty aspect to keep things interesting. Take for example the Master Cleanse- popularized by Beyonce as she used the quick fix to slim down before her role in Dreamgirls. Participants drink a mixture of hot water, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and maple syrup for ten days- and nothing else. Of course, essentially subsisting on maple syrup for more than a week will cause weight loss, but the weight piles right back on as soon as regular habits resume.
The initial drop in the number on the scale usually comes from a decrease in carbohydrate intake, rather than actual fat loss. The body stores carbohydrates as glycogen, or sugar, which is used for quick bursts of energy. For every gram of glycogen stored, the body retains two to three grams of water. When carbs are cut, the body responds by releasing this water, resulting in a fast, satisfying weight loss.
Acclaimed sports dietician Jessica Spendlove states, “This is why when someone commences a low-carbohydrate diet they appear to lose weight quickly according to the scales, as they deplete their glycogen stores which also results in them losing fluid as well. This is not actual weight loss and will rebound in a few days or weeks at most,” Spendlove added.
While this makes sense, it can wreak havoc on the mindset of someone who enjoys a cookie or piece of bread after a week of cutting all carbs on a quick fix diet. Seeing the weight pile back on almost immediately can feel defeating, making many dieters feel like they shouldn’t bother trying to lose weight.
Health Risks To Quick Fixes
Not only are quick fix diets not effective long term- they can actually be dangerous to health. When the body loses water weight, vitamins and electrolytes are lost as well, which can result in an irregular heartbeat. Some people who do regular quick fix cleanses become dependent on the sudden influx of laxatives/ fiber and find that they struggle to have regular bowel movements when they are not on a cleanse.
Juice cleanses are some of the most dangerous options in the diet world. The rapid, temporary weight loss associated with a liquid diet can cause a fast drop in electrolytes, which can make it hard for the brain and heart to do their jobs. People who do juice cleanses are also putting themselves at risk for lightheadedness and kidney damage. These effects can set in after a few days of a juice cleanse.
Fad diets like South Beach, Atkins, and keto aim to cut carbs as low as possible. This doesn’t just mean cutting out candy and bread- this means cutting out most fruits and starchy vegetables as well. When these large food groups are removed from the diet, it’s nearly impossible to get all of the fiber, vitamins, and minerals needed to sustain a healthy immune system and energy levels.
Some quick fix diets make the claim that exercise isn’t necessary to lose weight. While this is true, exercise is an important part of any nutrition or weight loss program that aims to create sustainable healthy living. Encouraging people to drastically cut calories without exercising is setting them up for long term failure when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight.
Why The Weight Comes Back
The research is clear- quick fix diets don’t work for long term weight loss for a number of biological reasons. When calorie restriction is taken to extreme lows, it’s also possible that muscle tissue may be burned by the body and used for fuel. The higher the amount of muscle a person’s body has, the more calories they burn at rest. When muscle tissue is lost, it causes a lessening of caloric burn. This, paired with the fact that periods of extreme restriction can cause the body to lower its metabolism, can result in trouble losing weight long after the dieter has given up on the quick fix.
While biology plays a huge role in why quick fixes fail, psychological factors are also at play. When a person subscribes to a hard and fast quick fix weight loss plan, they’re committing to something that is not sustainable long term. They’re often able to keep up with the strict rules of the diet or cleanse for a short time, but no real lifestyle changes are made. This means that the same issues that made them overweight in the first place are still in place. These factors, paired with the loss of motivation due to being unable to maintain the strict rules of a tough dietary plan, set people up to gain back their initial weight loss– and then some.
Research-Proven Sustainable Weight Loss Methods
Sustainable, long term weight loss is possible with a sustainable nutrition plan and a sensible exercise program. Lori Noble, a physician at Penn Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, encourages people to think about weight loss the same way you’d think about paying off a credit card or a student loan. “Think about weight loss like you think about debt,” Noble says, “When you’re paying off debt, you don’t pay everything at once. You do it in increments. It’s the same for weight loss.” This slow and steady approach has been proven to work time and again, not only for weight loss, but for lasting health.