A little over a month before her wedding in 2021, Anjana Mohan (name changed), a Kerala-based researcher, was faced with snide remarks about her weight – from both her friends and family.
'Aren’t you going to work out? Aren’t you going to go on a diet?'
"The questions were endless. Until then, I was neither comfortable nor uncomfortable with my body. But these questions made me want to shed a few kilos. So, I joined a gym."28-year-old Anjana Mohan to FIT
But weddings are a busy time, and naturally, Anjana found it very hard to work out every day. "Before I knew it, there were only two weeks left before my wedding. So, I googled my options and decided to go on a crash diet."
That, however, did not end well for Anjana. After consuming just juices and fruits for 7-10 days, she was overcome by weakness a day before the wedding, causing her to vomit a few times, she recalls.
Anjana is probably not alone. Crash diets have emerged as a popular weight-loss option among brides over the years – a simple Google search throws up countless articles on 'how to shed kilos before the big day'.
But will they help in the long run? And what are the risks involved?
When FIT spoke to doctors and nutritionists, they all agreed on one thing – that crash diets are not the ideal way to go when it comes to weight loss, especially before your wedding.
"Weddings, in particular, are not a good time to make any sudden lifestyle changes – because you're already under a lot of pressure. But unfortunately, being fit is often confused with being thin – and occasions like these force people – especially women – to lose weight, no matter the cost," says Nidhi Mohan Kamal, a nutritionist and strength coach.
And a crash diet brings its own set of problems to the table, she adds.
What Exactly Are Crash Diets?
Crash diets are short-term diets. It's something that people opt for when they have to lose weight urgently and rapidly. More often than not, they are low-calorie diets.
There are different kinds of crash diets, like detox, juice diets, and GM diets. "But crash diets are usually mono diets – i.e., it's a diet plan involving the consumption of just one food item or food group for several days or weeks," explains Kamal.
It's not that crash diets are ineffective, say nutritionists; it may help one lose weight rapidly. But do the consequences outweigh the quick results?
Before we get into that, let's understand how the body loses weight when it's on a crash diet.
How Does the Body Lose Weight on a Crash Diet?
Your body's weight can be a factor of three things – water weight, fat, and muscle mass, explains Kamal. Ideally, any weight loss method should focus on burning fat and maintaining/increasing muscle mass – but fat-burning takes time.
So, what happens on a crash diet? "Since a crash diet is often a low-calorie diet, what it ends up doing is burn the water weight or the muscles (protein)," she says.
"Under low-calorie diets, the body thinks it's under starvation," says Shiny Surendran, a sports dietician based out of Chennai. "But because the body has to keep the organs running on low energy, it starts breaking the muscles and supplying the energy to all the organs."
For example, if a person needs 1,200 calories daily and they are getting only 500 to 600 calories, the deficit is offset by breaking the muscles.
"But what happens over time is that the muscle mass dwindles, and a person may face frequent injuries and joint pains. And because low calories may mean low nutrients, a crash diet may affect your skin, your hair, and even your mood," Surendran says.
What's more, once you stop the diet, you will instantly gain the lost weight (or more) back, she explains. That's also why crash diets are called 'yo-yo' diets.
But that's only the tip of the iceberg.
The Risks of a Crash Diet
Dr Manoj Kumar, director of Gastroenterology and Hepatobiliary Sciences at Fortis Hospital, Delhi, says that in any weight loss programme, the ideal amount of weight to lose is half a kilogram per week. In crash diets, however, a person may lose over one kilogram per week.
When there is rapid weight loss, it means the person is taking in less than 800 calories per day. This is not without consequence, he says.
According to Dr Kumar, these are some of the major side effects of a crash diet.
Weakness of muscles: As the body starts using up muscle mass, a person may feel weak in the muscles, which in turn, may affect their bone strength as well.
Nutrient deficiency: In a low calorie diet, the intake of essential nutrients like folic acid, vitamin B12, and iron will be less. And this may lead to intense fatigue, hair loss, skin issues, anaemia, and poor immune system.
Gallstone formation: If a person takes fewer calories, then the gallstone function is reduced. This leads to excess bile in the gallbladder. As a result, there will be a conglomeration of cholesterol particles in the gallbladder, which in turn causes gallstones.
Electrolyte imbalance: In these types of diets, electrolyte and mineral intakes might be low, and they may eventually lead to cardiovascular irregularities – and even heart attacks.
Metabolic changes: Your metabolic activity places a crucial role in weight loss. By taking fewer calories, you may cause your metabolism to slow down. And this may lead to hormonal changes.
Dehydration, irritability, muscle cramps, and constipation are some of the additional side effects, Dr Kumar says.
What's the Way Forward?
First, you should give yourself at least three to six months to lose weight, depending on how much you need to shed, says Surendran.
"And when you're on a diet, you need to eat smart," she adds. "The basic principle is what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and how often to eat. Eating a single type of food or not eating anything is not an option."
"And more importantly, you need to know how to navigate through festivals, functions, and vacations – because we're all human beings at the end of the day, and we will have temptations and cravings. There might be setbacks – suddenly you might get a viral fever or cold. You need to factor all of these in while planning your weight-loss journey."Shiny Surendran, Sports Dietician
Kamal, meanwhile, suggests that lifestyle changes need to be sustainable. "When you say 'going on a diet', it also means that you can 'go off it'. Eating healthy should be considered a long-term and permanent change – not something you can jump in an out of," she says.
She also says that it's important to consult an expert who looks at your profile holistically – and not just based on what's on the weighing scale. "You might have underlying issues like PCOS, hypothyroidism, etc. So, offering one type of diet plan to everyone will not work."
There needs to be attitudinal changes as well, says Surendran. "Most often, it is young women who come to me before their weddings – not men. I would say around 90% of the time, it's the bride," she says.
There are no two ways to say this – the pressure of looking a certain way is higher on women, especially during weddings.
"Even when women meet up before a wedding, questions are asked to the bride – how much have you lost, what dress are you wearing etc. It's a lot about that. But men, on the other hand, talk about stock markets and startups. So, our language itself is an issue."Shiny Surendran, Sports Dietician
Kamal concurs, saying that there's glamour associated with being in your best shape on your wedding day. "When every article you see on Google and every magazine you open have images of 'slim' brides, the pressure on you, as a woman, is higher. This may also be why women resort to crash diets," says Kamal.