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The Surprising Reasons Starvation Diets Are a Bad Idea

LIVESTRONG.COM is dedicated to empowering and inspiring people of all ages to live active, healthy lives. In light of that mission, the Editorial Team has partnered with ShimmerTeen.com to create content that promotes health and wellness for teens.

Are you thinking about going on a fast? Cutting as many calories as possible to lose weight ASAP?

It's easy to think starving yourself is the best way to get your ideal look. After all, countless magazines, YouTube videos, ads and thinspo blogs tell us that calories are the enemy.

Fridge 2: Phil McDonald/iStock/Getty Images

However, starving yourself is associated with a variety of negative effects, including weight gain.

That's right, you read it correctly: While starving yourself might seem like a great way to lose weight, this technique can actually cause you to pack on pounds in the long term. Most people who stop eating for extended periods of time will lose weight at first. But it's important to know that continuing to skimp on calories for too long can send your body into "starvation mode."

[Read More: Getting in Shape Doesn't Have to Mean Losing Weight]

This is a reaction that evolved in early humans to protect them during times when food was hard to find. Dr. Caroline Cederquist, a weight-management specialist and founder of Bistro MD, notes: "Starvation literally starves the body of essential nutrients it needs to be healthy, which can cause the body to go into a survival mode and store the calories you do eat for later use." As part of the process, your body starts to break down muscle while preserving fat. Needless to say, this is a problem.

You probably know you need muscle for strength and health, but you also need muscle to burn fat. If your body composition changes and you lose muscle, it becomes more difficult to lose fat in the future. Dr. Cederquist cautions, "If someone is starving themselves, once they start eating again they will gain weight back, and it will be harder to lose weight in the future."

She also notes the slowing effect starvation can have on your metabolism, the process your body uses to convert the foods and liquids you consume into energy. A slow metabolism can cause weight gain and make it harder to lose weight when you want to.

Fasting does more than just make it hard to maintain your weight, it actually hurts your body and affects your appearance. The National Eating Disorders Association lists fatigue, fainting, dehydration, dry skin, hair loss and physical weakness as consequences of malnutrition, a category under which starvation diets fall.

The bottom line? If you want to lose weight there are better and more delicious ways than starving yourself. And experts agree that the healthiest way to lose weight, get fit and stay that way is to set realistic, healthy goals for yourself. Your parents and health care providers can help you figure out how much weight to lose or if you need to lose weight at all. Make sure you eat regular, healthy meals and snacks and adopt healthy fitness habits you can maintain over time.

[Read More: 6 Ways for Teens to Access Healthy Food]

Don't swear off food. Instead, eat more-balanced, lower-fat meals filled with lean proteins (like turkey and fish), veggies and complex carbs (like brown rice). Remember to start your day with a healthy breakfast, and go outside and exercise or hit the gym to keep your muscles strong. You'll realize that you can get the results you want without being hungry all the time.

--Dr. Herold

Readers -- Have you ever gone on a starvation diet or any other diet? What are some reasons why you want to lose weight? What kinds of healthy meals and snacks do you enjoy? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Dr. Amy Herold is an OB/GYN and the Medical Director of ShimmerTeen.com, a new health, wellness, and lifestyle destination just for teenage girls. Dr. Herold received her undergraduate degree from the University of Utah and went on to receive a combined MD/MBA from St. Louis University, where she graduated with honors. After her residency, she was the Medical Director for an outpatient eating disorder program. She is currently a hospital-based physician at two facilities in Northern California.

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References
Berg, Jeremy M., JL Tymoczko, and L. Stryer. Food Intake and Starvation Induce Metabolic Changes. New York: W H Freeman, 2002. National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.

Health Consequences of Eating Disorders.” National Eating Disorders Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.

Metabolism and Weight Loss: How You Burn Calories.” Mayo Clinic. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

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