Update 8/9/20. Surveys show most people are on a diet at any given moment – and many cycle through several diets over the course of their lives. The diets to choose from are endless and range from Atkins to Zone with new ones added each year. But, no specific weight loss plan is for everybody. So, how do you know if your diet is both working – and promoting healthy weight loss? Without pointing any fingers, here are 8 signs your weight loss program is doing more harm than good. Can you add any other symptoms to this list?
1 Your Diet Makes You Smell Like Ammonia
If you smell like ammonia – yes the stuff you clean with -after working out, it means you are either:
Most people don't realize carbohydrates protect muscle breakdown. When you greatly restrict the number of carbs you eat, this causes you to start digesting the amino acids in our muscle proteins – which results in the build-up of ammonia in blood and sweat.
Why do we do this? When we don't eat enough carbs, we start turning amino acids into glucose-blood sugar. This process is called gluconeogenesis (say, glu-co-neo-jen-a-sis). Ammonia is formed in the process. You can smell the ammonia seeping out of your pores. This is often most noticeable after you are working out.
Why is this bad? When you break down muscle cells to make sugar, those muscle cells do not return – ever.
The solution: eat more carbs.
2. Your Diet Makes Your Hair Fall Out
If you notice your hair starting to fall out, this could be a sign of a nutrient deficiency. A lack of a variety of nutrients can lead to hair loss including but not limited to:
- Vitamin D
- Omega 6 fatty acids (linoleic acid)
- Omega 3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid / ALA )
On the flip side, too much of these nutrients can cause hair loss too:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
Hair loss is complicated. Many things – even menopause – can cause hair loss (the medical term is alopecia). While the best defense against nutrient deficiency is to eat a well-rounded diet and maybe take a basic multi-vitamin, a variety of supplements promise to help too such as:
- Viviscal (review)
- Nutrafol (review)
- Hair Essentials (review)
- Halo Beauty (review)
- SeroVital Hair Regeneres (review)
- Amplixin (review)
- Castor Oil (review)
Each product has its own degree of evidence. Of all, Viviscal seems to have the most research.
That said, I don't think a supplement can make up for diet-induced hair loss. If you are experiencing hair loss after starting a diet, the best advice is to stop the diet and see if the hair loss stops. If it doesn't stop soon, see your doctor. Remember, sometimes medical conditions – like hypothyroidism – can cause hair loss.
3. You're Short Tempered
Your brain needs carbohydrates. When you cut back too much on carbs, your blood sugar falls. This reduces the amount of glucose (sugar) for your brain. The result is the inability to concentrate, work efficiency, lethargy, and being short-tempered around people.
Some of these symptoms may be classified as the “keto flu” but I'm not convinced that's even a thing. What we call the keto flu is not an infection but rather just our response to not getting enough carbohydrates.
4. Your Diet Makes Your Breath Smell Bad
If your breath smells like nail polish remover (acetone), this can be a sign you are not eating enough carbs. It's also a sign you may be going into ketosis.
As an aside, you need to know many things – other than a poor diet – can cause bad breath. For example, bad breath can be heart disease. The link between gum disease and heart disease has been floating around for years. I bring this up so you don't think bad breath is caused by any single thing. Like all things medical, it's complicated.
5. You Can't Poop
If you become constipated after starting a new weight loss diet, it probably means you're not eating enough fiber. A lot of diets these days, call for cutting out different foods – often carbs. Reducing carbs usually also means reducing fiber too. Fiber is natures laxative.
Fiber isn't very sexy – but it really is. Fiber can not only:
- help weight loss
- lower blood sugar
- lower cholesterol levels
It also helps feed our microbiome – those bacteria which live inside of us. Many people take probiotic supplements to help their microbiome but the simple way to a healthier gut is to just eat more fiber. Fiber is the food of those bacteria.
This is why fiber is also called prebiotics. Prebiotics are the food those bacteria eat.
As an added bonus, when the bacteria eat the fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids do many things including helping our immune system battle colon cancer.
So, when you reduce fiber from your diet, you not only get constipated; you might also be raising your risk of getting colon cancer.
6. You Experience Rapid Weight Loss
Losing weight too fast can reduce your metabolism. Metabolism is the speed we burn calories. So, as metabolism drops, it actually becomes harder to lose weight. One of the most popular TV shows was the Biggest Loser. People lost a TON of weight.
And they lost it fast.
When researchers looked at former Biggest Loser contestants, they noted most people had reduced their metabolism by about 500 calories per day. In other words, those former contestants now had to work harder – 500 extra calories per day harder – than regular people to keep weight off.
Their slugging metabolism seems to have persisted for at least 6 years AFTER they were on the TV show. Oh, and those former contestants also regained practically ALL the weight they lost when they were on the TV show.
So the moral of this story is aim for slower weight loss. No more than 2 pounds per week is the sweet spot.
Avoid any diet program which dangles the possibility of quick weight loss in front of you.
7. You're Cold All The Time
If you notice yourself starting to feel cold all the time soon after you start a diet, it could be because you are throwing your thyroid out of whack. Thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) regulate our metabolism. Studies show when we severely cut back our calories, this drastically reduces thyroid hormone levels.
The result: you start feeling cold.
In one study, researchers noted a 66% reduction in thyroid hormone levels when people at 400 calories per day. I know what you're thinking; who eats only 400 calories per day?
Have you heard of the HCG diet? It's a popular weight loss program where people eat 500 calories per day in conjunction with taking a pregnancy hormone called HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin). Could a diet like this be damaging people's thyroids?
While some people go to weight loss doctors to get HCG injections, others take homeopathic HCG activator supplements they buy in stores or get online. In either case, I feel the drastic reduction in calories is the wrong way of thinking for a variety of reasons.
8. Your Diet Makes You Too Tired To Exercise
If you go on a diet and don't eat enough, you may not have the energy to work out. Why is this bad? Well, it's pretty well-established weight loss programs -all of them -result in some muscle breakdown. Exercise is also well known to reduce muscle loss during dieting.
So, if you just go on a diet – and don't exercise – you will lose muscle as well as fat.
This is a problem because muscle cells which are broken down, do not regrow. They don't come back. Yes, you do have billions of muscle fibers but you want to hold on to as much muscle as you can.
Here's my podcast about sarcopenia.
The result is a steady loss of muscle during your life. Eventually, all those losses add up until you start having trouble getting out of a chair, or off the toilet. When you can't take care of yourself anymore, you will probably end up in a nursing home. Trust me, this is NOT where you want to be.
Do I want to scare you by saying all this? Yes. I've seen what happens when people end up in nursing homes. Odds are, they never go home again.
So what do you think? Did I miss any signs and symptoms of bad diets?