Workout Wednesday: 5 Fad-Diet Behaviors That Actually Hurt Your Body

Wanting to improve your body and your overall health is a great aspiration and a worthy goal, especially when you decide to do so for the right reasons, such as making yourself happier, and not to fit in with someone else’s standards of what health or beauty should look like.

When setting goals, the natural inclination is to look for the methods that will allow you to accomplish these goals in an efficient and effective way. The problem is that today, even before we go looking for ways to lose weight or become healthier, we are bombarded with advertisements, suggestions, and a million contradictory claims of success by the hoards of companies and people out there who use other people’s health goals to make more money.

What most people aren’t thinking about when they jump on these offers promising better health and a slimmer figure in just a matter of days or weeks are the long-term effects on their bodies.  We are each given one body for life, and it is our individual responsibility to care for them in the best way that we possibly can. For this reason, I think it’s important to know the implications of some of the main dieting trends which sell “better bodies” at the price of more than just money:

1.    Diet pills. Honestly, diet pills make me angry, and advertisements for diet pills make me even angrier.  Advertisements for diet pills sell you images of overweight men and women who are ashamed of their bodies until they try these new diet pills and suddenly they become tanned, oiled, muscular gods and goddesses with six pack abs and enough extra energy to run up and down beaches in slow motion all day


According to many studies on the side-effects of diet pills, which can be found cited in and linked to this article, many diet pills can and will make you lose weight, usually for a period of about six months, or until your body becomes resistant to the effects of the medicine and the weight loss slows to a stop.  The major problems come from the mechanisms by which the pills make you lose weight, including blocking fat absorption and shedding extra calories.  Whenever you hear an advertisement for a supplement that will make you lose weight “without changing your diet or exercise habits,” a red flag should automatically be flying in your head because this is not how natural weight loss occurs! The pills disrupt the normal function of your body, especially in the digestive system, and can reduce your body’s ability to absorb necessary nutrients from your food and to digest your food properly, which can result in cramping, ulcers, constipation, diarrhea, and all sorts of other terrible tummy troubles. They can also speed up your heart rate and raise your blood pressure, putting you at risk for cardiac arrest and other cardiovascular problems.  If you’ve always though that weight loss pills seem too good to be true, you’re right!

2.    Intense caloric restriction.  Although it doesn’t involve putting extra substances into your body, extreme limitation of the calories you eat each day or of the time frames in which you allow yourself to eat is dangerous to both the body and the mind.  I even saw a diet program advertised the other day in which people only allowed themselves a five-hour frame of time in which they could eat each day, such as from 2-7pm, for example, and the rest of the day was spent fasting. Not only does this affect your metabolism and force your body to access sugars stored in your liver and muscle for use as energy when your food is long gone and digested (causing breakdown of muscle when fasting continues for an extended period of time), but it also fosters the development of an unhealthy mindset that can easily lead to eating disorders and negative attitudes about food.

3.    Over-exercising. Did you know that the American Heart Association’s recommended weekly exercise regimen is “at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week, and moderate to high intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 or more days per week for additional health benefits?” Exercising more than this recommendation isn’t necessarily bad for you by any means, but it is important to recognize the fact that our bodies have limits, and that it isn’t necessary or beneficial for everyone to exercise for an hour every single day—in fact this can cause muscle and tissue damage in some individuals.  The main guideline is to honor your body and the way you feel on a daily basis, and to make an exercise schedule for yourself that you can actually enjoy.  The last thing you want to do is to mentally turn exercise into a punishment for eating; in that case it will always be miserable.

4.    “Detox”/cleansing programs. I once heard of some people I knew trying a new “detox” diet where all they consumed was a mixture of water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper for ten straight days.  The purpose was to apparently cleanse the body of excess toxins and to lose weight.  First off, the body is an amazingly fine-tuned system that is dependent on a delicate balance of substances, and this delicate balance will be completely thrown off by these “detoxifying” diets.  This will likely lead to stomachaches, low energy, and digestive problems.  Additionally, the weight lost from these programs is nearly all stool and water weight, which will be immediately regained once the normal diet is resumed. If you’re feeling sluggish and like you want to give your body and fresh start, try eating meals high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fiber and avoid all fast foods and processed/packaged foods for a few days and you’ll be amazed at the difference.

5.    Thinking that losing weight is an endeavor to be taken on alone.  This is perhaps the biggest lie of them all! It always seems to me that when people want to lose weight, they don’t see it as something serious enough to ask a professional about, but rather they take the burden up and set out looking for the best solution all on their own.  It doesn’t have to be that way, and it shouldn’t!  When dramatically changing your diet or exercise patterns, take the extra 1 hour (maximum!) to call your doctor or schedule an appointment with a nutritionist. He or she can help you figure out the most effective and the safest methods for your body and your specific case.  And remember that lemon juice detox diet I mentioned earlier? It has citrus levels much higher than the average person consumes on a daily basis and could interfere with certain medications.  The safest and smartest route to changing your habits is to get the OK from a doctor or nutritionist who knows your medical history first.

Starting in the right place will help you to know what is safe and what isn’t, Get started on the right track, knowing that you always have an ally if you need additional help.

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation staff members. Each Wednesday we’ll be swapping blog posts with the Tarheel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on

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