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Risks of Weight-Loss Programs

Updated on January 21, 2013

The promise of fast weight loss is hard to ignore. That's why over $30 million is spent every year in the diet industry.

But rapid and substantial weight loss is usually an illusion. And the programs that claim to deliver often pose unnecessary health risks.

Is Rapid Weight Loss Safe?

Health in the body comes from the right balance of eating and exercise, or ingoing calories verses the outgoing energy. It's a simple formula: eat a nutritious diet and get moving.

Unfortunately, there are many who don't have the patience or desire to take the traditional route. They want visible results in the least amount of time.

Desperation often leads to making bad choices, and weight loss programs are an area where this can easily happen. Ironically, striving too hard for physical beauty can exact a high physical price.

According to experts at Webmd, there are physical effects from trying to lose too many pounds too quickly. They range from troublesome to dangerous and include:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Hair Loss
  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition
  • Muscle Loss
  • Gallstones
  • Issues with the bones and heart


Some Popular Weight Loss Methods

There's always a new weight loss program to try. Here are some of the more popular ones and how they work:


Oolong or, as it's sometimes called, Wu long Tea has been touted recently as a healthy way to boost the metabolism and ward off food cravings. Some even claim that it prevents the absorption of carbohydrates, effectively keeping fat from staying in the body.

Caffeine does stimulate the body, slightly increasing the metabolic rate. And polyphenols in the tea that contain antioxidant qualities provide some heart-healthy nutrients.

But there is no conclusive proof that the drinking of tea will cause or aid significantly in weight loss. In fact, drinking the amount of tea per day that is recommended as part of a "diet" plan (up to 3 per day) could bring on sleeping difficulties or jitteriness.

Low-calorie Diets

Sometimes called VLCDs (very low calorie diets), these diets aim for a daily total of between 800 and 1500 calories. Medical professionals prescribe this mainly for people who are facing serious physical problems because of obesity.

Highly restricted caloric intake over a period of time, especially without adding in needed vitamin supplements, sends the body into "starvation mode". While this may sound like an effective way to burn fat, it will eventually mean greater storage of calories that do enter the body, and an inability to lose weight.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cabbage soup supposedly helps cleanse the body.Diet plans offer shakes in all different flavors.Diet supplements have been a big business since the 1970's.
Cabbage soup supposedly helps cleanse the body.
Cabbage soup supposedly helps cleanse the body. | Source
Diet plans offer shakes in all different flavors.
Diet plans offer shakes in all different flavors. | Source
Diet supplements have been a big business since the 1970's.
Diet supplements have been a big business since the 1970's. | Source


Over-the-counter pills and shakes replace a regular meal, or a few throughout the day. They contain a combination of appetite suppressants and stimulants.

Benetol is a popular product that claims to reduce appetite, block fat metabolism, and help improve digestion. It contains herbs and caffeine.

Studies about the weight loss value of Benetol have not been conclusive, and the medical community has raised concerns about the combination of its ingredients. Bitter Orange in particular, has brought on dizziness, fainting and even high blood pressure on occasion.


SlimFast, Herbalife, Sensa - these brands and more make claims that substituting one or two meals with their product will help people reach their ideal weight.

The Master Cleanse is a variation on this idea, and is promoted as a good step for weight loss and overall health.

While drinking a shake instead of taking in a full meal will cut the daily calorie count, important vitamins and minerals will also be left out. Plus, one serving may not be enough to satisfy hunger - and too much snacking will ultimately derail a diet plan.

One-Ingredient Diets

The fat-burning or metabolism increasing properties of a certain food is emphasized in the program.

The 7-day Cabbage Soup Diet is built around one recipe. The soup is eaten every day, with various foods added in over the time period. Many people have testified to successfully loosing weight with this plan.

However, there are major concerns about what is lacking nutritionally. The recipe can have a high sodium content. Essential proteins are missing from several days' menus. Plus, the monotony of eating the same soup, even with some variations, can actually trigger more cravings for "forbidden" foods.

The healthy weight loss diet includes a balance of delicious natural foods.
The healthy weight loss diet includes a balance of delicious natural foods. | Source

A Healthy Approach To Losing Weight

It is always wise to check with a doctor before starting any weight loss regimen, most especially if it's of the quick-loss variety.

And be aware - while none of these programs are necessarily harmful in the short term, the weight lost on them usually comes right back on afterwards.

The safest and most guaranteed diet to stay on long-term is one that is balanced nutritionally, and takes into account an individual body's medical concerns and special needs.

Address the nutritional concerns of a rapid weight loss method by adding in extra food during to a daily menu:

  1. A couple 1/2 cup servings of carrots or steamed broccoli would add vitamins without a lot of calories.
  2. Brown rice or whole grain bread may be a carb, but incorporating a 2/3 cup helping or one slice could even out blood sugar levels and help prevent cravings.
  3. Just one small handful of almonds provides some of the protein the body needs to hold off fatigue and keep the internal systems running smoothly.


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    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      There is no magic silver bullet to losing weight as you well pointed out. Eating healthy, exercising and avoiding too much fat, sugar and salt. I hate going on diets so for me it is easier just to stay in good shape. If I gain a few pounds they come off quickly..I am amazed at what people will do to lose weight..everything except what they really need to do. It is okay to go on a three day starvation diet to lose a few pounds for an long as this is not something you do all the time. Great hub and good common sense. Voting up and pinning.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I think your first picture says it all. That is wierd that a person with that body would possibly measure. Yet just by showing it you may lead others down an unhealthy path.

    • Heather63 profile image

      Heather Adams 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      VirginiaLynne - I agree with you that sometimes a quick-loss strategy can work just fine. And I'm glad that you got such good results from Naturally Slim - I hadn't heard of that program. Was it like Atkins in that your daily menus included a lot of one kind of food, e.g. protein over carbs? I admire that you could stick with a calorie count that low - I'd probably eat more just out of principle!

      I tried my share of weight loss plans - notably Scarsdale Diet in high school and Dextatrim and SlimFast later on. But I always felt deprived and was disappointed by the results. The truth was, I had to make peace with the body I had, and start treating it better. It's nice to feel pretty healthy most every day and actually enjoy the food I'm eating !

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      You have some very good information Heather. I've been on two different weight loss programs over the past year--MyFitnessPal and Naturally Slim. MyFitnessPal is a self regulated eating ap which basically just helps you keep track of your calories and exercise. However, I finally just got stuck at a certain weight. Naturally Slim was offered by my work for free, so I decided to sign up since some friends had great success with it. It worked for me too, but I was concerned about the fact that the program videos don't emphasize eating the right things, and basically the program leads you to eat a very low calorie diet. I basically cut my food down to 1000-1200 calories a day. I was not uncomfortable or hungry--which was fabulous. I lost more than 2 lbs a week. However, at the end of the 10 week program, my cholesterol had gone up (195 to 213). I then switched to eating the way I ususally do--lots of vegetables etc. and when I had my cholesterol checked again at a regular appointment, it was down to 187. Was it worth it? In the long run, losing that weight was probably more important to my overall health than a balanced diet for 10 weeks. So sometimes fast dieting can be a good idea, but only if you are committed to good nutrition over the long haul, and you are committed to keeping that weight off (weighing every day!)

    • profile image

      Heather63 5 years ago

      Hi adrienneleigh! Yes, you are right. I've tried a couple of diets (Scarsdale for one) that promise quick results, and they ended up to be a lot of deprivation with little to show for it at the end. On the other hand, once I started eating sensibly it really didn't take long until I felt better, and that motivated me to keep on a good track.

    • adrienneleigh profile image

      adrienneleigh 5 years ago

      Great hub on a very important subject! I hope anyone who reads this and is thinking about starting a diet program takes the risks seriously and chooses to lose weight in a healthy way. Low-calorie diets, like the hcg diet, are especially dangerous, and there are new ones like it being promoted all the time. All good things take time and effort.