By now, you’ve likely heard Kim Kardashian’s infamous tale of the 16 pounds she shed in three weeks to fit into her Met Gala dress. (The Bob Mackie creation in question was previously worn by Marilyn Monroe back in 1962 when she serenaded then-president John F. Kennedy for his birthday.) But her admission was not exactly well received, as many have taken to social media to shed light on the havoc crash diets like these can wreak on your body.
“Crash diets are dangerous because rapid weight loss can lead to slowing down your metabolism,” Carolyn Comas, licensed clinical social worker and a certified eating disorder specialist and supervisor with Eating Disorder Therapy L.A., tells TZR in an email. “During a crash diet, food/liquids become incredibly limited, which can lead to serious nutritional deficiencies and a risk for dehydration. Mentally, our brains become more fixated on food, and so more signals are sent to push people to eat.” Plus, they put a great deal of stress on the body. “Our bodies are not meant to be in starvation mode, and when there is limited food intake, our body can begin to shut down in fear that we are actually dying,” she explains. After an extreme period of limitation, Comas says someone could easily engage in binging behaviors to make up for the loss of calories not consumed during that time.
Negative Implications Of Crash Dieting
Registered Dietician Naria Le Mire, explains that, although the short-term outcome of a crash diet may seem desirable, those who pursue rapid weight loss should also consider the risk involved with making such drastic changes. “As we lose weight, various changes occur that are often missed, as they are not visible, at least not at first,” she tells TZR. “These include development of gallstones (from changes with fat metabolism), an increased risk for non-communicable conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, and heart disease, and loss of lean body mass.”
In regards to the latter, lean body mass is beneficial, Le Mire says, as it can improve metabolism (the more lean body mass you have, the higher your basal metabolic rate — BMR — will be, which means the calories your body needs to simply exist can be higher compared to someone with lower BMR); reduce inflammation; and it boosts your immunity. “These are just a few benefits,” says Le Mire. “We didn’t even talk about how stress involved with rapid weight loss, or any stress, can dramatically impact one’s health. Therefore, hold onto your lean body mass, as it’s gold.”
Comas adds that other medical complications can occur, too, such as constipation, heart palpitations, low blood sugar, and irregular heartbeats. “Crash diets can also create yo-yo dieting, because diets do not work and the weight will be gained again, which may cause a person to return to the diet to get to a ‘desired weight,’” she says. “Dieting is one of the biggest causes leading to eating disorders. Weight and being in larger bodies should not be feared, and we need more acceptance around all body types.”
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, NYC neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend The Mind, too, notes how crash diets can leave you with lasting damage to your immune system and overall health. “They can actually do more harm than good in the end […] and can throw off hormone levels for women,” she tells TZR in an email. “And the weight one loses is most likely from lean muscle and water, not body fat.” She adds that crash diets can not only be very difficult on your body, but on your mind, too. “Mentally, being on a crash diet is unpleasant and can lead to feeling depressed because the dieter is typically famished and lacking vital nutrients,” she says. “Our brains have a certain level of body fat and weight that they are happy with. Once we begin to change that, especially if it’s too quickly, our brains fight back.” As you crash-diet, your brain will start to send signals of hunger, increasing cravings and making it almost impossible to resist, she explains. “This reaction increases the chances of regaining the weight once the diet is over.”
How Crash Dieting Sends The Wrong Message
Le Mire notes that the dangers of crash diets outweigh the short-term benefits of any glorification: They can be a path to eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and other health conditions. “As influencers seek validation and acceptance from the public, it often takes priority to the message that should be sent to young individuals,” she says. “Like we recently noticed, Kim Kardashian lost a vast amount of weight in a short period of time. Although the prestige and glorification of wearing such an amazing dress may have seemed worth the effort, it wasn’t. Truth is, she could have simply worn a replica or chosen a different dress. She would have looked just as amazing and her fans would have praised her for it.” Comas, too, says Kardashian could have worn a duplicate dress that was made for her body. “Too many women feel pressured at big events to have their bodies fit the dress rather than the dress fitting their bodies,” she says. “We see this so often with weddings, proms, Sweet 16s, and so on.”
Hafeez adds if Kardashian knew this was the dress she wanted to wear for an extended period, she could have dieted more healthily — making small, sustainable changes over a longer time frame — and shown that process instead. “Marilyn Monroe was 5’6” and Kardashian is said to be 5’2,” and while they both had/have hourglass figures, their body types are not identical,” says Hafeez. “It would have been helpful for Kardashian, and women everywhere, if she was accepting of this and did not try to starve herself to fit into a dress that was custom-tailored for another woman’s body who was four inches taller than she.”
In addition, making it look as though these crash diets work and are acceptable can be extremely damaging for young people who look up to people like Kardashian, Le Mire says. “Although it’s not the responsibility of famous individuals to encourage healthy habits, they should definitely empathize with the need to encourage these things,” she says. Comas, too, says we need to stop putting smaller bodies and weight loss on a pedestal. “When people, like Kim Kardashian, boast about losing weight, the message that is sent out to the world is that being smaller is better,” she explains. “This concept is what continues to marginalize bigger-bodied people and continues to perpetuate the message that being fat or larger is bad.”
From a psychological standpoint, Hafeez also points out that a diet like this can send the message to individuals that they need to look a certain way, no matter the circumstances. “This can worsen their thoughts on body image and mental health, as they begin to believe that they have to go to drastic lengths in order to ‘look good,’” she says. “A message like this can normalize extreme diets and weight loss to conform to society’s idea of beauty. This exact messaging is what publications have been trying to steer away from with the rise of plus-size models, fashion, and more.”
What To Do Instead Of Crash Dieting
If someone wants to lose weight, Le Mire says there are plenty of healthy ways to do so. She suggests working on sustainable changes with gradual weight loss. “This is most often the key to long-term success,” she says. “As a weight management dietitian, I can tell you that weight loss is not as simple as calories in and calories out. Our bodies are built to survive — it will catch on and alter your basal metabolic rate (BMR), how many calories your body uses to help you function.”
Weight management is largely based on habits and your day-to-day choices, she explains. “Your food choices and physical activity habits will largely dictate your results,” she says. “However, food choices play a larger role than physical activity when discussing weight management. And, yes, genetics do indeed play a role in weight management. However, your genes do not determine your outcome, just your path.” The dietitian concludes with this: “I always mention to my clients, ‘Are we worried about today, or 5-20 years from now?’ Our quality of life as we get older is largely dictated by the choices we make today. Therefore, choose wisely.”