Perhaps you’ve been marking the days off your wall calendar, or perhaps you just realized today that this quarter is half-way over. Spring break, with all its beaches and swimming suits and margaritas, is just around the corner.
And you’re feeling a little flabby.
You’ve heard it before: Moderate portions and exercise are the only healthy ways to lose weight. But sometimes, when you know you have to squeeze into that dress or break out your bikini in just a few weeks, healthy can go to hell for all you care. Crazy fad diets can lead to nutritional deficiency, osteoporosis, organ damage and disordered eating behavior. But hey, what’s a little organ failure in light of a four or five pound loss in just a few days?
If serious health problems aren’t enough to dissuade you from crash dieting, consider the fact that the initial weight loss you see on the scale resulting from these “fad diets” is not real weight loss. Most of the poundage lost is due to water weight. And the second you go off the crash diet — and you will go off it eventually — your weight will rebound. You may even gain back more weight than you lost in the first place.
Most crash diets are similar to starvation diets and entail very little caloric and fat intake. When you deprive your body, your metabolism goes into starvation mode so that you burn fewer calories per day. Once you end your crash diet, your body still stays in starvation mode — and as a result, when you eat normally, you gain more weight eating the same amount of food than you would have gained before your diet.
Millions of people continue to crash diet despite these caveats. The history of fad dieting is centuries old — indeed, after William the Conqueror became so morbidly obese that his horse could no longer carry him, he allegedly shut himself in his room and subsisted on nothing but alcohol. Needless to say, he lost the “battle of the bulge.”
Sadly, crash diets haven’t gotten any less crazy than William the Conqueror’s all-alcohol diet in the 11th century.
“My teacher was telling me about this diet called ‘Flushed Away,’” Julia Yang, a freshman in the School of Music, said. “Basically it’s this pill that makes everything come out. It’s a horrible diet, although I’ve never tried it.”
Yang did try the raw food diet, on which you subsist on nothing but unprocessed, uncooked plant foods, for nearly a year. “It actually did work, but it wasn’t really worth it because there’s so much good food you miss out on,” said Yang.
The craziest fad diet School of Communication freshman Ashley Coussens had ever heard of was the infamous Atkins diet, the most extreme of the low-carb, high-protein diets.
“Fad diets are kind of ridiculous. When I first heard about Atkins, it doesn’t even sound like it would work,” she said. Weinberg freshman Diana Jonke agreed, saying “[It] sounds really stupid because I feel like you can’t lose weight eating steak every day.”
But Atkins is far from being the craziest of the fad diets. Followed are the worst of the worst fad diets. While they may help you drop a pound or two in the short term, they’re sure to do even more harm in the long run.
In 1905, San Francisco art dealer Horace Fletcher won the title of “the Great Masticator” for advocating a diet in which you had to chew every bite of food thirty-two times…before spitting it out. This way, asserted Fletcher, you could enjoy the taste of the food while still losing weight.
Scientifically sound? Many people do not properly chew their food, resulting in poor digestion. Moreover, taking the time to chew your food slows down the speed at which you eat. The slower you eat, the easier it is to gauge satiety.
Is it worth it? Fletcherizing is identical to chewing and spitting, a popular weight loss technique in the eating disorder community. Digestion begins in the mouth. As a result, chewing and spitting out your food triggers acid release in the stomach and insulin in the blood. Without food to neutralize it, the excess acid may result in painful ulcers. Excess insulin stimulates the appetite, making it harder for the dieter to resist temptation. Long term overproduction of insulin can lead to metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
The Alternate-Day Diet
On this crash diet, advocated by Dr. James B. Johnson, M.D., you alternate “down” days, during which you eat a restricted diet, with “up” days, during which you eat whatever you want. Dr. Johnson believes that this way you will be less inclined to cheat on your diet, because you know the very next day you can indulge yourself. The catch: on your “down” day, you have to eat next to nothing – only 20 percent of your regular daily intake, around 500 calories a day. Go here to calculate your caloric intake for your up and down days.
Scientifically sound? If you alternate eating 500 calories with 2500 calories, you average 1500 calories a day. This caloric restriction will, indeed, result in weight loss. However, note that you can’t really eat whatever you want on your up day. For example, if you consume 4000 calories on your up day and 500 on your down day, you average 2250 calories a day. For people who are overweight but not obese, this is not enough calorie restriction to lose weight. Does it take a lot of effort to eat 4000 calories? Not really.
Is it worth it? The biggest issue with this diet is that it’s not sustainable. People on this diet report high levels of irritability. Starving yourself every other day takes a lot of willpower, not to mention it reinforces the binge-purge mentality of some eating disorders.
If you do have the willpower, there are some purported bonuses to this diet. Because you are only starving yourself every other day, your metabolism never goes into starvation mode and continues to function efficiently. According to Dr. Johnson, the 36 hour fast period is enough to mimic the benefits of severe caloric restriction or long term fasting, such as increased longevity, lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure.
The Master Cleanse
Beyonce famously lost 18 pounds in two weeks by following this diet of a concoction of maple syrup, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and water. Throughout the day, you drink six to 12 glasses of this disgusting drink, followed by a salt-water flush at night to keep your bowel movements regular.
Scientifically sound? You will unquestionably lose weight on this diet. Because you are only drinking the juice of three to six lemons and three-quarters to one-and-a-half cups of maple syrup a day, your daily caloric intake is between 600 and 1200 calories. The other claim of the Master Cleanse diet is that the lemon juice will “detoxify” your body. However, your stomach acid is 10 times stronger than lemon juice; the lemon juice only has a slight impact.
Is it worth it? Most people describe the Master Cleanse “lemonade” as revolting, and the salt-water flush is said to be gag-inducing. The Master Cleanse is essentially a fast with a recommended length of between ten and forty days. After a prolonged period of time, your metabolism will go into starvation mode. Unless you are extremely careful, you will regain the weight very quickly once you end your fast. You are also depriving your body of valuable nutrients.
The Tapeworm Diet
This diet is as gross as it sounds: you ingest a tapeworm to lose weight. Opera singer Maria Callas allegedly lost 65 pounds on this extreme crash diet. Although it gained notoriety in the 1950s, the tapeworm diet is still around today, although it has had to go underground since they were banned by the FDA. So unless you’re planning on making a side trip to Mexico, your best bet is to eat some raw, undercooked beef in hopes of ingesting some tapeworm larvae. Then, once you’ve lost the desired amount of weight, you pop some pills, kill the tapeworm, and flush it down the toilet the next time you use the bathroom.
Scientifically sound? If you are crazy enough to try this diet, you will lose weight. A significant portion of the calories you eat will be consumed by the tapeworm. As a result, you lose one to two pounds a week without changing your diet.
Is it worth it? If the thought of a worm in your intestines living off you doesn’t deter you, there are substantial health risks and unpleasant side effects to consider. One website that actually sells beef tapeworms lists the side effects as “loss of appetite or feeling of fullness, increased appetite, abdominal pain, weakness, headache, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting and spontaneous emergence of proglottids from the anal sphincter.” And while tapeworms can typically be cleared with oral medication, complications can arise that require surgery or result in death.
Most crash diets do, in fact, result in weight loss, if you can bear to actually stick to them. Most, if not all, are impossible to follow for more than a few days, inevitably reversing any initial weight loss and often accompanied by a few extra pounds that you did not have to begin with. While they may help your waistline as spring break approaches, most, if not all of these diets, compromise your nutritional needs and your overall health. Bottom line? Find a healthier, more sustainable path to weight loss.