In case you hadn’t heard, humans need food to live.
Intermittent fasting, the latest in weight loss trends, has taken a turn for the extreme. Dieters are attempting long-term versions of intermittent fasting by starving themselves for days at a time, replacing food with excess water to fill their stomachs.
Bloating oneself with water has sometimes been used to stave off hunger pangs by those forced to endure extended periods of starvation. Now, however, this has been adopted into American diet culture, as some misguided dieters use the technique to help deal with starving themselves.
Elan Kels, your classic yo-yo dieter, recently described how he came to attempt such an extreme regimen. “I tried a million diets and failed a million diets,” Kels told the New York Post. “The diets that used to work for me don’t work for me anymore.”
What Kels didn’t know is that diets very seldom work for anyone — according to comprehensive, large-scale studies, the weight comes back for 97 percent of all dieters. Kels’ inability to lose weight is par for the course, since many dieters’ bodies respond to periods of perceived famine (e.g., diets) with rebound weight gain. Their bodies re-gain more weight than was lost in order to prepare just in case another “famine” strikes.
This is precisely what happened to Elan Kels. The man had grown to 285 pounds — his highest weight yet.
In desperation, Kels attempted intermittent fasting, a popular diet trend that involves periods of restricting food intake followed by periods of eating within a discrete time window. Weight loss during intermittent fasting is generally slow — and there have not been adequate studies conducted to evaluate whether weight regain occurs within a five-year period, as is the case with most diets. In many cases, diets are studied only in the short term, creating the illusion that the diet “works” and helps people lose weight.
Kels did not know this, however, and he was desperate — not exactly keen on waiting for this slow weight loss to drudge along. He scoured weight loss blogs and Reddit for something new to try, and found water fasting.
“The idea is: You could do it as long as you have fat on your body, and that’s what gives you energy,” he says. At its core, this is not a novel concept. Your body will continue to “eat” the fat on your body for energy until you run out and die — or until you start eating again, your metabolism adjusts, and you slowly gain the weight back. That’s the rebound.
However, you will likely feel terrible for most of the time you’re not eating food, according to several experts who spoke with the New York Post.
“It can be so bad for your organs,” said Joanne Labiner, an eating disorder specialist. “That’s why people with anorexia can die of a heart attack. Their body feeds on their heart.”
“The longer you [fast], the more risks you take,” Dr. Jason Fung, a kidney specialist who actually advocates fasting in select cases, says. “One is refeeding syndrome, seen in people who are slender already.” Refeeding syndrome is described by the National Institutes of Health as a shift in fluids and electrolytes once eating again commences. This shift is caused by severe metabolic and hormonal disruption caused by extreme fasting, and can be fatal.
Additionally, and perhaps more jarringly, intentional weight loss of over 20 pounds — regardless of whether the patient was initially obese — actually increases mortality risk according to some studies, rather than improving overall health.
Kels attempted a water fast for 47 days. At day 28, he could barely get out of bed, and abandoned the project.
He lost 55 pounds on the diet and has gained back half so far — which Fung admits he often sees with patients who attempt fasting.
Starvation diets should really not be the next big thing people try to lose weight. They not only don’t work, but are really dangerous — the whole “less food, less fat” logic is a myth that desperately needs to be busted.
(Via The Daily Meal)