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Combining crash diets and "sustainable" weight loss?

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Old 05-04-2012, 12:23 AM   #1
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Default Combining crash diets and "sustainable" weight loss?

It's common knowledge that losing weight through a combination of cutting calories (or carbs, for some of us) and adding exercise is the slower, healthier and ideal way to lose weight. For example, I've noticed that it is usually recommended that we don't create a calorie deficit much greater than 500 calories or else we'll go in to "starvation mode." The idea behind this is that we will sabotage our efforts by either dramatically slowing down our metabolisms or setting ourselves up for a binge. And since the healthy method is a more gradual process, it gives us more time to make our healthy efforts lifelong habits.

And then there's crash diets. Or not even specific diets, really--just any plan that involves eating less than 1200 calories a day. These are generally frowned upon because they are considered unhealthy and unsustainable. Note that I am not talking about anything that is near eating disorder territory, here.

I have been doing it the "healthy" way for the past few months: around 1500 calories a day, plus cardio and/or weight training 3-5 days a week. (With this past week being the exception, due to finals). However, when I lose weight this way I'm VERY lucky if I lose even a pound per week. Some weeks, I won't lose at all. It's extremely tempting to go back to my old high-school ways of only eating around 800-1,000 calories per day, because I honestly lose weight twice as quickly.

Would it be terrible to lose weight that way until I hit my goal or a plateau, and then graduate to eating more calories while exercising more? I know that the "quick" way is frowned upon, but I've already proven to myself that I can do the healthy eating and regular exercise thing on a regular basis.... I just want to speed things along a bit!
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Old 05-04-2012, 12:29 AM   #2
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Sure, if you like it when your hair falls out, your nails get brittle, your skin dulls, and you don't have the energy to complete your daily tasks.

Your body needs nutrients to function properly. If it doesn't get them for a long time, you start to have problems. It's not worth it!!!!

You're losing weight!!! This is a lifetime journey. The weight WILL come off, it is coming off! This is not a sprint to the finish line.
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Old 05-04-2012, 05:57 AM   #3
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I will be the first one to admit that a few years ago I lost 20lbs from "crash dieting". I was 182lbs and I definately did not feel "fat" and I did not wake up one morning and say "today I will not eat so I be skinny." it was in the course of about a month, yes I dropped 20lbs in one month and it was somewhat by accident. I was on the computer from 8am-10:30pm everyday and would forget to eat because I was so addicted to the Internet. When I went back to school from that winter break EVERYONE told me I looked skinnier, yeah I noticed my pants were way loose but didn't think much of it. Oh yeah and I never gained those pounds back or lost hair.

Bottom line, crash dieting does work for some. I would not reccomind it to everyone but I know in my case it worked and maybe I would consider doing it again, but it's hard :/ I'm not telling you you should do it, just sharing my experience with it.
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Old 05-04-2012, 06:55 AM   #4
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In my experience "crash dieting" becomes addictive. In a very real sense I crash dieted my way to nearly 400 lbs.

It's very difficult to accept slow weight loss, and we all tend to promise ourselves that we will be ok with it at some point, but often that point never comes.

And when the weight loss slows on a crash diet, the frustration sky-rockets, and a person is likely to start thinking weight-loss killing thoughts like "it's hopless, I put all this effort in and the weight STILL is coming off slowly," what's the point, I'm NEVER going to reach my goal...."

I've also learned that the weight often comes off more slowly or at least no more quickly on crash diets than on higher calorie ones.

This doesn't seem intuitive, but it happens and in two ways. You're more fatigued so you move less. Workouts are harder, and even daily activities. You may sleep more (or less, but less deeply).

The second way is more insidious, because you have no control over it. Think of calories as dollars, and your body as a business/factory. When money gets tight, the business "cuts funding" to "unessential" business expenses. For your body the "cuts" can be to sleep, the immune system. Hair and nail growth and maintenance are the first to go - which is why hair and nail problems are so common even in sensible weight loss (stress can cause hair loss too - and for the same reason. The body diverts "funding" from the least important processes to pay for the increased needs in a more important area. The problem is they're all important).

This means you can be eating much less, but lose the same or not much more than starvation diets.

The worst effects are those you cannot see or control. The immune system isn't something you really want to "cut the funding" to, but there's no way for you to tell how well your immune system is working until it's too late.

But the worst effects of crash dieting is the psychological factors - the addictive component. Once you've had a taste of crash dieting, it becomes extremely difficult to give them up, because rapid weight loss is the "holy grail" of weight loss. And even when you know that starvation diets are counterproductive, the "high" of rapid weight loss makes it very difficult to accept less than that.

It really does become like a drug high (and the drug metaphor of chasing the dragon). The high becomes harder to capture, and each high ends up lower than the previous, so you have to use more and more extreme, crazy, and even dangerous things in order to try to capture the high. Even when you "know better" you tell yourself, "just this once more and then I'll go back to eating sensibly."

But there's always one more after the once more, because the high is so addictive.

Some people are able to escape or break the addictive crash-diet cycle, but it took me almost 40 years to do it. And it's still not a strong break. I feel the constant pull of temptation - a small voice in my head trying to convince me that "just this once wouldn't hurt," but I know it will. If I get back on the crash diet rollercoaster, I'll also get back on the lose-gain cycle, because as addictive as the cycle is, bingeing and regaining is part of the cycle.

You may be one of the lucky ones and be able to resist the self-destructive pattern, but what if you're not?
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Old 05-04-2012, 08:24 AM   #5
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I enjoy food too much to eat only 800 calories per day.

Starving myself only leads to binges, which in turn leads to weight gain. What's the appeal in that?
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Old 05-04-2012, 08:45 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by kaplods View Post
You may be one of the lucky ones and be able to resist the self-destructive pattern, but what if you're not?
I understand what you mean about it being an addictive behavior. I had never considered it as such but it makes sense (that would explain why I find it so tempting, heh).

And although I've followed a cycle similar to what you described in the past, my losses and gains never deviated outside of a 10-lb range. At least, not in a long time (my highest weight ever was 210 in 8th grade because I ate so unhealthily and was extremely sedentary, but I've been down in the 150s-160s for the past four years). I gained a significant amount of weight last fall/winter because my older sister died suddenly. The whole situation surrounding her death was extremely shocking and scandalous, and my family was devastated. I was extremely depressed, and that was the first time in my life that I started turning to food for comfort.

Though, this might be just me justifying an addictive behavior... I know that's part of the reason it's called addictive...

But I wonder, how different is cutting calories to 800-1,000 calories a day for 2 months from choosing to do detoxes, fasting for days at a time, or a juice diet? Those seem like they would be a lot more extreme to me, but are they justifiable because their official objective is to "flush the system" instead of losing weight the quick and dirty way?

I have never done any of those programs and I am not claiming to be knowledgeable about any of them, but it seems like rapid weight loss would be at least a convenient side-effect.

I don't plan on doing any of those things and I am still with my "healthy" plan right now, but it's just some food for thought.
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Old 05-04-2012, 09:21 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kelseyvc View Post
...But I wonder, how different is cutting calories to 800-1,000 calories a day for 2 months from choosing to do detoxes, fasting for days at a time, or a juice diet? Those seem like they would be a lot more extreme to me, but are they justifiable because their official objective is to "flush the system" instead of losing weight the quick and dirty way?
Justifiable to whom? To me, those methods are all the same thing; they're dangerously low calorie diets that may work in the short term but generally set you up for failure for all of the reasons listed by others, and more.

Quote:
Originally Posted by kelseyvc View Post
...I have never done any of those programs and I am not claiming to be knowledgeable about any of them, but it seems like rapid weight loss would be at least a convenient side-effect...
But what about all of the negative side effects? The method doesn't matter, it's the results.

If you aren't losing weight as quickly as you would like, you can adjust other things before deciding to drop calories. You can trade one or two of your normal workouts for something new and higher intensity. You can post a sample of your daily diet up here; perhaps you are neglecting essential fats and protein and are eating too many sugars and processed foods? Are you getting enough water? Do you keep a food journal? Do you have "Cheat meals", and if so, how often? There are about a BILLION things you can do to change things up.

Ultimately though, you ARE losing weight so the key is just to be consistent and continue to watch the pounds fall off. Don't let frustration send you to a place you don't really want to go.

Personally, I have done the "crash"/"fad" diet thing ONCE with horrible results. I tried the Velocity Diet, and ended up losing a few pounds but could only stick with it for a couple of weeks and then gained back everything I had lost PLUS about 20 pounds (which turned into 60 within a few month's time due to a cycle of calorie restriction and binge eating.) I know that if I hadn't been in a rush to lose weight faster I would not have tried that stupid diet and started in on that cycle. That's where my issues with binge eating started... I never had that problem before then.

Whatever you decide to do, good luck to you! I just hope you take the time to think about what the consequences could be.
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Old 05-04-2012, 09:22 AM   #8
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Default More food for thought from Lyle McDonald

The Dieter’s Paradox – Research Review

Chernev A. The Dieter’s Paradox. Journal of Consumer Psychology. (2001) 21: 178-183.

Abstract
Despite the vast public policy efforts to promote the consumption of healthy foods and the public’s growing concern with weight management, the proportion of overweight individuals continues to increase. An important factor contributing to this obesity trend is the misguided belief about the relationship between a meal’s healthiness and its impact on weight gain, whereby people erroneously believe that eating healthy foods in addition to unhealthy ones can decrease a meal’s calorie count. This research documents this misperception, showing that it is stronger among individuals most concerned with managing their weight—a striking result given that these individuals are more motivated to monitor their calorie intake. This finding has important public policy implications, suggesting that in addition to encouraging the adoption of a healthier lifestyle among overweight individuals, promoting the consumption of healthy foods might end up facilitating calorie overconsumption, leading to weight gain rather than weight loss.

.

Background

In introducing today’s paper, I am reminded of an old joke/quip to the effect that “All that separates man from the animals is our ability to rationalize.” I’d add “And accessorize” but that’s neither here nor there. But the reality is that humans are able to do a wide variety of mental gymnastics in how they approach life. Effectively, we appear to be slave to what psychologists call cognitive biases, ways in which we think about the present, past, future or ourselves that often lead us to make some fascinatingly bad choices. This is a topic that many recent books has discussed in a variety of contexts.

And while I don’t know if I can say that it occurs to a greater degree in terms of eating and health behaviors, there is no doubt that people often engage in some exceedingly interesting mental gymnastics when it comes to those topics. Some of this is conscious but much of it can be chalked up to either unconscious behaviors, misunderstandings (or a lack of information/education) or mishearing/misinterpreting the message. And these types of things, as much as anything else, often derail many people’s attempts to eat healthy, lose weight or simply avoid weight gain.

In the realm of exercise for example, many people grossly overestimate the actual caloric expenditure from activity, as I discussed in Normal Weight Men and Women Overestimate Energy Expenditure – Research Review, and this leads them to either expect far more of an impact on weight loss than is realistic or to eat more calories than they actually need based on the assumption that they burned it off during activity.

In the arena of eating, this issue can show up in a myriad ways. A classic example of a misunderstanding/garbling of the message occurred back in the 80′s during the low-fat eating craze. While it’s hard to say where the blame lies, the general public sort of got the message that so long as they kept fat intake low, nothing else really mattered. Caloric intake and portions went out the window.

Food companies capitalized on this by rushing plenty of energy dense, high-calorie (but low-fat) foods to market and it all went wrong. Studies routinely found that people ate more food when it was labelled ‘low-fat’ compared to one that was labelled as being higher in fat. Either consciously or unconsciously, they gave themselves permission to eat more of it. And often ended up consuming more calories than they would have otherwise.

Another example deals with artificial sweeteners where you often see a pattern where artificial sweetener (or diet soda) intake is associated with weight gain (or a lack of weight loss). And while there is some speculation that artificial sweeteners do some odd things in the brain in terms of driving appetite, it’s probably more related to people rationalizing that they can eat more of something else because they are getting less calories by choosing diet soda or using artificial sweeteners. That is, they figure that since they are ‘saving so many calories’ by making one choice, they end up compensating (or more than compensating) by choosing something unhealthy. Call this the skim milk and chocolate cake or Diet Coke and cheeseburger approach to eating.

I’d note before continuing that this much of the above rationalizing tends to be more for people who are only paying somewhat ‘superficial’ attention to ‘eating well’ (or some other fairly abstract goal). That is, the type of thing I’m going to talk about doesn’t generally occur among folks who are diet obsessed and track macros or calories or what have you. Rather it’s for folks who, while they may say that they are concerned with their diet or body weight or body fat, are focusing on the wrong things (a topic I addressed in more detail in Fundamental Principles vs. Minor Details).

Finally type of behavior seems to occur more prevalently in people who tend to divide foods into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ categories (a category that many popular diets and dietary approaches tend to promote). ‘Good’ foods become equated with healthy and, altogether too often, can be eaten without consequence (i.e. weight gain). Researchers call this the ‘health halo’ by which supposed ‘healthy foods’ have a halo of invincibility around them In the same vein ‘bad’ foods are equated with being unhealthy and this categories are not only absolute but cause us to do some of those strange mental gymnastics when it comes to how we approach our food intake.

You can find examples of this all over the place where people assume that ‘healthy/good’ foods can be eaten in uncontrolled amounts whereas the tiniest amount of ‘unhealthy/bad foods’ mean that the diet has failed, the dieter is immoral and weak, and health will simply be destroyed (this is seen at the greatest extreme in a psychological condition called orthorexia whereby people see food as a moral choice judging not only themselves but others by the foods that they choose to eat). You can see some good examples of this in the comments section of Straight Talk About High-Fructose Corn Syrup: What it is and What it Ain’t. – Research Review.

Which basically segues into today’s paper which examines a behavior pattern that is often seen whereby folks tend to get fixated (or perhaps ‘blinded’ is a better word) by the concept of ‘healthy’ foods and end up missing the forest for the trees when it comes to their food and caloric intake. There is also evidence that people who are (or at least state that they are) more ‘weight conscious’ are even more prone to make these kinds of mis-estimations which was a secondary aim of the study.

.

The Paper

The study recruited 934 people, of whom the majority (74.2%) were female aged anywhere from under 20 to over 50. Subjects were then shown 4 meals which either consisted of ‘unhealthy’ foods or those same unhealthy foods coupled with a healthy option. The four meals, with the healthy addition shown in parentheses, were a hamburger (three celery sticks), bacon and cheese waffle sandwich (small organic apple), chili with beef (small salad without dressing) and meatball pepperoni cheesesteak (celery/carrot side dish). So, for example, subjects were either shown a bacon and cheese waffle sandwich (which sounds amazing in so many ways) either by itself or side by side with a small organic apple.

Half the subjects were shown the unhealthy choice alone and the other half were shown the combination of the unhealthy choice with it’s healthy add-on and they were asked to estimate the caloric value of the meals. I’d mention that this design is problematic because it’s not comparing how a given individual might rank each of the two meals; rather it’s comparing the average estimate of the caloric value of the different meals between people. All subjects were also asked to rate how concerned they were with managing their weight on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being extremely concerned).

The study generated a total of 2750 total observations of the different meals and, on average, subjects estimated that the unhealthy meal alone contained 691 calories. Now, logically it’s obvious that a food consisting of an unhealthy item PLUS a healthy item would have to have more calories than the unhealthy item alone. Clearly two foods can’t have less calories than either food alone.

Yet, on average, subjects estimated the unhealthy plus healthy choice as having only 648 calories. I’d mention that as a third part of the study, a separate group was asked if they believed that the healthy foods contained negative calories and this was not the case. So it doesn’t appear to have been the case where subjects figured that the healthy addition was literally ‘reducing’ the caloric value of the food by containing negative calories. Rather, the ‘health halo’ effect caused people to systematically underestimate the caloric value of the combination of an unhealthy and healthy food.

But it gets even odder. When the estimates were ranked by how folks reported their concern with managing their weight, the values changed even more. The most ‘weight conscious’ subjects estimated the unhealthy meal as containing 711 calories while the combination of the unhealthy and healthy choice was only 615 calories. In contrast, the non-weight conscious individuals estimates were only 684 for the unhealthy choice versus 658 for the combination and there was a direct relationship between how weight conscious the subjects were and their mis-estimate of the different meals.

.

My Comments

I really don’t have a ton to add to the above, the paper goes into lot of discussion that I’ll spare you here since it’s a lot of detailed examination of the possible underlying mechanisms behind these types of odd cognitive biases. One point that was made was that while one might expect more motivated/involved people to have less problems with these types of conceptual biases, this research found the opposite. To whit:


The negative calorie bias is more pronounced for more involved/motivated individuals. Thus when evaluating vice/virtue combinations, greater motivation does not necessarily result in greater accuracy but instead can lead to more biased judgments.

I would add that I think really has more to do with what I mentioned in the background above, the issue isn’t with dietary motivation per se but rather with how people often conceptualize the process. By focusing on things like good/bad foods, clean vs. unclean eating, meal frequency exclusively or organic vs. non, people lose sight of the issue of portions and calories which are what really matter when it comes down to it. They rely on estimates which are oh so often off. And which appear to be colored heavily by the cognitive biases that many humans are so prone towards.

Make no mistake, certain types of eating patterns often automatically get people to reduce their intake, often by the outright removal of a so-called ‘bad’ food. What is defined as good or bad depends on the diet in question and certainly these types of good/bad approaches to dieting can work in at least the short-term (and sometimes longer than that). The problem is when people start focusing on the goodness/badness of the foods they are eating to the exclusion of everything else. That’s when it often goes wrong; this is not helped by many dietary approaches telling folks that calories/portions don’t count and that focusing only on the aforementioned ‘good/healthy’ foods is all that matters.

In this vein, the paper’s author notes that:


In particular, the negative calorie illusion has been shown to be less pronounced when individuals pay attention to the quantity of the combined items, instead of focusing solely on the healthy/unhealthy aspects of the items.

In a related vein, the author points out that:


Another public issue raised by this research concerns the viability of promoting the very notion of stereotyping foods into vices and virtues. Despite it’s intuitive appeal as a decision heuristic to simplify choice, vice/virtue categorizations focuses consumers’ attention only on one aspect of the meal [my note: whether the food is a 'vice' or a 'virtue'] and ignores other important aspects such as its overall quantity.

And I really think that that’s the big take home message of this rather odd paper: people often get so fixated and focused on the wrong things that they end up hamstringing their own attempts to reach their goals. Because while it’s all well and good to focus on healthy/unhealthy, good/bad, clean/unclean or whatever, at the end of the day quantities always count. When people lose sight of that and focus on the wrong aspects exclusively, they often end up hurting their own progress. This paper just points out one way that this happens.

I’ll finish by pointing interested readers to a book by the paper’s author titled The Dieter’s Paradox: Why Dieting Makes Us Fat that addresses not only this research but a great deal of other research looking at similar issues. How humans tend to categorize foods into good and bad and how it can lead them to make a lot of really weird assumptions about what they are actually eating. It was a pretty fascinating read and shows how many different ways we can end up screwing our own progress by relying on our (often incorrect) intuition, primarily by focusing on the wrong factors that are relevant to what we are eating.
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Old 05-04-2012, 10:25 AM   #9
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You're getting to "featherweight" status - you can't expect to lose as quickly as people who are just starting out and have 100 pounds to lose!

Lift heavy weights - after a month of that and only watching what I eat M-F I've lost a pants size and my arms look awesome. There are a lot of posters around here who have gone down 2-3 pants sizes without losing many pounds through building muscle.
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Old 05-04-2012, 10:26 AM   #10
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I've done it before. I did it following the Rapid Fat Loss guide by Lyle McDonald-had regular periods, doctor didn't notice anything and I could go back to upping my cals just fine. I don't do it for more than a few weeks at a time, then I get close to my regular cal intake for a while, and then if I want a rapid boost, I go back on it.
But maybe I did suffer some health problems, I don't know. I have to admit-I was told that my skin never looked better and my hair was/is much more normal - but that is probably because I switched from my Nutella diet to eating more protein and veg. I do know that mentally, I felt OK when I did it the healthiest way possible (not that this is healthy or unhealthy, but the best way possible for me).
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Old 05-04-2012, 10:38 AM   #11
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kelseyvc - thanks for starting this topic, because it really applies to me right now. I am having the same temptation that you are concerning intermittent crash dieting because the scale just isn't going down even though I am sticking to my calories and keeping things low sugar and low carb.

kaplods - your reply really spoke to me and is a great reminder why crash dieting doesn't work - because there is always the inevitable binging that comes after severe food restriction.

I suppose I expected to have reached my goal already - it's been one year that I have actively been on plan and trying to lose weight. It's frustrating that I am still 30 pounds away and I feel like my progress has stalled. I will continue to stay on my plan and hope that my persistence is more stubborn than my fat in the long run.
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Old 05-04-2012, 12:05 PM   #12
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I suppose I expected to have reached my goal already - it's been one year that I have actively been on plan and trying to lose weight. It's frustrating that I am still 30 pounds away and I feel like my progress has stalled. I will continue to stay on my plan and hope that my persistence is more stubborn than my fat in the long run.
Just don't forget that as your weight changes, your plan also needs to change. What worked for you in terms of calories and excersise 20 pounds ago will likely not work for you now. Don't be afraid to shake things up!
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Old 05-04-2012, 03:45 PM   #13
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JossFit - I have changed the kinds of calories I am consuming over the past few months. However, as was mentioned earlier, I think I need to go back over some basics and revise. For example, I am not thirsty when the weather is colder. It's been cold for the past few weeks. Going over my water intake, I see that I haven't been meeting my minimum goal of 8 cups of water per day. Also, I have a cheat day every week. However, in the past my cheat days were going over calories and carbs, but not eating ridiculously unhealthy foods. The past few weeks, my cheat days have been eating not only over calorie allotments, but also nutritional content (candy, cakes, breads, etc.). So, the scale goes up every weekend, and gets back down to where I began by Friday. It's a regular weekly cycle now. I know what I have to do to break it, but I don't want to give up my off-plan day.
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Old 05-04-2012, 04:05 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by guacamole View Post
Also, I have a cheat day every week. However, in the past my cheat days were going over calories and carbs, but not eating ridiculously unhealthy foods. The past few weeks, my cheat days have been eating not only over calorie allotments, but also nutritional content (candy, cakes, breads, etc.). So, the scale goes up every weekend, and gets back down to where I began by Friday. It's a regular weekly cycle now. I know what I have to do to break it, but I don't want to give up my off-plan day.
I do the exact same thing. I have a cheat day every Saturday (which sometimes spills over into Sunday ) and then it usually takes until Thursday or Friday to lose that weight (usually just water weight). I am still losing, but it's slowed my weight loss down for sure. In past weight loss attempts, I'd lose 2-2.5lbs a week, and I'm now losing 0.5-2lbs a week. Still a good amount though, but I know if I gave up the cheat day (or had it once a month instead of once a week) I might lose a little faster...but that cheat day really helps keep me in check during the week. So without it, I think I'd be a lot less happy, and more inclined to binge.
Sorry for rambling!
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Old 05-04-2012, 04:07 PM   #15
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"Crash diet" and "sustainable weight loss" are not phrases that belong in the same sentence.

Crash diets do not work. Ever. They might work in the short term, sure...but they do NOT create sustainable weight loss. They just don't. They set you up for failure. That's just how it is.

You can participate in all the crash dieting you want, but if you go into it thinking you might even have a chance at sustainable weight loss over the long term, you're fooling yourself big time. And that's without even getting into the health risks that can arise through crash dieting.

Really. Crash dieting? Is stupid. Don't do it.
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