By Jordan Freisleben and Emily Khaykin
Right after waking up, Alicia â11* walked into her bathroom and stepped on the scale. As she looked down, the scale read that she was more than 20 pounds lighter than she was just a few months earlier.
Alicia achieved these results through crash dieting, severely reducing her calorie intake to one meal a day.
According to Mary Donkersloot, a Beverly Hills nutritionist, although crash dieting might seem beneficial, in the short run it can eventually lead to an obsession with food.
“[Crash dieting] is not productive,” Donkersloot said. “You can go from starving yourself to gulping down food.”
During the four weeks of extreme dieting, Alicia was eating between 600 and 800 calories a day, less than half of the recommended daily allowance of 2,000 calories by the United States Department of Agriculture.
“People donât get fat when they eat when theyâre hungry,” Donkersloot said. “People gain weight when they eat when they shouldnât be.”
When crash dieting, bodies first lose nutrients and water, according to Donkersloot. One nutrient that tends to be depleted first is glycogen, a molecule produced by the liver that stores glucose, or sugar, for later use.
“For every one gram of glycogen lost, you also lose two grams of water,” said Donkersloot, which results in severe dehydration.
“When people lose glycogen, it creates an illusion,” Donkersloot said, “from food we get both nutrients and water, and when they start eating again, they will gain glycogen again. This will cause them to gain all the weight back, and maybe even more.”
According to Wellsphere.com, a health and wellness website sponsored by Stanford University, “only five percent of crash dieters will be successful at keeping the weight that they lost off.”
Crash dieting, although more prevalent in girls, is done by boys as well, Counselor Luba Bek said.
“Guys crash diet, too, but more often for different reasons,” Bek said, “like for a wrestling tournament.”
In addition to inefficiency in weight loss, crash dieting can affect oneâs performance, Donkersloot said.
“When people go on crash diets, it becomes increasingly hard to concentrate and focus, it also makes you irritable and cranky,” said Donkersloot.
“I was really irritable [when I crash-dieted] because I was always hungry,” Alicia said.
Although Alicia only crash dieted for a few months, long-term crash dieting can have serious side-effects.
“Long-term crash dieting can affect your heart and your hair will start to fall out among other things,” Donkersloot said. “You can become obsessive about certain things, as well as less spontaneous.”
About two months into her crash diet, Alicia noticed some adverse effects.
“I lost my period for a while, because I was underweight for [someone with my body type],” she said. “My mom and I also noticed that I had gotten really pale.”
Crash dieting can also disrupt sleeping patterns, Donkersloot said.
“Thereâs no deep psychological meaning to [crash-dieting],” Bek said, but Alicia said that while she crash dieted, she felt a change in her self-image.
“Clinically, itâs a control thing,” Alicia said. “I wanted to look like a model, and it was stupid because I wasnât taking my actual body shape into consideration.”
Alicia turned to crash-dieting after her doctor had told her that she was overweight.
“I didnât know any other way to diet, no other way had ever worked for me,” she said. “I wanted to lose the weight quickly.”
People choose to crash diet frequently before public events, like semiformal and Prom.
“These events are the one occasion where they [girls] want to look like a million bucks,” said Bek, “and sometimes girls really like a dress and it only happens to be in one size.”
Donkersloot recommends that the best way to lose weight is to become structured with your eating habits, instead of being a “chaotic eater.” She suggests that people eat every three to four hours.
Alicia regrets crash-dieting, believing that it was completely ineffective.
“It was a waste of time, I gained it all back and more,” she said. “It was stupid because not only did I gain all of the weight back, but [crash-dieting] gives you more emotional problems.”
Donkersloot suggests that the best way to lose weight and keep it off is by reducing your daily calorie intake by 500 calories with regular exercise. And since one pound is roughly equal to 3500 calories, at this rate a person will be able to lose one pound per week.
In all, Donkersloot suggests that instead of crash dieting, people should “change their eating habits, not stop eating altogether.”
“When you crash-diet, you start gauging your self-worth by weight and by the number you see on a scale,” Alicia said.
*Name changed upon request