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Weight Loss

From the effects of the hormone cortisol to the role of genetics in weight loss, this category is packed with everything that you need to know about losing weight the healthy way.

Understanding Extreme & Unhealthy Diets and Supplements

Diets that claim to shed weight fast may deter from safe and effective practices. Instead of falling victim to extreme weight loss methods, learn what it really takes to safely lose weight.

Understanding Extreme & Unhealthy Diets and Supplements


Take this pill and lose 20 pounds in one week. Going on a detox will cleanse the body of all toxins. Boost metabolism with this metabolic booster.

Do any of these statements sound familiar and too good to be true? Well, they most likely are.

Diets claiming to shed weight fast may deter from safe and effective practices. So instead of falling victim to extreme and unhealthy weight loss habits and strategies, learn what it really takes to safely lose weight.

Extreme Weight Loss Methods

Extreme diets come in many flavors, or lack thereof, including in pill form and hormone injections. They may also require a paid visit to the doctor's office for a surgical operation.

Here are some of the worst weight loss supplements, products, and methods dieters may turn to in hopes to drop weight fast. (And some of the most bizarre!)

    1. Starvation and Very-Low-Calorie Diets

    Starvation diets promote severe food restriction with very-low-calorie levels.

    Also known as very-low-energy diets (VLCEs), very-low-calorie diets (VLCDs) are often nutritional formulas that replace all meals.

    These diets offer the body balanced nutrition while restricting calories to no more than 800 daily. Followers of a VLCD often lose between three to five pounds weekly. However, a VLCD should be administered and supervised by a healthcare professional.

    In lieu of medical advice and guidance, some dieters turn to other creative forms of a starvation diet. Restrictive diets may include the Sleeping-Beauty Diet, which involves taking a sedative to sleep (and starve) days at a time. The Military Diet claims its followers can lose up to 10 pounds in a week.

    Other forms of restrictive diets confine food intake to a single food, such as the Grapefruit Diet. The Baby Food Diet and Cabbage Soup Diet also restrict mostly to their respective sources.

    2. Extreme Weight Loss Pills and Supplements

    Unsafe weight loss supplements often promote themselves as a fat burner, metabolic enhancer, and appetite suppressor. While such easy fixes are enticing, their appeal does not live up to expectations.

    Generally, such detox pills and potions are produced with a concoction of green tea extracts, spices, herbs, fruit and vegetable juices. While most ingredients are considered to be safe, it is critical to pay attention to the ingredients.

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does approve some prescription weight loss drugs. However, they do not approve of or test all dietary supplements. This means they can contain contaminated and harmful substances.

    3. Diuretics and Laxatives

    The use of diuretics, also known as water pills, eliminates excess water. They are often prescribed for individuals suffering from serious health conditions, including congestive heart failure. Laxatives stimulate bowel movements or loosen the stool and are prescribed for constipation.

    The elimination effects of both can in fact result in a few pounds lost in a short amount of time. However, the water and body weight lost with both weight loss products is different from true fat loss.

    Diuretic and laxative abuse can result in harmful side effects like muscle cramps, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, heart palpitations, and even death.

    4. Cleanses and Detox Diets

    Cleanses and detox diets promote to "rid toxins from the body" and lead to fast weight loss.

    The Master Cleanse, or The Lemonade Diet, claims to detox the body and drop weight in 10 days.

    The Hollywood 48 Hour Miracle Diet comes in the form of a two day cleanse. Each day tops about 400 calories per day, claiming to shed up to 10 pounds. It is also advertised to detox, cleanse, and rejuvenate the dieter.

    Some cleanses can cause individuals to lose weight from water and stool weight. This, in turn, lowers total body weight and indicative of true fat loss. Cleanses can also be very dangerous with risks of dehydration or electrolyte imbalance, too.

    Really, so-called cleanses to remove toxins are useless. The body is already uniquely fine-tuned to detoxify and excrete toxins thanks to the kidneys, liver, and other organs.

    5. Hormonal and Surgical Extreme Diets

    Other extreme weight loss methods include hormonal injections and surgical procedures. And really, these sorts of diets are often not for the faint of heart.

    One of the most popular hormonal diets is the HCG Diet. HCG stands for human chorionic gonadotropin, which is a hormone present at high levels in early pregnancy. It can be detected in maternal blood and urine and is the foundation of many pregnancy tests.

    The Feeding Tube Diet is a commonly used weight loss method amongst brides. The diet involves inserting a feeding tube to administer calories and portion-controlled solutions. But the option is not for everyone nor cheap. Qualifying candidates must have a BMI of 27 or higher and willing to fork out nearly $1,600 for 10 days.

    Some truly extreme weight loss methods include the Tapeworm and Tongue Patch Diets. The Tapeworm Diet works by swallowing a pill with a tapeworm egg inside. When it hatches, the tapeworm grows inside the digestive tract and eats whatever is available. In theory, eat without restriction and the tapeworm will dispose of those extra calories.

    The Tongue Patch Diet is also extreme, as a hard plastic mesh is surgically sewn onto the tongue. The theory is to inflict pain if trying to eat solid food, thus deterring from eating. Instead, followers drink an 800-calorie liquid diet in hopes to lose 20 pounds.

    6. Waist Trainers & Body Wraps

    Essentially, waist trainers are tight corsets used in hopes to achieve the "hourglass" body shape. The tightness of the corset is also thought to avoid overeating by compressing the stomach. The compression, however, can be a serious health risk.

    The mummy wrap look from body wraps claims inches off the waist will be lost in just one session. Like diuretics, the body loses body weight from water loss and will be temporary.

    The Risks of Extreme Dieting

    Dieters commonly turn to these methods to deter weight gain and ensure weight loss. But doing so comes with a series of risks.

    Unhealthy diet effects and risks can vary based on the extreme method used. These may include:

    • Diarrhea, skin issues, and other complications caused by placing a feeding tube.

    • The squeamish Tapeworm Diet may cause blockages and infections throughout the entire body. Such complications can be fatal.

    • A tight waist trainer around the diaphragm and lower half of the body can lead to internal organ complications. This may include the lungs, digestive system, and kidneys.

    All-in-all, though, extreme dieting and rapid weight loss can cause:

    • Unpleasant side effects: Depriving the body of essential nutrients can stress and damage the body. Individuals are likely to experience a multitude of side effects when enduring rapid weight loss.

    Commonly experienced side effects include fatigue, headache, irritability, dizziness, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances, which can even be deadly. Severe weight loss can cause hair loss and women to lose their menstrual cycles, too.

    • Muscle wasting: Amidst self-starvation, the body searches for energy to carry-on and function as efficiently as possible. But rather than burning stored fat, the body often starts to fuel itself by breaking down muscle. This can also slow down metabolism in the short and long-term.

    • Weight regain: Extreme diets often cause individuals to lose water weight and are unsustainable. Unfortunately, the weight loss is often regained. And not only is weight regain likely, but individuals often gain it back and then some.

    • Added health concerns: Chronic diseases are mostly linked to overweight and obesity. However, rapid weight loss and fluctuations can also increase the risk of developing them.

    A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine compared a high-fluctuation group to lower weight shifts. They discovered large fluctuations of 8.6 pounds increased the risks of type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart attack, and death. This was compared to those who kept weight maintained and steady with a low 2-pound weight shift.

    Drastic weight loss also increases the risk of gallstones, hardened deposits of bile that form in the gallbladder. Gallstones can block the bile ducts and cause severe abdominal pain and increase the risk of serious complications.

    Unhealthy Weight Loss Habits

    If considered to be a normal healthy individual, a short bout of calorie restriction is likely to not cause harm. Still yet, always consult with a doctor to lessen the risk of potentially harmful and dangerous rapid weight loss side effects.

    Working with a dietitian or healthcare team can help determine a safe, appropriate plan based on personal goals and needs. Instead of turning to a fad diet or diet pill, take to tried and true weight loss tips such as adopting healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle.

    • Include more whole foods in a healthy diet. Place dietary focus on whole grains, fruits and veggies, lean and plant-based proteins, and healthy fat sources.

    • Reduce empty calories that lack nutritional value, such as refined breads and pastas, pastries, and convenience snacks.

    • Drink more water over sugary and alcoholic beverages. Aim for at least 64 ounces of water on a daily basis.

    • Practice portion control by using smaller plates, splitting restaurant meals, and eating slowly.

    • Dismiss a sedentary lifestyle and increase physical activity, including 150 minutes of cardio exercises weekly. Lift weights and strength train at least two to three days, too.

    • Manage stress with positive coping techniques, including exercising, practicing yoga, meditating, calling a friend, and reading a book. Doing so can lower cortisol levels and risks of emotional eating.

    • Sleep the recommended seven to nine hours each night. Lack of sleep can heighten cravings towards comfort foods and plummet energy to be active throughout the day.

    • Consider a weight loss meal delivery service that offers balanced meals and ongoing support, including bistroMD.

    Ultimately, a slow and gradual process is recommended for sustainable purposes. While it may not be the answer hoped for, the time it takes to lose weight safely is worth the payoff! It also reduces the risks of rapid and drastic weight loss, heart disease, and other health concerns.

Written By Christy Zagarella, MS, RDN. Published on June 12, 2013. Updated on January 08, 2020.

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