At the start of each year, a wave of weight loss advice hits your news feeds, TV, and social circles. Though your intentions may be good, and your motivation high, the execution of your weight-loss plan could throw your body for a dangerous loop. From fat-loss gimmicks to heavy promises of weight loss without working out, Heather Mangieri, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., helped us wade through the most common diet traps to identify the weight-loss tactics that pose the biggest threats to your overall health.
Diet Danger #1: Eliminating Essential Nutrients
While scaling back on specific macronutrients, like carbs or fat, may be key to successful weight loss, eliminating them completely won’t do you any favors. The body needs some carbohydrates for energy, and small amounts of healthy fat to aid the absorption of disease-fighting antioxidants. If you’re going the gluten-free, dairy-free, or vegetarian/vegan route, you’ve got to make up for the nutrients found in foods like whole-grain bread, low-fat milk or lean protein elsewhere in your diet. The smartest thing you can attempt to avoid altogether; sugar, says Mangieri.
Diet Danger #2: Running Too Low on Fuel
Not eating enough is one of the most health-hindering measures you can take when trying lose weight. “Eating too few calories makes it really hard to meet nutritional needs overall,” says Mangieri. “In the short term, you might see some weight loss, but over time you’ll experience a plateau. When you do go back to eating an appropriate amount of food, often times people end up gaining weight.” By cutting 500 to 1,000 calories per day from your normal caloric intake you could safely shed one to two pounds per week. However, drop below 1,500-1,000 calories a day for too long and you’ll enter the danger zone, putting yourself at risk for serious health problems, including malnutrition, fatigue, dehydration, and in extreme cases heart arrhythmias or even death.
What’s more, skipping meals only sets you up to binge later on. “Hunger is the no. 1 reason for diet failure,” says Mangieri. “If you don’t fuel by day, you’re setting yourself up for diet disaster during the evening.” Sure, it’s easy to stay on track with your eating plan during the day when the rest of your routine is structured, but the end of the day is the real challenge, so it’s best to make sure you’re not completely ravenous come nightfall. Mangieri’s best tip: Close the kitchen after dinner.