Published on May 23, 2022 by Cori Grămescu
More and more people find it increasingly difficult to manage their weight and stick to a healthy, balanced lifestyle, and turn, instead, to unhealthy ways to lose weight in a quest for rapid weight loss and effortless solutions.
While seeing rapid decrease in weight may be appealing at first, the price paid for such interventions is often high. Lack of energy, a troubled relationship with food, low self-esteem and inconsistency are all results of the unhealthy ways to lose weight that people use more often than you would imagine.
Throughout history we have rarely seen a large-scale interest in voluntarily reducing one’s body size and weight. That all changed once Mr. William Banting published his “Letters on Corpulence”, the first-ever published diet book, back in 1864. With that, the diet culture as we know it today started to evolve.
Young adults and teenagers are now more exposed than ever to unwell methods 1 to lose weight, as they face increasing pressure from social media and unlimited access to unfiltered and unverified information over the internet.
Here are some things you should know about some of the most common harmful ways to lose weight and some suggestions of better, healthier ways to act if you feel that you would like to modify your physical appearance.
Please keep in mind that most of us are conditioned to believe that we need to lose weight and modify our looks, but that is not always the case, nor should it be desirable at any cost.
Why do people look for dangerous ways to lose weight?
More than ever before, we are bombarded with unrealistic beauty standards, and the diet culture has even succeeded in implementing body trends. We are disconnected from our bodies, we are insecure and we compare ourselves against edited versions of strangers’ pictures in social media. We are conditioned to look for the best versions of ourselves and we are more exposed than ever before to our image through selfies, social media and editing apps.
At the same time, the modern lifestyle is too busy, too sedentary, too challenging for most people, so they often struggle to find balance.
Since building a healthy, balanced, flexible lifestyle may often seem too challenging and most people struggle with information overload over the internet, the unhealthy ways to lose weight may present a black and white, easy-to-understand approach.
All these so-called solutions are short-term by design, they promise fast results and people tend to disconsider the long-term risks in favor of immediate satisfaction.
We always tend to underestimate what 6-12 months of balanced, consistent choices can bring us, and severely overestimate what we can obtain with great effort in 1-2 months.
While there are many ways to lose weight, most of them have not been scientifically proven for long-term benefits.
We do know for a fact that a mild caloric deficit, constant physical activity and exercise, good quality sleep and eating a balanced diet consisting of mostly unprocessed ingredients that you enjoy is a great way to voluntarily lose weight and modify your physical appearance. But this kind of change in one’s habits requires long term effort and commitment.
Most of the interventions that focus on short-term, rapid weight gain present higher risk for health and wellbeing, but some of the most radical (and unfortunately, popular) ones are truly risky.
Whenever you are willing to take a health risk for the sake of desired short-term modifications in your weight and/or physical appearance, it becomes a harmful way to lose weight.
Whenever you prioritize the speed of desired results over long-term sustainability of those behaviors, you will not lose weight in a healthy way.
Whenever you realize that you could not sustain that kind of behavior for more than a couple of weeks/months, it becomes an unhealthy way to lose weight.
We refer to sustainable weight loss as a behavior and lifestyle change that you can maintain for 3-5 YEARS. So, keep that in mind next time you decide to alter something in your weight.
What are the effects of these unhealthy ways to lose weight?
The negative effects of such a decision depend on the number of times you resort to such aggressive lifestyle change. If you only try one or two of them once, you will most likely not face long-term consequences.
The biggest risk of these not recommended ways to lose weight comes from repeatedly applying them. Losing weight in an accelerated and unhealthy way often leads to rapid regain. This is known as yoyo dieting, or chronic dieting, and is one of the most causes of long-term weight gain and disordered eating behavior.
Repeatedly restricting calories reduces muscle mass and increases body fat percentage when the weight bounces back to its baseline level.
Another side effect of restricting entire food groups from your everyday diet is that digestion tends to slow down, and the lack of fiber contributes to constipation and an increase in digestive health risk.
Repeatedly forcing your body to lose weight or fit into a smaller size affects your self-esteem and also negatively affects your relationship with your body.
What are the most common unhealthy ways to lose weight?
“Both men and women report engaging in unhealthy weight control behaviors, although the evidence is likely an underestimate of reality given the self-report nature of surveillance. Despite attempts to control weight, those who engage in unhealthy dietary practices commonly weight-cycle and regain over time, show signs of depression, and have eating disorders: a trend that increases with rising body mass index (BMI) and disproportionately affects women.” 
Expecting fast results immediately to improve your motivation and dietary adherence.
A study from 2009 reported that “personal weight loss goals exceeded the medically advised goal by more than 50% in 49% of the participants in the study”. In the nutrition practice field, we often hear “I want to lose weight fast at first, because this will help me feel even more motivated” and this belief is often one of the main reasons dieters fail to adhere to a long-term dietary improvement. The same study cited above mentions: “This study confirms that discrepancies in weight-loss goals between obese patients and professionals occur frequently. Because unrealistic goals can hamper long-term outcomes of weight-loss programs, better outcomes could possibly be achieved by addressing unrealistic weight-loss goals before treatment.” 
Relying on immediate, visible results for motivation is similar to driving really fast on the highway to reduce the risk associated with long hours on the road. Building motivation for weight loss is a complex topic, that we have addressed in this article, and has more to do with self-esteem, self-care and consistently proving yourself that you can reach your goals, step by step, rather than aiming for some really high expectations from the very beginning of the process.
With diets, severely restricting calories, or food options at the beginning of a weight loss journey as a means to obtain motivating results reduces the likelihood of reaching desired weight goals in the long run.
Most dieters, especially younger populations, are affected by this situation and fail to create a sustainable, healthier habit change.
However, setting several intermediate targets that are achievable can lead to improved weight loss and dietary adherence, even in the case of unrealistic initial first goals. 
Using guilt and negative self-talk as a motivator
Many of the people struggling with weight loss accelerate their efforts in an attempt to feel less bad about themselves. One of the best-known messages in the diet world sounds like “Losing weight is hard, being fat is hard. Choose your hard”. What is disguised as a motivating line is, in reality, a dichotomous and catastrophic message that pushes dieters to consider only two outcomes to their life, both being negative and unpleasant. In reality, there are several possible outcomes to any situation, and with dietary improvement processes things can evolve in unexpected ways. One could find peace in a body acceptance journey and disengage from their objective to reduce their weight or could adhere to a community that offers genuine support and encouragement and grow to actually enjoy the process of regaining control over their body shape and dietary patterns.
Guilt plays a big part in the “motivational messages” that come across the diet world, where many dieters try to “earn their calories” with exercise as a result of guilt associated with eating.
However, using negative self-talk for the current state or guilt for past actions rarely leads to a positive result. We may feel intense bursts of motivation to change following such episodes, but the negative self-perception damages our resources for healthy choices, as mentioned in a study: “There is a large body of evidence showing that self-criticism has a negative effect on mental health and well-being. A recent study revealed that self-criticism is associated with shame, negative self-perceptions and emotions related to weight, which has a negative association with self-regulation of eating behaviors.” 
Severely restricting calories for immediate results
Using very low-calorie diets for immediate weight loss showed good results for short interventions in a study from 2005.  Most commercial weight loss plans can be characterized as very low-calorie diets, since they usually provide around 800 kcal daily.
However, the side-effects associated with severely restricting calories are serious, ranging from gallstones to disordered eating and depression, and long-term benefits or results were not observed.
“Long-term maintenance of weight lost with VLCDs is not very satisfactory and is no better than with other forms of obesity treatment.” 
While losing weight fast may be appealing to dieters, severely restricting calories for rapid weight loss is, in fact, one of the unhealthiest ways to lose weight.
Severely restricting carbs for rapid weight loss
Low- carb or no-carb diets have become more popular in recent years, due to their observed rapid results in short term interventions. Studies have shown that, indeed, when observed for 3-6 weeks, diets that restrict carbohydrate intake can help dieters lose a couple more pounds, compared to more balanced diets. However, when measured for 3-6 months and more, all diets provide similar results for similar caloric deficits.
Dieters embarking in low carb or no carb diets report, however, increased risk of constipation and reduced dietary compliance, increased binging behavior and guild associated with eating.
Using detoxes as a means to lose weight fast
Despite being commercially available, detoxes have yet to prove their usefulness for improved health and they tend to be used as a proxy for weight loss.
Designed as vegan pressed juices, sometimes enriched with various herbs and supplements, such detox diets lack essential nutrients and fail to provide enough energy for adults.
More so, the human body is notoriously unresponsive to detoxes, as the body’s natural mechanisms of detoxification function optimally without any intervention. If they didn’t, we would get sick or even die, as they manage some of the most sensitive metabolic pathways in our liver and kidneys.
Most people who follow detoxes for rapid weight loss embark in the same trap of very low-calorie diets or liquid fasts, both being inefficient for long term weight loss and dangerous for immediate wellbeing.
Trading meals for protein shakes and protein bars
Replacing main meals with protein shakes or protein bars may offer a temporary solution to people who want to restrict calories.
The practice of swapping meals with supplements is, however, not recommended as most of these products fail to provide the body with sufficient amounts of fiber, carbohydrates or healthy fats.
Also, reducing or skipping meals to cut off calories does increase cravings and hunger. It also promotes an unhealthy and unbalanced dietary pattern, where the following meal often exceeds the caloric deficit created by using protein shakes or protein bars for rapid weight loss.
Trading water for “weight loss tea”, a proxy for laxatives
Heavily promoted in the last decade, slimming teas and drinks were advertised as an alternative to water that helps you lose weight.
However, most of these herbal formulas are either laxatives or diuretics, and should not be used regularly, let alone as a water alternative.
While some weight loss may be visible due to excessive bowel movement and dehydration, slimming teas remain some of the unhealthiest ways to lose weight.
Long term consumption of weight loss teas is associated with side effects similar to those of laxative abuse disorder: cramping, nausea, diarrhea, weakened colon, constipation, reduced potassium levels and dependency on such products.
The FDA does not recognize any slimming teas as being effective for weight loss, making slimming or weight loss teas some of the unhealthiest ways to lose weight.
Drinking excessive amounts of water to curb down appetite
The fitness word, this time, gave us another unhealthy way to lose weight. During “cutting” phases – intervals of time where bodybuilders engage in weight loss behavior to reduce subcutaneous fat – they rely on large amounts of water to help them manage hunger.
However, hydrating above the body’s water needs can lead to demineralization. Particularly, low potassium levels in the body cause cramps, muscle weakness and, in severe cases, seizures. Overhydration may also cause nausea, headaches, confusion, and disorientation.
Exercising for hours to burn calories
A method that was popularized by TV weight loss contests, exercising vigorously for hours in an attempt to lose weight is another unhealthy way to address the issue.
Overtraining syndrome causes significant fatigue, hormonal imbalances and, in severe cases, can increase the risk of injury.
Another notorious problem with overtraining comes from the body’s adaptation to effort. Simply put, the more advanced you are with your fitness training, the less calories you burn during exercise, resulting in decreased calorie consumption over time.
While exercise is an amazing tool to lose weight, relying on exercise for rapid weight loss is inefficient and unhealthy.
Smoking for appetite suppression
This is probably the unhealthiest way to lose weight, as the risks associated with smoking are huge. Unfortunately, it is still used as a method to curb hunger and is usually more prevalent among young adults.
What are some healthier ways to lose weight?
Weight loss can be, however, achieved through a combination of moderate, personalized dietary intervention, improved exercise, and emotional work.
For long term success, repositioning one’s relationship with their bodies, self-care and a positive support circle tend to offer better chances for weight loss maintenance.
A moderate calorie deficit backed by improved eating habits also delivers good weight loss results. Gradually working on dietary habits creates a behavioral framework that improves the chances for long term weight management. Focus on improving your cooking skills and try out new flavors and recipes that are enjoyable and pleasant.
Moderate, but constant physical activity can improve body composition and glucose metabolism and contribute significantly to long term weight loss results. You will have better chances of success if you engage in workouts or activities that you enjoy and adhering to a like-minded community will provide the much-needed support and belonging.
When should you seek help if you tend to always look for unhealthy ways to lose weight?
If you find yourself constantly relapsing into such patterns or you feel like you are losing control around food, it may be a sign that you need more help. Troubled eating patterns may also look like intense negative feelings regarding your body or your person, low self-esteem, or lack of self-confidence.
All these situations can sometimes be better addressed with the help of a nutritionist, coach, or therapist. Try to reach out and focus on healing that part of yourself whenever you feel that you are overwhelmed or cannot find a way to address those problems. It is better to act faster, before the long-term side effects of such harmful ways to lose weight begin to manifest and permanently damage your relationship with food.
Although rapid weight loss can be appealing to dieters because are promise miraculous results in no time, in reality, often leads to long-term weight gain and disordered eating behavior. So, keep in mind next time you decide to alter something in your weight that a sustainable weight loss as a behavior and lifestyle change it could take some time. If you have tried these unhealthy weight loss methods and you are struggling with implementing a healthy and organized lifestyle, you will find in our app all the support you need from our nutrition coaches.
1.Ferraro, Zachary Michael et al. “Unhealthy weight control practices: culprits and clinical recommendations.” Clinical medicine insights. Endocrinology and diabetes vol. 8 7-11. 17 Feb. 2015, doi:10.4137/CMED.S23060
2.Wamsteker, Erika W et al. “Unrealistic weight-loss goals among obese patients are associated with age and causal attributions.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association vol. 109,11 (2009): 1903-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.08.012
3.Avery, A et al. “Setting targets leads to greater long-term weight losses and ‘unrealistic’ targets increase the effect in a large community-based commercial weight management group.” Journal of human nutrition and dietetics: the official journal of the British Dietetic Association vol. 29,6 (2016): 687-696. doi:10.1111/jhn.12390
4.Duarte, Cristiana et al. “The Impact of Self-Criticism and Self-Reassurance on Weight-Related Affect and Well-Being in Participants of a Commercial Weight Management Programme.” Obesity facts vol. 10,2 (2017): 65-75. doi:10.1159/000454834
5.H.A. Raynor, R.R. Wing, WEIGHT MANAGEMENT | Weight Maintenance, Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition (Second Edition), Elsevier, 2005, Pages 413-421, ISBN 9780122266942)
6.Atkinson RL, Dietz WH, Foreyt JP, et al. Very Low-Calorie Diets. JAMA. 1993;270(8):967–974. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03510080071034
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