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The Potential Hazards of Extreme Weight-Loss Strategies

June 17, 2014 by NCSF 0 comments

In a culture that seeks instant gratification, personal trainers must often cater to clients who desire to lose weight and lose it now. Clients requesting assistance in rapid weight loss must be educated on how the body functions as well as its adaptation responses. Clients must also be made aware of the processes behind physiological changes and the increasing potential for negative physical and psychological side-effects once the safe threshold of 1-2 lbs lost per week is surpassed. Remember, losing just one pound in a week requires a negative caloric balance of at least 500 kcals per day. Let’s consider the request of losing 10 lbs in a month – what is the client really asking to accomplish? In theory, he or she can only attain this goal if a 35,000 kcal deficit is expedited over the course of that month. This equates to ~1,166 kcals per day; even if split evenly between exercise and nutritional modification, daily demands would stand at limiting food consumption by ~580 kcals while also burning ~580 kcals via structured exercise. One less meal per day could be consumed while performing additional voluntary work equal to about a 6-mile run. This is undoubtedly a challenging combination in any respect. While proper exercise prescription in conjunction with well-guided nutritional modifications can procure notable weight loss in a relatively short time period, some clients demand losses that are clearly unhealthy and may even resort to extreme measures to attain their goal.

Common extreme rapid weight loss strategies

The above extreme measures usually have a negative impact on health as well as performance, while minimizing relative fat loss (except for liposuction). Essentially, trying to lose weight too quickly usually results in a severe dehydration with a significant reduction glycogen stores. These results limit training capacity, reduce the body’s ability to oxidize fat, and promote immunosuppression. Additional negative effects associated with extreme weight loss measures include losses in lean mass, a reduction in plasma and central blood volume, decreased myocardial efficiency, increased core temperature and resting heart rate, the potential for altered hormone status, reduced muscle strength and power, electrolyte imbalances and associated muscle cramping, mental fatigue and sleepiness, headaches, mood swings, reduced cognition and vigor, a reduction in VO2max, reduced time-to-exhaustion during aerobic activities, and poor anaerobic performance. Long-term caloric restriction may also lead to other chronic health issues/diseases such as osteoporosis, muscle atrophy, lowered bone mineral density, abnormal growth and development, anemia, heart damage, and an increased risk for developing severe eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa.

The negative impact of extreme weight loss is clear. Nonetheless, personal trainers should be familiar with safe and effective techniques for addressing both sides of the energy equation to expedite the greatest weight loss possible for zealous clients - without endangering health and performance. A goal of about 1 pound of weight loss per week is reasonable and can be attained by most healthy individuals. This method ensures that weight loss will chiefly be in the form of fat rather than metabolic tissues, water and glycogen stores.

Trainers should be able to recognize the signs and symptoms associated with extreme weight loss techniques, such as dehydration, and educate their clients on healthy alternatives for superior long-term effects. Trainers should monitor rapid fluctuations in weight from session to session or week to week, and document any unusual behaviors that may indicate extreme weight-loss techniques are being employed outside of the gym. Trainers must recognize that clients have access to a plethora of poor advice on the internet; and furthermore, extreme behaviors may indicate dangerous psychological issues such as eating disorders. Being cognizant of these issues can assist trainers in making proper decisions regarding appropriate intervention strategies or even referrals to a mental health profession or registered dietician as needed.


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