Not only is yo-yo dieting not good for your waistline, new research shows that yo-yo dieting can drastically raise the risk of having a heart attack or stroke and doubles the risk of death! Here’s why you should skip the fad diet and what you should do instead.
Maybe it’s almost summertime and you’re feeling pressured to get your “beach body” in shape. Maybe you’re about to go on vacation, want to look fabulous for a friend’s wedding, or are just fed up with your weight or eating habits and want to kick start your diet. What’s a gal (or guy) to do?
For many, the answer is simple. Go on a diet! They cut out all carbs, pick up a pack of 5 juices a day, drink only cayenne pepper-ed lemonade for a couple of weeks, or “________” (insert any fad diet that’s too good to be true here).
Within days a few pounds come off, but here’s what’s really happening:
Your body prefers carbohydrates as energy. Carbohydrates are broken down during digestion into glucose, which circulates around the blood and is swept up by cells for energy. Glucose is also stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle to be used when blood glucose becomes low. In fact, your brain demands a near constant supply of glucose, using about 20% of your daily calories.
Depending on your activity, glycogen stores eventually run out and about 16 hours after you begin a fast or extreme diet, your body begins to break down lean body tissue (aka: muscle) for energy. This process isn’t very efficient, causing the body to lose water. This water weight is typically the quick drop in weight people get excited for. Despite the sluggishness that comes with it, people trudge on thinking, “This diet is working!”
Your body continues to break down lean muscle mass for about 3 days. Eventually your body realizes crap, this famine might last awhile! It then switches to breaking down fat in a process called ketosis and your body then begins to use ketone bodies as fuel. (Side note, ketogenesis can be great for people with seizures, and may even help other conditions like Parkinson's, but it’s not for everyone!)
You might be thinking, “ Great! Three days of a diet and I get to burn off some of this fat!” But, not so fast!
After breaking down your muscles for energy, when you get back off the diet your metabolism isn’t as high as it used to be. It’s estimated that each pound of muscle burns about 6 calories a day versus 2 calories by fat. After dieting, your metabolism slows down and it’s easier to gain back weight. 97% of dieters regain their weight and 41% regain more weight back than they lost within three years.
So how DO you get in shape, and stay that way?
Go on a (healthy) diet. While the fix isn’t as quick, you can healthily lose one to two pounds per week through a healthy diet. By cutting out about 500 calories a day, you can lose weight without taking away from lean muscle.
Get in your exercise! Recent research has shown that aerobic exercise has been found to work better for weight loss, and exercising before you eat can help your body take from fat stores. People who have lost weight, and kept it off for the long haul, typically burn about 400 calories a day through exercise.
Set reasonable, sustainable goals. Setting unrealistic goals can be overwhelming and disheartening, ultimately leading to giving them up. Check out how to set your goals here.