Going on a Diet? 5 Horrible Things It Can Do to Your Body

When the warmer months get closer, or even if you just have a big event coming up, it’s natural to start worrying about how you look in your clothes. Consequently, you might start putting together a plan to lose the extra pounds you packed on while it was cooler and you could hide your trouble spots under sweaters and coats. Or maybe you’re going on a strict diet because you’re getting married or going to a special event and want to look your best.

Although losing a few pounds won’t hurt if you’re overweight, you can do harm to your body if you don’t go about it the right way. Some diets can put your health at risk. Here are five horrible things an extreme diet can do to your body.

1. Heart problems

Human Heart Anatomy Illustration. 3D render

An extreme diet can cause heart problems. | iStock.com/Nerthuz

Going overboard with your diet can place strain on your heart. If you consistently eat a very low-calorie diet, you could experience complications such as abnormal heart rhythms. In his column for Everyday Health, Dr. T. Jared Bunch explains what happens to your heart when you go on a crash diet:

During a very low-calorie diet there are some interesting changes to the heart. First, the body levels of free fatty acids and triglycerides increase … As the triglyceride levels increase in the heart, the lower chambers become stiffer and their ability to relax lessens.  The stiffer the heart becomes, the more the triglycerides accumulate in the liver.

Dieting and heart health

Woman having heart attack symptom

Your heart needs a balanced diet. | iStock.com/Tharakorn

Take it easy when starting a new diet. It’s best to consult with your physician before making any major changes to what you’re eating. A celebrity, family member, or co-worker might have lost a ton of weight by following a fad diet, but that doesn’t mean it will work for you or that it’s healthy. Stay safe by entering any new diet with caution.

Fortunately, Dr. Bunch says it is possible to reverse some of the effects of a very low-calorie diet on the heart. “What do these studies teach us regarding diets?  First, with careful supplementation of vitamins and minerals the risk of developing abnormal heart rhythms becomes very low.  Next, the heart is affected adversely in the setting of severe calorie restriction. However, the changes that develop appear to be temporary and reverse when a higher calorie diet is resumed,” Bunch writes in his column.

2. Intestinal changes

Woman having stomach pain

The intestines are sensitive to sudden diet changes. | iStock.com/Nikodash

Going on a diet can have a negative impact on your health, but did you know switching diets can be just as bad? Research published in the journal Nature found that suddenly switching to a new diet can change the type of bacteria that grows in your intestine. In the study, which was led by Harvard University researchers, participants were asked to eat either a plant-based or animal-based diet. After five days, those in the plant-based group developed bacteria types that make amino acid while those in the animal-based group developed protein-digesting bacteria. Some of the microbiome found in the meat-eaters’ digestive tracts have been linked to inflammatory bowel disease

How to avoid problems

man sitting on the bed, clutching his stomach

Avoid sudden changes in diet. | iStock.com

Though the study involved a small sample size, the results were still pretty dramatic. So, if you decide to switch up your diet, make sure it’s a gradual — and balanced — change. And it’s never a bad idea to consult your doctor first. 

3. Depression

Sad girl crying and a friend comforting her outdoors

An unbalanced diet can cause the blues. | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

Diets are supposed to help you feel better, but the wrong diet could leave you feeling down in the dumps. An unbalanced diet could contribute to symptoms of depression. More than 300 million people around the globe have depression, according to the World Health Organization, so it’s important to get the proper nutrients each day so your body and mind can stay in peak condition.

The diet and depression link

African American depressed woman

The wrong diet can induce feelings of depression. | iStock.com/Rawpixel Ltd

One ingredient that is prominent in many diet foods and beverages is aspartame, an artificial sweetener. However, if you consistently consume too much artificial sweetener, it can start to affect your mood. Therese J. Borchard, a Psych Central editor, writes in her column that aspartame can block the production of serotonin and cause mood dips, headaches, and insomnia.

In his Psychology Today column, the late Dr. Mitchell L. Gaynor talks more about how food and mood are linked. “Environmental factors such as stress, cigarette smoking, and food alter epigenes to change the structure of genes. These epigenetic modifications activate and deactivate genes in ways that help or harm your health. Food is one essential way in which you can control your epigenetic profile. Because what you eat affects your mood, you should aim for foods that enhance your gut health.”

4. Gallstones

woman holding abdomen

Gallstones are a common side effect of extreme dieting. | iStock.com

Going on a very low-calorie diet will not only leave you very hungry but also potentially lead to complications like gall stones. This is a common side effect of going on a crash diet where you eat dramatically less calories and start to lose weight too quickly. When your body isn’t getting enough calories, your body will begin to break down fat for energy. Your liver will secrete more cholesterol. When the cholesterol combines with bile, this could create gall stones, reports WebMD.

Preventing gallstones

close-up on a man's stomach as he rubs it

There are things you can do to prevent gallstones. | iStock.com

If you want to steer clear of gallstones during your diet, make sure you’re taking in enough calories each day. Also, avoid eating foods that are high in saturated fat. This includes sausages, hard cheeses, cakes, and butter. In addition, research has shown that adding nuts to your diet could reduce your chances of getting gallstones.

5. Dehydration

Glass of water

Some diets can leave you dehydrated. | iStock.com/cyano66

Not eating enough, or eating too much of one type, of food could throw your body off balance, leading to dehydration. Eating a diet that’s too heavy on protein, for example, could lead to difficulty staying hydrated. University of Connecticut researchers found hydration levels go down as protein intake rises. Bear in mind, this research is pretty limited. Even still, make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids in tandem with a high-protein diet.

Staying hydrated

Row of water bottles

Drink plenty of fluids. | iStock.com/tezzstock

Your body needs to stay properly hydrated. Water helps flush bacteria from your bladder, aids digestion, and helps stabilize your heart beat, according to Harvard Medical School’s 6-Week Plan for Healthy Eating. You lose water every day through urination, bowel movements, breathing, and perspiring. If you want your body to function properly, it’s important to replace the water your body uses. Some of the signs of dehydration are dizziness, dry mouth, and sluggishness.

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