Deprivation diets – or crash diets – are all too common. The thought of these fad diets can be captivating. Who doesn’t want a quick fix to anything, including an unhealthy weight? However, as anyone who has ever tried a deprivation diet knows, they often lead to a worse situation than before.
What is a Deprivation Diet?
A deprivation diet reduces calories to the point where you lose weight extremely – and often dangerously – quickly. On average a woman in her thirties requires 2,000 calories a day; a man in that age range requires 2,200 calories. A deprivation diet might restrict calories to 1,200 per day. Some go as low as 700 or 800 calories.
What’s So Wrong With Deprivation Diets?
A deprivation diet doesn’t simply cut calories to the point where your body has to get rid of fat. A deprivation diet convinces your body that you face starvation. This has several impacts.
Your body can store and use energy in several ways:
- One is for muscle cells to store glycogen, which it then expends when energy is needed quickly. Glycogen is stored within muscle itself and can be converted to sugars (fuel) on demand.
- The second is for your body to pull energy out of your fat cells. Fat stores a great deal of energy, but doesn’t give it up as readily as glycogen within muscle.
- The third way for your body to obtain energy is to break down tissues such as muscle; essentially, your body starts consuming itself.
When you restrict your calorie intake to this kind of degree, your muscle cells quickly expend their glycogen reserves, and cry out for other sources of energy. Your body doesn’t relinquish fat readily, especially if you have been overweight for a long period of time, so a crash diet can send your body straight to its own tissues for fuel. Often, muscle is what gets consumed. That’s one of the reasons deprivation diets can be dangerous without a doctor’s supervision.
Muscle needs energy to function. The more muscle you have, the more energy you will burn. This is one reason deprivation diets fail: when you push your body to the point where it consumes muscle tissue, you have less muscle afterward. So stopping the deprivation diet and returning to your typical food intake may cause your weight to go up quickly — and even to exceed the weight you were at before you decided to try the crash diet.
On the psychological side, it’s often difficult to maintain a crash diet for the simple reason that the human body and mind don’t like to starve. We don’t feel good when we are hungry. Hunger for a long period can lead to depression. Developing a negative view of food based on its calorie count can lead to eating disorders. If you’re fighting hunger thanks to your diet, you may find yourself avoiding going out with friends for fear you’ll be tempted to eat something that defeats your diet, potentially damaging your relationships.
And when you fall off the dietary wagon, this can be equally as depressing and emotionally painful as hunger itself.
Managing Your Diet
Losing weight through a deprivation diet is unhealthy and damaging. To truly lose that extra fat, you need a combination of healthy levels of activity and proper diet. That diet should be something you enjoy, not something you struggle with. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself off that wagon in no time.