Popular diets: the health risks of restrictive diets

“Lose 30 pounds in 30 days”. “New detox cure that melts fat in just 10 days”… It is difficult not to be tempted by the “miraculous” weight loss promises of slimming diets very present in magazines, on television, on billboards and on the Internet.


Very short-term promises that set off a vicious circle


Neither the effectiveness nor the harmlessness of several weight loss products, services and means have yet been clearly demonstrated by the scientific literature. Most of the time, these drastic diets result in a complete recovery of the lost weight and involve many health risks. Indeed, studies show that after five years, up to 95% of people regain the lost weight, and sometimes more.


While it is true that a restrictive diet can lead to rapid and impressive weight loss, this honeymoon usually comes to an abrupt end. Too restrictive in calories, sometimes excluding the consumption of certain foods or certain “forbidden” food groups, these drastic methods lead to a decrease in control over food, which can be accompanied by food cravings.


With these overly restrictive methods, the lost weight is regained when old eating habits resurface, which can lead to a feeling of failure. This leads many people to try another diet afterwards. And now the circle of weight loss diets begins. While it is easy to enter, it is much more difficult to come out unscathed. And the longer these attempts to lose weight are numerous and last, the more the damaging effects on physical and psychological health are felt.


Farewell to pounds… of muscle and water!


The dramatic weight loss resulting from such short-term diets might suggest that they are effective. On the contrary, most of the weight lost is due to dehydration and loss of lean mass (muscle), rather than fat loss. In just a few weeks, a diet of less than 1000 calories can lead to a loss of 20% of muscle mass. And because muscles are the most energy-intensive tissues at rest, a decrease in muscle mass inevitably leads to a decrease in basal metabolism.


A review of the literature carried out in 2013 also showed that short-term diets (<6 weeks) caused a double reduction in energy expenditure at rest compared to longer-term weight loss methods (> 6 weeks). In the same vein, another study observed that a group of obese and postmenopausal women who lost more than 0.74 kg per week by following a restrictive diet recorded a loss of lean mass four times higher than a group of women. assigned to a more gradual rate of weight loss (less than 0.74 kg per week). In addition, no significant difference in the amount of fat mass lost was observed between these two groups,


So when a person begins to eat as before, they may gain a few extra pounds, simply because their resting energy expenditure is lowered during the strict diet. In addition, following a drastic diet, the body tends to store calories as fat that it has been deprived of for so long.


Aiming for a gradual weight loss of 0.5 to 1 kilogram (1 to 2 pounds) or less per week promotes fat loss, rather than muscle loss.


Overly restrictive weight loss: the most damaging to health


Your body needs energy and essential nutrients to keep it functioning properly. The deprivation associated with such diets exposes it to several disturbances.

You’re not convinced yet? In addition to being ineffective in the medium and long term, restrictive diets carry many risks for physical and psychological health:


  • “Yo-yo” effect of drastic diets: weight gain and feelings of failure;
  • Muscle wasting and water loss associated with lost tissue, leading to a decrease in basal metabolism and energy expenditure at rest;
  • Risk of dehydration, hypotension, digestive disorders (constipation, diarrhea), hormonal disruption, hair loss and muscle cramps;
  • Risk of nutritional deficiencies in proteins, essential lipids, calories, certain vitamins and minerals (iron, calcium, etc.);
  • Risk of diseases, such anemia or osteoporosis;
  • Risk of electrolyte imbalance, arrhythmia and cardiac arrest linked to a severe hypocaloric diet;
  • Risk of weight gain associated with repeated attempts to lose weight;
  • Development of an unhealthy relationship with food and with the body;
  • Loss of contact with hunger and fullness signals;
  • Severe fatigue, headache, difficulty concentrating and decreased productivity;
  • Decreased self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, feelings of failure and guilt;
  • Excessive concern about weight, or the development of eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, etc.).


* Note that these risks depend on the duration, nature, method and extent of the calorie restriction.


Above all, drastic diets do not lead to the adoption of healthy habits, which are much more beneficial for health and the maintenance of a natural weight in the long term.


Uncover unsafe diets


The marketing tactics used by the weight loss products, services and means (PSMA) industry are numerous. It is not uncommon to see misleading slogans and implausible claims in their advertisements. There is currently no specific legislation regarding PSMA advertising.


According to the Association pour la santé publique du Québec, the three most used advertising strategies are: focus on the “natural” character; boast that the product or procedure is approved by a doctor and that its effectiveness is proven; and use a “healthy talk”.



Healthy lifestyles: less attractive, but more effective in the long term


Adopting a healthy lifestyle remains, without a doubt, the most natural way to maintain a natural weight and to be healthy.


Nutritionists are health professionals recognized as specialists in human nutrition who can help you on your way to healthy weight management. Too expensive? The costs associated with various weight loss products vary between $ 310 and $ 950? At this price, you can benefit from several nutritional consultation sessions and personalized advice.


And above all, let’s not forget, health is more than a question of weight !

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