It is often suggested that a reasonable rate of weight loss lies between a pound and a pound and a half per week. The primary reason for this advice is that when a person loses weight at a slow and steady pace, her chances of keeping it off are typically much higher than the person who lost weight at a more rapid rate.
Unfortunately, those who are desperate to drop extra pounds often neglect to take into account the long-term repercussions of rapid weight loss, so promises such as “Lose 7 pounds in 7 days!”, “Eight weeks to a new you!”, and “Lose 10-12 pounds in just 2 weeks!”, become very appealing. In fact, some of the diets that make such lofty promises actually do deliver… but at what price? The people and programs that make these grand claims are either not aware of, or are simply not disclosing, the fact that losing weight too quickly can have adverse side effects.
It’s an unfortunate reality that a majority of people who lose weight eventually gain that weight back over a period of time. After an analysis of 31 diet studies, researchers at The University of California at Los Angeles concluded that two-thirds of dieters actually gained more weight than they’d lost within 4 to 5 years after their diet ended. (1)
But what about those people who follow a trendy new diet and lose weight fast? It’s not a 4-5 year regain they experience; rather, it’s a one or two months regain! This phenomenon is known as rebound, and it typically occurs when a person has followed a super-strict hypocaloric diet. After the diet is over, the person will do one of two things.
The first scenario finds our dieter binging on the foods she had missed eating during the diet. The second scenario has our dieter simply going back to the way she was eating before the diet began — nothing crazy — just a return to her normal caloric intake. In both scenarios, the body reacts by storing these excess calories quickly as fat in order to protect itself from another possible “starvation” phase.
The result? A very rapid weight re-gain and perhaps the first step towards a yo-yo diet scenario. To learn more about yo-yo dieting, read my article, “How to Beat Yo-Yo Dieting.”
GALLSTONES & LIVER DAMAGE
Rapid weight re-gain is not the only concern. There are other issues one should take into consideration that are directly related to one’s health. For example, did you know that one of the most common side effects of rapid weight loss is the development of gallstones? When you lose weight too quickly, levels of cholesterol also rise rapidly, accumulating in levels that the gallbladder cannot effectively empty. As a result, an imbalance of bile salts and cholesterol occurs and gallstones are formed.(2)
It’s true that many people don’t experience any symptoms resulting from gallstones. However, if the gallstones persist, they can become problematic when they obstruct a bile duct, preventing the liver from draining properly. (3) They can also lead to acute inflammation and infection of the pancreas known as pancreatitis, which can have dire complications such as kidney failure and pancreatic cancer.(4)
Another health issue that can arise from rapid weight loss is possible liver damage. If you have ever had a complete blood panel performed, you may have seen the abbreviations AST (SGOT) and ALT (SGPT)1 on your results. When these two enzymes are elevated, and in particular ALT, this is an indication of possible liver damage. A study was performed on a total of 147 subjects (104 of them being women) by staff at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. All of the participants had normal or near normal ALT and AST readings prior to the study.
They were then placed on a hypocaloric diet for eight weeks. At the end of the eight weeks, subjects were weighed and ALT and AST levels were re-measured. Subjects lost approximately 11.5 kg (25.3 pounds), or slightly over three pounds per week, and there was a significant increase in both ALT and AST levels, suggesting liver injury. 1 AST stands for aspartate aminotransferase and ALT stands for alanine aminotransferase.(5) The researchers did admit that the damage to the liver appeared to be transient and so concluded that it was not a major issue — as long as the participant took steps to prevent further damage.
So the question becomes this: if you can prevent liver damage by simply choosing to lose weight at a slower pace, sticking to the recommendation of 1-1.5 pounds per week, then why wouldn’t you take measures to protect this vital organ? Is it really worth the risk?
Toxic overload is a serious, yet often overlooked, health issue associated with rapid weight loss. It’s a sad reality that we live in a toxic environment. On a daily basis, we eat, drink, breathe, and transdermally absorb thousands of chemicals that, when combined, are proven to contribute to the development of cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, as well as diseases related to the liver, kidneys, and heart.(6) A majority of the toxins introduced into our bodies aren’t readily expelled and in fact, they are typically stored away in our fat cells.
Dr. Walter Crinnion, a doctor of naturopathic medicine, noticed that many people who lost weight quickly often reported feeling fatigued; they also reported they suffered from flu-like symptoms. As a result, these people tended to abandon their exercise regimens and resume their poor eating habits that eventually lead to a return to their previous weight. Crinnion explains that one likely reason for the fatigue and overall malaise many experience when weight loss is rapid lay in the fact that their bodies release toxins from their fat cells at a rate that exceeds their body’s capability of removing them.
As a result, a high rate of poisonous toxins begins to accumulate in their system and it is this that ultimately results in illness.(7) Crinnion also points to a study performed at Laval University in Quebec, Canada, that showed higher toxicity in the body resulted in a stunted metabolism.(7)
Since a high metabolism means greater calorie burn/fat utilization (especially when one considers the RMR and how we utilize calories at rest), this suppression of the metabolism would be disastrous for someone who is trying to lose weight. No matter what they did in regard to diet and exercise, it would be very difficult to shed pounds because the body wouldn’t be able to efficiently burn calories during exercise or use the calories taken in. In order to prevent to prevent this “drowning in toxins,” then, weight loss should be achieved slowly so that the body has a fighting chance of eliminating the poisons being released that could result in illness.
When you are desperate to lose weight, a “quick fix” diet that promises rapid results can be very tempting to follow. I implore you, though, to really take into consideration the possible health consequences of such drastic measures. If you are losing weight for you health, remember that only a 5-10% decrease in weight has been shown to improve glucose levels and reduce hypertension.
If you are losing weight for aesthetics, ask yourself if you want to look great for just a moment in time, or do you want to look great for the long haul? The choice is up to you, of course, but ask yourself what renowned nutritionist Keith Klein always likes to ask of his clients, “What kind of price tag would you attach to your health?” If your answer to that question is, “No price tag! My health is everything!” then shed the weight, but shed it the smart way: slow and steady! If you do, then you will reap the long-term health benefits of your decision.
About the Author:
Elizabeth Anastasopoulos, a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist, spends significant time in the gym training her athletes. However, her time as a figure competitor in the OCB directed her passion towards nutrition and nutritional counseling. She is currently pursuing her Diploma in Comprehensive Nutrition, and she plans to continue her education by obtaining a certification in sports nutrition as well.
Her greatest joy, though, is her family. She is a proud wife, as well as the mother of an 18 year-old daughter and of 9-year old twins. As a family, they enjoy multiple outdoor activities and traveling to various destinations.
REFERENCES: 1. Voss, Gretchen. When you lose weight — and gain it all back. Diet and Nutrition on NBC.com. [Internet]. 2010 June 06. Available from: http://www.nbcnews.com id/36716808/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/t/when-you-lose-weight-gain-it-all-back/#.WE_lIHeZORs
2. Renee, Janet. MS, RD. Risks of Losing Too Much Weight Too Quickly. [Internet]. Livestrong.com.; [updated 2015 May 29; cited 2017 Jan 11]. Available from: http://www.livestrong.com/article/35737-risks-losing-much-weight-quickly/
3. How can gallstones be dangerous? [Internet]. Sharecare.com. Available from: https://www.sharecare.com/health/gallstones/gallstones-dangerous
4. MayoClinic.com. [Internet]. Pancreatitis. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pancreatitis/symptoms-causes/dxc-20252598
5. Gasteyger, Christoph, Larsen, Thomas Meinert, Vercruysse, Frank, andn Astrup, Arne. Effect of a dietary-induced weight loss on liver enzymes in obese subjects. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. [Internet]. 2008 May [cited 2017 Jan 15]; 87(5): 1141-47. Available from: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/87/5/1141.full
6. Sylvester, Lee. (2014, Oct 17). Silent killers; chemicals, toxins, and autism. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbhT7aoIwd4&t=349s
7. Crinnion, Walter ND. Clean, green, and lean. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 2010