By psychologist Sarah McMahon
With the onset of every summer, new trending diets crop up all over the place. These diets often are geared toward losing weight fast for beach season, Christmas and the forthcoming new year. I want to shed some light on some of the current dangerous dieting trends that can cause serious harm- and even kill you. If you are a “dieter” I really hope this article helps you to stop and reflect, and to move past the “weight loss at any cost” mentality. Whilst some of these diets may result in short term weight loss, it is at a HUGE cost to your health. Guaranteed, any weight loss will not be long term- the health costs will be. Trigger warning to anyone reading this who may be susceptible to internalizing and believing dieting messages.
ABC (Anorexics Boot Camp)
This diet has received a lot of attention lately. Unfortunately, some of it has been positive. Dieting like this is downright dangerous. The method was developed by former and current anorexics, saying that while hunger hurts, starving yourself is a good way to lose weight. By spreading it over the internet, these pro anorexics have reached the world with this plan. This sadly means that children have been affected by the craze and the “ABC Diet” is a named and known diet phenomenon in most Australian school playgrounds.
What people really need to understand about anorexia, is it is a mental illness, not a lifestyle choice, and not a dieting method. You can not “chose” to develop anorexia just as you can not “chose” to develop schizophrenia. And although anorexia is glamorised in the media, I don’t know anyone who suffers from it who would wish it on their best friend. Not only can this extreme dieting put you in a very poor psychological place, it can also tremendously affect your physical stability. According the National Center of Eating Disorders, even regulated anorexic tendencies can cause permanent damage. Here are some things that can happen, especially to underdeveloped people such as children:
● Massive organ failure, such as liver, stomach, and pancreas functions simply ceasing.
● Heart attacks.
● Brain shut down, including blackouts that may cause permanent brain damage.
● Other bodily failures associated with starvation and long term malnutrition.
What is especially scary here, is that official websites state some of this information openly, glossing over it as if it was a common side effect of dieting! There are also more than just physical side effects of encouraging this type of dieting, there are significant mental dangers. The pure obsession with becoming thin can drive these young people and adults over the edge, causing them to continue these dangerous eating habits well after they have made their goal or healthy weights. Some who have tried this diet have even gone so far as to say after a death related to the regime, “at least they died skinny.” This is both shocking and unhealthy.
Cotton Ball Diet
Some people will even go beyond simply starving themselves to get thin. This dangerous and foolish diet is known as the cotton ball challenge. Basically, by soaking a cotton ball in liquid (usually water or juice) you can trick your body into thinking it has had a full meal. This staves off some of the pain generally associated with starvation as malnutrition sets in. This has become especially common among teens, who while they wish to starve themselves for “beauty”, cannot stand the pains associated with hunger. This is dangerous for a few more reasons than the general starvation issues.
Models started this diet, according to some dietitians, because they wrongly believed that the cotton balls contain fiber. While they do in fact contain “fibers,” it is a totally different kind than what our bodies require for sustenance. Some other issues this diet can cause are blockages and the bursting of intestinal linings. These blockages are extremely painful, and do not even compare to hunger pangs. They can also lead to your stomach or intestines bursting, spreading feces and semi-digested food in your blood and body. Does this sound like it is worth losing a few pounds for?
Cleansing for health purposes has been hijacked as a dieting and weight loss phenomenon. Main stream diet products such as “the lemon detox diet”, essentially an expensive starvation diet that hijacks “health language” is proof of this. The danger of any “detox” or cleansing diet is that it takes a while for your body to absorb the correct nutrients from foods. This is part of the idea that a cleansing diet relies upon: if you cleanse right away, you are not ingesting all of the calories. On the same token, you are not absorbing any of the nutrient, minerals, and vitamins that are necessary for healthy living, and are not receiving any real nourishment from the food you are eating. But sure, you aren’t getting any of the calories. Maybe you are starting to see the dangerous trend in modern dieting habits here.
Like any of the other diets where you are not getting the calories in the meal, by not getting the nutrients, you are putting your body into “starvation mode.” This means that your body is leaching nourishment from its stores in other areas of the body, where it is less needed, but not unnecessary by any means. Women, especially need these additional stores of nutrients, as when hormones wax and wane, different amounts are absorbed by the body. This is part of what makes so called, starvation mode so dangerous. However, the modern dieting scene has made this seem like a good thing. Starvation is no longer something to be avoided and fought against, but a method to “looking great”, in some opinions.
K-E Bride Diet
One of the more physically repulsive diets that has become popular recently, especially with brides and summer beach goers, is the K-E diet. Brace yourself, this is going to make you go “ewww!” Basically, this diet involves sticking a tube up through your nose, and ingesting your diet through that. Awful right? Not according to dedicated dieters who say they have lost all the weight they could have wanted in just ten days. The fluid drip that must be left in for at least ten days to work, contains protein, fat, and water. It constantly drips through the nose.
Aside from having to carry a bag of fluid around attached to your nose, there are some marked dangers of this outrageous trend. Least among them are bad breath, almost no physical energy, and serious constipation. More dangerous side effects include kidney troubles, including in some cases, outright failure. Another diet that while outwardly gross and pretty weird, can cause death. Is losing weight that important to risk your life, and to have a tube poking out of your nose for ten days?
This diet “works” through a process known as keratosis, where because your body has no carbohydrates to draw energy from, it begins burning fat reserves. This sheds away fat, while leaving behind muscle mass. However, you cannot really continue to exercise healthily, as you will have little to no energy to work with. But you do not feel hungry. The solution gives your body something to gnaw away at, so the pangs of hunger do not distress you. Some “ancillary” side effects of this diet, are the possibility of dangerous infection, as you are sticking a tube up your nose, and the possibility of future eating disorders, as your body becomes used to this simpler method of ingesting nutrient.
The Tapeworm Diet
While this has become a little less common of late, it is still unfortunately used as a weight loss method. The sad truth is, that is not as common because it does not work, but because “eww eating a worm, that is gross”. The theory behind this diet, is that you can continue to eat the same amount, but the worm will digest half of it for you. This diet is much less common in America, where it originated, however it is still fairly common in Europe and Australia.
While the basic idea that the worm will digest some of your food is sort of true, there are many other side effects to allowing a ten foot worm reside in your intestines. Here are a few:
● Indigestion and other intestinal trouble.
● Malnutrition, particularly protein deficiencies.
● Bloating, including temporary “pot-bellied” appearance.
● Blockages that may lead to intestinal bursting.
The worst part is how you get the worm in and out of your body, that is, if everything goes according to plan. To ingest the tapeworm, doctors once prescribed the creature in pill form. These pills are now banned in most civilized areas of the world. Now you must get your tapeworms either from partially rotting meat or feces that have already been infected with these worms. Yes, you have to eat rotten meat or poop and yes, people are doing this in the name of dieting.
“Hopefully” the worm dies, it may have bred, making a bunch of little baby tapeworms, compounding the health risks and the weight loss. Either way, you will eventually have to pass the worm, meaning one day you may find your little (or not so little) intestinal friend in your feces. Sometimes, the worm has not even died by the time you have passed it.
So, as you can see, there are many disturbing dieting trends at present. The problem is, most of them can severely injure you- and even kill you. Is it worth activating permanent damage to lose a few kilograms? Particularly when we know that none of these diets will result in sustained weight loss and due to the body’s aim to maintain homeostasis, dieting methods need to become more and more extreme for further weight loss? I do hope you will consider just how far away from being healthy they really are. The best approach is to engage in a healthy relationship with food and exercise- your body weight will sit where ever it is supposed to be.