Crash Diets & Cravings

Many of us have tried diets in order to shift a few pounds, I myself have tried several over the last decade ranging from the cabbage soup diet, smoothie diets, the green and red diet, low fat, low carb, GI diets, vegan diets, fruitarian diets, various bodybuilder diets to lose fat and retain muscle, and a wide range of diets endorsed by celebs advertised in my favourite magazines. I tried herbal fat loss pills and capsules, differing tonics, eating protein just before bed, not eating after 6pm, having 3 square meals, having 6 small meals, having water with each meal, herbal teas, weighing food, counting calories and counting points all to no avail.

Whilst each diet had a positive effect mentally in the short term and I felt in control of my body seeing the weight steadily decreasing, as soon as I went back to eating normally the weight crept back on and sometimes I gained more than I lost.

The benefits of a very restrictive diet are the feeling that one is on “holiday” from eating, a break from routine. Though this is central to the success of a diet, there is little long term success due to previous eating habits being repeated.

When on a “crash diet” basically eating 20% less calories than usual, the body goes into starvation mode to preserve fat stores from the inevitable famine it assumes is on the way. Water will be released during this storage process so it appears that weight has been lost. This reinforces the belief that the diet is working.

As the starvation continues, the body needs to preserve its energy and muscle uses the largest amount of energy to work. The body reduces muscle mass and preserves energy so more weight is lost. However if the goal is to burn up fat for a more lean toned look, using up muscle will not help. When muscle is depleted, the metabolic rate decreases as it requires less energy to survive. This slows the weight loss so a further decrease in calories is the only way to get any more weight loss.

After the diet is over, and normal eating continues, the new body shape with less muscle will require fewer calories than before. Fat stores start to rise again which is rather depressing, as the result is a marked increase in fat as lean muscle has been depleted. The dieter will be even unhappier with the body composition and will either try a different diet or will come to the conclusion that “dieting makes you fat”.

Another side effect of dieting or restricting oneself is the cravings that ensue. When told a food type is banned, it merely heightens the desire, contributing to the failure of a diet and feelings of guilt and a lack of self-control.

Often we eat when we are not hungry, due to a variety of emotional and physiological factors such as boredom, loneliness, stress, worry and anger. If someone is a “restrained eater” then any of these feelings can cause them to overeat and play havoc with their self-control. It takes practise to distinguish between emotional and true hunger, and to resist eating purely due to emotions.

Sometimes weight maintenance is a more realistic goal and just as important as weight loss. Just preventing further weight gain can bring many health benefits and far outweigh the short-term benefits of a diet. In fact yo-yo dieting can cause health consequences due to the increase and decrease of carbohydrates, in particular sugar, and can affect insulin resistance.

The pleasure we get when eating foods is linked to the hormone dopamine and obese people have fewer dopamine receptors, meaning they require a larger portion of tasty food in order to have the same pleasurable effect. Which means dieting is even more difficult for obese individuals. However recent studies show that overeating can cause further reduction of dopamine receptors.

Cravings and depressed moods are inextricably linked. Generally foods craved are sugary or fatty such as chocolate. Although chocolate does contain a cannabinoid relatively unique to cocoa, the average person would have to consume 25kg of chocolate to receive a noticeable high. More likely, the elevated mood after eating craved foods is due to the “guilty pleasures” feelings associated, and the taste of sugar and fat.

Instead of trying out the latest fad diet, I always recommend cutting out one “bad” food per week, this is far easier to adhere to in the long term. For example, this week try avoiding crisps, next week try abstaining from crisps and cakes, for the following week avoid eating crisps, cake and chocolate and so on.

This will not feel like a diet, it’s a healthy eating plan for life. Allow yourself one cheat meal a week consisting of a “bad” food type such as a piece of cake. Replace the “bad” foods with “good” foods like fruit, veg, nuts, seeds and berries. Before you know it you will be on your way to a healthier life.

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About Nadia Tejani

Nadia Tejani lives in Surrey and works as a Personal Trainer specialising in weight management and obesity. She is also a Sports Massage Therapist and fitness model. Nadia runs marathons and does Olympic weightlifting and she has been competing nationally in Natural Figure (Bodybuilding) competitions since 2008. Nadia has a degree in Pharmacology and is qualified in Nutrition. She sticks to a strict clean vegetarian diet and practise what she preaches! Nadia has 3 dogs, a tiny horse and 2 pygmy goats.
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