Who hasn’t dreamt of fitting into size zero clothes and strut around on the streets, pretending to be a supermodel on the catwalk?
I certainly have, but as I am a good 50 cm shorter than the average Victoria Secret angel and also prefer a toned body to a skinny one, I decided never to fall for the “Size Zero Diet” craze that is sweeping the globe. Oh, and as a nutrition expert and fitness professional, I also see the downside of such an extreme approach.
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What Is The Size Zero Diet About?
The term “Size Zero Diet” pops up most often in relation with the body transformation of celebrities who shed a lot of body fat and shrank to the smallest size available in the US. The public is of course obsessed with body transformations and do not really think about long-term consequences on health, wellbeing and quality of life, nor the actual procedure of achieving that tiny body.
According to online guidelines, the Size Zero Diet allows the participant to eat around 400-500 kcal a day while doing 2 hours of vigorous exercise every day. The menu consists of vegetables, fruits, soups and extra vitamin and mineral supplements. High-calorie foods are of course prohibited, so dairy, sugar, alcohol and high-calorie carbohydrates are off the table.
Why is it extreme?
A 400-500 kcal diet can only be maintained for a short period of time and only under medical supervision. Only very obese people are advised to do such a diet in a hospital environment and only if their obesity resulted in a life-threatening condition.
Diets generally imply that they cannot and will not be maintained forever, and considering the extremity of this approach, I actually welcome this fact now. However, as soon as a diet stops and old habits are reintroduced, any weight that has been shed will also come back, and the pounds will also bring their friends.
So at the end of the day, the dieter will end up with larger size clothes than before, and with possible health conditions which are hard to reverse.
The average, not completely sedentary woman requires a minimum of 1300 kcal per day in order to lose weight gradually and in a healthy way. This is going to increase if the person is actively exercising and decrease temporarily if someone is preparing for a competition or photo shoot.
The Size Zero Diet allows less than half of this intake, which will result in fat AND muscle loss and a drastic decrease in the rate of metabolism. No one can maintain the diet for too long and as soon as more calories are introduced, the body will rapidly start to store fat, after panicking that food has run out and we need storage for future survival. This is the jojo effect that is fairly hard to overcome and requires expert advice on how to “reverse diet”. But this only the top of the iceberg.
Louise Burke, a journalist trialled the diet in 2007 and documented her experience online. She was a fit person in good shape and after four weeks she had to quit her experiment to save her health and relationships from plummeting further.
She of course experienced constant hunger, headaches, loss of concentration and energy, loss of interest in life and loss of sexual drive. She had mood swings, was not able to focus on anything else but food, her social life dropped dead and so did her libido. She became susceptible to infections, her skin became flaky, she developed spots and a red rash that required dermatologic treatment and started to lose her hair.
In my opinion her symptoms were all related to malnutrition, and if taken further, they could have resulted in infertility and eventually death, just like anorexia nervosa.
The low caloric intake required by this diet can never provide enough vitamins and minerals for the body to function properly. Even if supplemented, the system will lack some nutrients for sure. Calcium deficiency can easily lead to osteoporosis, which is fairly hard to reverse and its effects last for a lifetime.
The low protein intake will result in loss of muscle mass (hence the slower metabolism) and decline in vital functions as proteins are the building block of the body. Without them enzymes, antibodies and hormones won’t be able to work, so digestion, the immune system and the hormone balance will all crash. This is what might lead to infections, more nutrient deficiency, infertility or in an extreme case, organ failure.
Low fat-intake and extremely low body fat will reduce or completely prevent the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), which might result in night blindness and a decreased immune system, loss of bone density, arthritis, heart disease, cancer and stroke, just to name a few.
So why do people do it?
Even though the diet is extreme and not supported by trained nutrition or fitness professionals, people (let’s be honest, mostly women) still do it. Why? In my opinion the superficial approach to life and the fake promise of happiness if someone is skinny fools a lot of us.
We believe that if we look like X & Y from the TV or social media, we will be just as successful and happy. We fail to realise that nothing we see is actually true, we are not aware of the struggles these celebrities have and we generally fool ourselves with believing that all of our problems will magically be resolved if we fit into size zero jeans.
Do I personally agree with aspiring to have a healthier body?
Of course I do! But just like everything in life, it needs to be achieved through balance. A balanced diet, a reasonable exercise routine and realistic expectations will eventually lead to us feeling better in our own skin! Let’s leave extremities to competitors and aim for a healthy balance in food, exercise and LIFE!
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