Monday, October 31, 2011


Fighting the battle of the bulge can range from following a sensiblediet to benign ill-guided efforts to extreme, downright risky behaviors. Some behaviors are unlikely to cause harm because they cannot be sustained long enough to do damage but other dieting tactics can be downright risky and cause serious health consequences.
"People get so focused on weight loss they are willing to do unproven and potentially dangerous things that can backfire and cause serious health problems," says Michelle May, MD, an Arizona-based weight management doctor.

Extreme dieting can also lead down the path and increase the risk of developing eating disorders, says eating disorder specialist Connie Diekman, MEd, RD.

Skipping meals, weighing in every day, eliminating food groups, or relying onsupplements to fix a junk food diet are not among the best ways to lose weight, but these behaviors are unlikely to cause significant health consequences.

WebMD consulted diet experts to identify the most dangerous efforts you should NOT use to lose weight.

Starvation, fasting, or very low-calorie diets.
Severely slashing calories leads to weight loss but the lost weight includes precious muscle mass and poses health risks -- and most people end up regaining all the weight, plus some.

"Rapid weight loss by critical calorie restriction causes water, some fat, and muscle loss, which ultimately decreases metabolism so the body needs fewer calories to survive," says May, author of Eat What You Love and Love What You Eat. It also causes a shift toward a higher percentage of body fat, which increases the risk formetabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

Don't cut calories below 1,200 per day; otherwise you will struggle to meet nutrient needs, fuel activity, and satisfy hunger. Keep in mind that when you lose weight quickly, you tend to pack it back on with more fat and less muscle, which lowers your metabolism and calorie needs.

Dubious supplements and over-the-counter diet pills that make grand promises.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Diet pills, potions, and concoctions purchased over the counter or ordered through the Internet are unlikely to be effective, not necessarily safe or capable of delivering on the oft exaggerated promises.

Over-the-counter diet pills may not appear to be dangerous , but they can still cause harm. "Most diet pills are nothing more than a quick fix loaded with caffeine and diuretics that can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance," says Diekman, director of nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis.

The FDA does not give supplements the same scrutiny as prescription drugs. Some over-the-counter or Internet products "can be harmful, ineffective, and a waste of money," says American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, PhD, RD.

The FDA urges people to report dangerous supplements through its MedWatchprogram. Buyers beware: Just because it says it is natural, doesn't necessarily mean it is safe or good for you.

Dubious supplements and over-the-counter diet pills that make grand promises.

The hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) diet is a good example of a plan that isnot FDA approved for weight loss, yet legions of dieters are using it. Weight loss from The hCG Diet, May says, likely has more to do with the 500-calorie restriction, not the hCG from urine of pregnant women. It has the same risks as a very low-calorie diet, along with unknown risks associated with long-term use of hCG. Some doctors even dispense risky therapies from their offices that are not approved for weight loss.

Forget supplements and diet pills. Instead, Moloo says, rely on healthy foods to help you lose weight.

Cleanses or detox plans.

Cleansing for a colonoscopy is necessary to examine your colon, but cleansing to clean out your body's system of toxins is unnecessary. Cleanses cause weight loss from water and stool weight, at best, but they can be dangerous and carry risks of dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and more.

"Losing lots of fluid without medical supervision is risky and when combined withfasting, even riskier. Your body is uniquely fine-tuned to detoxify and excrete toxins, so cleanses are unnecessary and can lead to serious complications by messing with your body's finely-tuned system," May says.

Instead of detoxifying, be more mindful of what you eat. If you want to cleanse or detoxify your body, drink plenty of water and eat lots of high-fiber foods.

All forms of purging.

Purging includes making yourself vomit, chewing food and spitting it out, and abusing laxatives. "These unhealthy and unsafe behaviors are not uncommon on college campuses, pose serious health problems, and are the first step in the development of eating disorders," says Diekman who counsels students with eating disorders at Washington University.

Acid in the stomach is extremely strong, which is necessary to prepare food for digestion and absorption. Stomach contents are meant to stay in the stomach, not be regurgitated into the esophagus and mouth. "Extremely acidic vomit can cause erosion in the esophagus, mouth, and on tooth enamel, which can increase risk for certain cancers, tooth decay, and more when purging becomes a ritual," Diekman says.
Regular purging by vomiting or abuse of laxatives also causes excess fluid loss that can cause serious dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

All of these forms of weight loss are dangerous but the most dangerous is the use of syrup of Ipecac, Diekman says. "One dose can trigger cardiac irregularity and can lead to cardiac arrest."

Purging in all its forms is no way to whittle down the waistline; it is extremely dangerous and not recommended by experts. Eating and drinking responsibly is a much healthier and safe weight loss approach, but if you cannot control your behavior, seek medical help.
Obsessive behaviors such as extreme exercising.

Extreme exercise may make for good reality television but in the real world, it can cause grave problems. Extreme exercise is physically intense on the body, causing severe wear and tear, increasing the risk for injury, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and psychologically turns exercise into punishment for eating, says May.

The American Academy of Sports Medicine and American Heart Association recommend getting at least 30 minutes daily, five days a week of moderately intense cardio or 20 minutes daily, 3 days a week of vigorous intense cardio and 8-10 strength-training exercises, 8-12 repetitions, twice weekly.

Despite the recommendations from authorities, some people think more is better and go way beyond what's healthy, and obsessive exercise controls their lives in an unhealthy manner.

Engage in regular physical activity for all the health benefits, including stress reliefbecause if you ignore the stressors in your life, it can cause the release of hormones such as cortisol that increase appetite and fat storage, Moloo says.

Legal and illegal drugs

Using drugs other than prescription weight loss drugs intended for weight loss is a grim mistake and fraught with all kinds of consequences.

"The potential risks associated with abusing drugs, such as cocaine, speed,attention deficit disorder, thyroid, and diabetes medications to lose weight far outweighs any health benefit you may get from the weight loss," Moloo says. Just some of the unintended risks include, "physical and psychological addiction, social and financial problems, strain on relationships, anxiety, severe headaches, stroke, heart, lung, and kidney problems."

Using illegal drugs for any purpose is strongly discouraged and using legal drugs for their unintended purpose without medical supervision is dangerous.

Tobacco Use

For decades, public health officials have discouraged smoking because of its countless health risks, yet some people -- especially young adults -- use smoking as a diet strategy.

Nicotine has been shown to be an appetite suppressant, yet the risks of smoking vastly outweigh any supposed benefits of cigarette smoking.
Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causes cancer, cardiovascular, respiratory, and other diseases, reduces the health of smokers in general and increases risk of death.

Beyond the numerous health risks, weight gain is often a side effect when smokers try to kick the addictive habit.

Bottom line: Don't smoke for any reason, least of all to promote weight loss.

Best Weight Loss Practices

Choose a diet that works for your lifestyle. Studies show the best diet is the one you can stick with long term. Use common sense, listen to your body, be mindful of what you eat and pass on expensive, risky, and worthless weight loss schemes or products that are unproven.
Seek expert advice from your doctor or a registered dietitian if you are concerned that your weight loss methods may be bordering on extreme or unhealthy.


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