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Why crash diets don’t work (and aren’t good for you)

crash diets

By Hanna Brooks Olsen for

This week, our sister site, TheGloss, has been featuring a wide range of stories about something that many women–especially after a season where food is the focal point–have considered or experienced: crash diets.

The Master Cleanse, the apple cider vinegar diet, the grapefruit-and-coffee diet…these are the kinds of bizarre, unhealthy, and icky plans that enjoy a surge in popularity about twice per year: once after the holidays, and again at that time of year cruelly known as “swimsuit season.”

Surely, there are better ways to lose weight than by slogging through cup after nutritionally-devoid cup of spicy, watery, maple-y lemonade? I asked a nutritionist to walk me through the ups and downs of yo-yo diets, and even give me some tips for the New Year.

Michelle Babb is a body-positive, food-loving registered dietician and a nutritionist in Seattle. She answered some of my questions about crash dieting, and offered some healthy alternatives to help you feel awesome and look great.

Why is crash dieting so bad for your body? Crash dieting has a negative impact on your metabolism. Being overly restrictive and severely limiting calories can send signals to the body to go into conservation mode. When your body is in conservation mode, the tendency is to hold onto fat, so it becomes much more difficult to lose weight over time.

What are some of the worst crash diets you know of? I’m opposed to anything that involves fasting, because that may lead to weight loss in the very short term, but people always gain it back when they start to eat food again. I also dislike the Master Cleanse, which involves drinking a mixture of lemon juice, maple syrup and Cayenne pepper. It’s not a healthy way to approach detoxification, and it can be dangerous. The worst crash diets are always the ones that focus on limiting yourself to one or two foods that are being touted as “weight loss wonders,” such as cabbage soup or cranberry juice.

What about cleanses? Are they different? There are a variety of cleanses, and some are healthier than others. The main goal of a cleanse should be to support the liver, kidneys and digestive system while reducing the toxic burden on the body. The cleanse I use with patients is a nutritionally supported 28-day cleanse, where I ask patients to avoid some of the common food allergens along with caffeine, alcohol and sugar, while eating a wide variety of nutrient dense foods (greens, broccoli, beets, yams, berries, apples, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, etc.). While it’s common for people to lose weight while doing a cleanse, the real objective is to reduce the toxic load and restore balance in the body.

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