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Cape Town - Scores of people worked really hard at achieving perfect summer bodies, but two weeks of festive over-indulgence would have undone the efforts. Next stop, crash diet. Or is it?
Experts have long warned of the dangers of crash dieting. Not only do they have serious health implications, the diets often lead to people being worse off.
Dietician Kelly Lynch says that by crash dieting, the body’s metabolism is slowed down, “which means you’ll fight your weight forever”.
She adds that when cutting out whole food groups, dieters become nutritionally deficient and energy levels may be affected. “This prevents sustainable weight loss. A balance is necessary – all food groups with the correct portion sizes is all you need.”
The ubiquitous low-carb, high-protein diet is once again circulating on e-mail and by word of mouth. Variations of this diet claim participants could lose between 5kg and 10kg in a matter of weeks.
Last year, the Health Professions Council of SA warned against taking this course of action.
Professor Edelweiss Wentzel-Viljoen, chairwoman of the Professional Board for Dietetics and Nutrition, agrees that a balanced diet and overall healthy lifestyle is the best way to lose the weight, and keep it off.
“Although people experience weight loss in the short term, they will gain the weight again as it is not a healthy, balanced diet.”
More than the expected weight gain, there could be serious health implications.
According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, the regular use of a low-carb, high-protein diet is associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The study followed 43 000 Swedish women, aged 30 to 49, for more than 15 years. Researchers found that a 20g daily decrease in carbohydrate intake, and 5g daily increase in protein intake, corresponded to a five percent increase in the overall risk.
Wentzel-Viljoen pointed to a 2010 study which linked the risk of heart disease in women and the consumption of red meat.
But the promise of rapid weight loss still lures many people to try crash diets, despite the risks.
Wentzel-Viljoen further states that researchers have found the rapid weight loss is due to the lower energy intake, and not necessarily the lack of carbs in the diet. The low carb diet does, however, deprive the body of vitamins A, E and B6, calcium, magnesium and potassium. This in turn could lead to dehydration, hypoglycaemia and raised blood uric acid. She says long-term effects could include an increase in the bad LDL-cholesterol, a decrease in the good HDL-cholesterol, and a risk to bone health.
While pills promise to burn fat, suppress the appetite and get you skinny over short periods, Wentzel-Viljoen stresses that the professional board does not support them.
“A healthy, balanced diet remains the answer. People must consult a registered dietician or medical practitioner who will design a balanced, healthy diet for weight loss.”
Lynch urges people to stay away from all pills, even those claiming to be natural supplements.
All that is needed for sustainable weight loss is the combination of dietary restriction and an exercise plan, says Lynch.
“As soon as you take a pill which claims it burns fat or increases your metabolism, you slow the body’s own mechanisms down. So when you stop the pills, you often gain more weight than you started with,” says Lynch.
The bad news is that a quick-fix solution doesn’t exist.
“The healthiest way is the proper way,” says Lynch. She advises people to eat the right foods, make time for daily exercise sessions and set realistic targets.
And to women who complain that they simply don’t have the time to eat properly or exercise, Lynch says planning is key.
“The only way to fix this problem is to be organised. Planning is the first step in any healthy eating or weight loss programme. Meal and snack planning is important – because eating the wrong snacks between your meals can also negatively affect your weight loss goals.” - Cape Argus