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The human body is built to be a high-performance machine fueled by the highest-quality nutrition. From the basic processes of breathing and pumping blood to an all-out HIIT workout or marathon, we all need adequate calories from nutrient-rich foods to perform at our best, mentally and physically. Unfortunately, when weight loss is the goal, many clients lose sight of performance in favor of a number on the scale or the clothing sizes hanging in their closets. When this is the case, it can be tempting to adopt very-low-calorie and restrictive diets to lose big weight fast. This is when you may have to help your clients recognize the difference between hunger and starvation. 

It’s no secret that individual needs for calories, fat, carbohydrates and other nutrients vary, which reinforces the importance of providing clients with a meal plan designed by experienced registered dietitians. An expert meal plan is able to create the manageable calorie deficit needed for gradual and sustainable weight loss without resulting in symptoms of starvation. As clients’ bodies adjust to the calorie deficit, they may initially face some hunger pangs and cravings. With a nutrition-rich diet, and small meals comprised of adequate calories and macronutrients dispersed throughout the day, this hunger and similar side-effects of starting a new diet and exercise program won’t last long. 

When a very-low-calorie diet is what clients are following to lose more than the recommended 1 to 2 pounds per week, especially a fad diet lacking adequate nutrients, side-effects may not be so temporary. In fact, side-effects of a starvation diet may even become serious, affecting not only your clients’ results but also their health. Following a extremely restricted diet has been shown to result in:

-Increased eating when food is available
-Preoccupation with food and distractibility
-Increased cortisol production
-Impaired cognitive function
-Suppressed thyroid function
-Decreased energy 

Many of these troubling side effects were documented in one of the most comprehensive studies of how starvation can affect the human body, The Minnesota Starvation Experiment. Conducted during World War II, this study tracked physically and mentally healthy volunteers that followed a normal diet for three months, then a very restricted calorie diet for six months before gradually returning to an unrestricted diet. While most participants were eventually able to return to normal eating patterns, many also found themselves faced with difficulty controlling their appetites once they returned to an unrestricted diet. 

The truth is that starvation diets may result in rapid, short-term weight loss, but at a very steep price, both physically and psychologically. During the diet itself, clients are often unable to stay mentally focused and may find it difficult to keep up with day-to-day physical tasks, let alone a more strenuous fitness program. Once clients revert back to a nutritionally sound eating plan, it can be difficult to maintain weight loss due to an increased desire to eat and a lack of healthy habits developed during the course of the starvation diet. 

Real results are about more than the initial weight loss of a nutrition and fitness program. Success is a matter of developing long-term healthy habits while reaching a healthy weight through a nutritious diet and well-rounded fitness program. Help clients avoid the pitfalls and health risks of starvation diets when you work closely with them to follow a healthy and sustainable nutrition program designed by experts. 

References

Polivy, J. (1996). Psychological consequences of food restriction. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 96, 6, 589-592. 

American Dietetic Association (2009). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Weight Management. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 109, 2, 330-346. 

Rogers, P.J. (1999). Eating habits and appetite control: A psychobiological perspective. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 58, 1, 59-67. 

Tomiyama, A.J. et al. (2010). Low calorie dieting increases cortisol. Psychosomatic Medicine. 72, 4, 357-364. 

Weinsier, R.L. et al. (2000). Do adaptive changes in metabolic rate favor weight regain in weight-reduced individuals? An examination of the set-point theory. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 72, 5, 1088-1094. 

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