When dishing on dieting, the notion of "losing only water weight" is mentioned often and with negative connotations. But what does this really mean? Here's some information and advice on the issue from a board-certified physician who practices in Southern California.
What does it mean "to only lose water weight"? I hear people say this when talking about fad diets and juice cleanses and that it's a bad thing. I just don't know what it means.
— Confused on H20
This is a fantastic question because dieting is so common in today's society and we all hear about "losing water weight" and its connection with dieting and weight loss. So let's clear up our confusion.
During the first few weeks of weight loss due to dieting, a rapid drop in pounds is normal according to the Mayo Clinic. When you reduce your caloric intake, your body gets its needed energy by releasing and utilizing its stores of glycogen, which is a type of carbohydrate found in the muscles and the liver. Glycogen holds onto water, so when glycogen is used and burned up for energy, it also releases the water it holds onto. This is about 4 grams for every gram of glycogen. This results in the initial "water weight" loss that accompanies early weight loss from dieting and calorie restriction.
Detoxification diets and juice/fluid cleanses are marketed to the general public as a way to remove toxins from the body, purge pounds of excess fat, clear your complexion, and boost your immune system. However, there is concern that these cleanses do not improve a person's health but instead may actually harm it. In an article MSNBC Dr. Nasir Maloo states "Your body does a perfectly good job of getting rid of toxins on its own." The gastroenterologist adds, "There’s no evidence that these types of diets are necessary or helpful."
WebMD reports that there can be many serious side effects and complications from such a severe crash diet such as a cleanse. The Mayo Clinic lists dehydration, fatigue, nausea and dizziness as possible effects of a "detoxification" cleanse. Some detoxification diets include the use of laxatives as a way to "cleanse" the body, however, laxative use/abuse can result in severe dehydration, electrolyte abnormalities, dependence, and heart or colon damage in the long term.
Given what we now know about losing water weight and detoxification/crash diets, it should be evident why in the long-term, these types of diets do not work. They are too restrictive to keep up with in the long-term and can cause a whole host of side effects. Most weight lost from these types of diets is water weight due to the body’s need for energy and when one resumes a more normal diet, they will likely gain back the weight (and even more than what they originally lost!). One positive thing to take away from detox diets is that it is important to drink lots of fluids and water and to eat more fruits and vegetables. However, the best way to lose weight and maintain it is to combine a healthy diet with lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables with a regular exercise routine!
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