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Why low-calorie and detox diets make you gain weight, not lose it!

Quick-fix diets promise rapid fat-loss success, but are actually the fastest route to looking and feeling terrible. Here’s why, and how you can avoid the low-calorie curse, says New Body Plan editor Joe Warner

First things first. How do you lose or gain weight? Put simply it’s like this: if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you lose weight; but if you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight (there’s a little bit more to exactly how many calories you need and burn each day, but the in-versus-out overview is the best place to start).

In and out
The general rule of “calories in versus calories out” in weight management is a very important one and crucial to understand because it’s the basis of how all diets work.

It doesn’t matter if you’re only eating “superfoods”, having one big meal a day or ten little ones, or only ever eating when standing on your head (don’t do that) – you’ll only lose weight if you consume fewer calories than you expend. But that doesn’t mean all diets are equal in helping you lose weight, or improving your health and wellbeing.

Here’s the five stages of why following a very low-calorie diet, such as those billed as “detox diets” or “juice cleansers”, are so bad for both your body and your brain, and why we’ve got a better eating approach to help you look and feel better than ever.

Stage 1: You mess up your fluid balance
Why is this bad? Low-calorie diets give a first impression of appearing to “work” because when you suddenly restrict your food intake or cut out entire food groups to reduce your daily calorie intake, you will lose weight. The problem is that it’s not fat that you’ve lost, it’s water. That’s the last thing you want and the main reason why these diets are so dangerous. They negatively affect your body’s electrolyte (fluid and salt) balance, which will result in dehydration, which will make you look, feel and perform far worse than before.

So while after a few days you might see a lower number on the bathroom scale, the weight lost is water, not fat, and you’ll feel tired, dehydrated and miserable – and that’s about as far from living a healthier and happier life as you can be.

Stage 2: You starve your body of nutrients
Why is this bad? Almost all quick-fix diets are based on severely restricting your daily calorie intake by cutting out specific types of foods or eliminating food groups entirely. This means that they don’t provide some, or even many, of the essential nutrients your body needs to function at its best and will dramatically affect how good you look and feel.

You may suffer physical signs, such as dry, pale or dull skin, aching joints and muscles, feelings of lethargy and weakness, or trouble falling and staying asleep, as well as a wide range of mental symptoms, not limited to constant hunger, low energy and constant fatigue, bad moods, and dire levels of focus, motivation and concentration. This will make you feel absolutely awful in the short term and cause you to question whether all these negative side effects are worth it. (Spoiler alert: they’re not.)

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Stage 3: Your metabolism slows down
Why is this bad? Your body’s job, evolutionary speaking, is to stop you starving to death so it pays very close attention to how much you’re eating. When you suddenly start eating less it makes adjustments to prevent starvation. Your metabolism slows down to conserve energy, and your digestive tract moves food through more slowly to extract as much energy from it as possible (which can cause digestive issues, such as bloating or constipation).

There’s also a slow-down in hormone production, including muscle-building testosterone. Once your metabolism slows you need less energy to survive, so you must then reduce your calorie intake even further to get into a calorie deficit to lose weight! This creates a vicious cycle in which your body, over time, requires fewer and fewer calories to function, making it harder to lose weight even when you’re eating far less than before. This cycle is really bad for your weight-loss ambition. Why? Keep reading.

Stage 4: Your appetite roars back
Why is this bad? Have you ever wondered what makes you feel hungry? Or full? Your appetite is controlled by a series of feedback loops in the digestive system and the brain. There are also sensors in your fat cells that tell your brain how full their fat stores are. If there’s a lack of food being eaten, these feedback loops and sensors compensate by making you really hungry.

It doesn’t matter how much willpower your have, your brain’s “don’t starve” system is always stronger so you quit the diet and resume eating normally. But you now need fewer calories than before because of your slower metabolism, so you gain back the weight you lost – and much more besides – because your brain is directing all the excess energy to fill up your fat stores to ensure you don’t “starve” again. It’s a major reason why so many people end up yo-yo dieting and gain body fat rather than losing it.

Stage 5: You get stuck in a vicious cycle
Why is this bad? There are many physiological problems caused by low-calorie quick-fix diets, but one of the biggest is the damaging habits that they cause people to adopt. They cause you to learn to either be “on” a diet or “off” it – there is nothing in between, while you only ever experience a very short period of weight loss “success”, if any. You’re also more likely to experience long periods of “failure”, and feelings of guilt or frustration that add to your unhappiness, and you start to develop a damaging relationship with food and think obsessively about eating.

Ultimately, you forget how to “trust” your body to know how it’s really feeling, and don’t trust yourself to make smart food choices, and end up in one of two equally bad scenarios: either living a life adhering to a very strict set of eating rules, or suffering from a complete loss of control over your diet and your life. But thankfully, there is a way to keep eating easy and enjoyable and still lose body fat quickly.

A smarter strategy
We hate low-calorie plans that promise the earth but deliver the polar opposite of what we know to be true: eating should be easy and enjoyable, and make you healthier and happier. So if you want to lose weight and keep it off, then make sure you read about our simple and sustainable approach on how to eat for optimal health and fitness.

To find your perfect transformation plan, take the New Body quiz!
Take the New Body quiz!

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