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Liquid Diets: Fabulous Fad or Fanciful Fraud?

Updated on September 19, 2018
S E Hurst PhD profile image

S E Hurst graduated from the University of Tennessee with a PhD in Comparative and Experimental Medicine in 2012.

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It seems like every time I delete the contents of my SPAM folder I find several junk emails about liquid diets, colon cleanses, etc. I also notice my friends constantly posting the latest link to a new liquid diet or health cleanse on Facebook or pinning pictures of girls/women who lost 10 pounds in 1 week using such and such liquid diet plan on Pinterest. While these diets can help you lose a few pounds of weight over the course of a couple of days, you'll probably regain the weight quickly, and probably more than you originally lost once you return to a “normal” solid food diet. Additionally, it’s risky to follow a liquid fasting cleansing diet, and there's no medical evidence for the purported cleansing benefits. Sorry to burst everyone’s bubble.

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No Quick Fixes When It Comes to Health

I can’t stress enough that there is no quick fix to healthy weight loss; if there was, I would have found it by now. The #1 prescription for healthy and long term weight loss and increased fitness is diet and exercise. This doesn’t mean that you can only consume lettuce and water for the rest of your life (I would die of starvation) or that you have to spend hours a day in the gym (1 to 2 hours is enough, thank you), it simply means that one must practice moderation (have a donut, not a dozen) and be physically active instead of stationary (take the stairs, park farther away, shake your booty, etc.).

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Liquid Diets Are Sometimes Necessary

There is a lot of conflicting discussions about liquid diets and their validity. Medical professionals do sometimes prescribe liquid diets for situations that warrant the restriction of liquid intake, but only for a short period of time. Some illnesses, especially the inflammatory bowel diseases, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, may be helped by periods of bowel rest with a liquid diet. Moreover, a liquid diet is often prescribed before surgical procedures or other situations where the gastrointestinal system needs to be cleared out. Think of the dreaded colonoscopy. Liquid diets, along with agents to speed emptying of the bowels, provide better surgical conditions and reduce the risk of infection if bowel contents enter the abdominal cavity during the surgery. In these situations, a liquid diet will be prescribed for about 12 to 24 hours prior to the exam or procedure, along with the medicine to help clear out the intestines. It should be noted that the instructions for this usually would specify a CLEAR liquid diet, or fluids that are clear or see-through. If you want to scare or confuse you doctor, drink clear brightly colored liquids like Kool-Aid. These liquids stain the mucosa of the intestinal walls and red can look like blood on exam. Also, whether you were on a liquid diet prior to a surgery, you may be afterwards during recovery. This is especially true for major surgery on the gastrointestinal system. Often, after a day or two of clear liquids, you will advance to a full liquid diet that includes dairy products or nutrient shakes. Yummy!

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Another reason I believe liquid diets have become so popular (other than celebrity endorsements) is that for some liquid diets are used for rapid weight loss. For example, select patients under carefully supervised conditions, are prescribed a liquid diets to promote rapid weight loss instead of, or in addition to, weight loss surgery. Think of bariatric patients weighing over 500 and 600 pounds. Liquid diets generally involve severe calorie restriction and potential nutrient deficiency. In situations like this as well as all those 2 week wonders, weight lost has a high likelihood of returning. Therefore, like all things health-related, these diets should only be undertaking under the supervision of a doctor and/or a nutrition professional.

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Lifestyle Changes Required to Lose Weight

In closing, if true weight loss is what you want, liquid diets aren’t the way to go. Calorie restriction i.e. dieting is more about maintaining a new lifestyle than about temporarily slashing calories to lose weight. Several studies have shown that extreme calorie restriction via liquid diets can increase the rate of aging and lead to severe health consequences including constant hunger pangs, reduced muscle mass, reduced ability to perform exercise, menstrual irregularities, fertility problems and increased sensitivity to cold. Moreover, people following liquid diets often become fatigued, lightheaded and dizzy, and experience headaches, sudden dips in blood pressure, and low blood sugar levels. Constipation is also a common complaint.

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Eat and Live Smarter

Furthermore, regardless of your health goals, daily calorie intake should never drop below about 1,200 calories per day. If you consume less than 1,200 calories, your body will more likely to enter starvation mode and you are much more likely to experience nutritional deficiency problems. If one of your goals in eating a calorie restricted diet is to lose weight, most experts recommend cutting no more than about 500 to 1,000 calories per day, or about 1 to 2 lbs. per week. Bottom line, eat and live smarter, not smaller!


References

Caban, A. (2015). "7 Reasons Why: The Pre-surgery Bariatric Liquid Diet". Retrieved from http://www.angelcabanmd.com/7-reasons-pre-bariatric-surgery-liquid-diet/

"Can the Liquid Diet Help You Drop Pounds & Lose Weight?" (3 January 2018). Retrieved from http://coreshiftapp.com/articles/can-liquid-diet-help-drop-pounds-lose-weight/

Lehman, S. "What is a Full Liquid Diet and When is It Used?"(29 March 2018). Retrieved from https://www.verywellfit.com/what-you-can-eat-on-a-full-liquid-diet-2507157


© 2018 Sarah Hurst

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