Diet Myth or Truth: Fasting Is Effective for Weight Loss

Dangers of Fasting for Weight Loss

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Some plans allow a few solid foods, but are still called fasts because they provide so few calories. Not all fasts are created equal.

Some can be perfectly safe, such as medical fasts supervised by a physician. Religious and cultural fasts are typically undertaken as an act of devotion, last from hours, and are not intended to promote weight loss.

Fasts lasting a day or two are unlikely to be dangerous for most healthy adults. But high-risk people, the elderly, anyone with a chronic disease, pregnant women, and children are advised against any type of fasting. The real danger lies in staying on the fast for prolonged periods, anywhere from three days to a month. When you dramatically reduce your calorie intake, you will lose weight. But it can also cause all kinds of health problems, including muscle loss.

Further, when you start fasting, your body goes into conservation mode, burning calories more slowly. Keep in mind that the initial weight lost on a fast is primarily fluid or "water weight," not fat. And when you go back to eating, any lost weight usually gets a return ticket back.

Not only do most people regain weight lost on a fast, they tend to add a few extra pounds because a slower metabolism makes it easier to gain weight. Worse, the weight that is regained is likely to be all fat -- lost muscle has to be added back at the gym.

Side effects of fasting include dizziness , headaches , low blood sugar , muscle aches, weakness , and fatigue. Prolonged fasting can lead to anemia , a weakened immune system, liver and kidney problems, and irregular heartbeat.

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