Rapid Weight Loss: A Nightmare In The Making?

To anyone struggling to shake off those stubborn pounds, the idea of rapid or sudden weight loss may seem too good to be true. And, actually, it is! Rapid weight loss damages your body in more ways than one. Those pounds you lost in quick succession might unleash calamity on your body, which will soon buckle down under this attack.

While obesity and its associated health risks get a lot of attention, the ill-effects of sudden weight loss are not highlighted enough. Weight loss can occur as a result of inadequate food intake, an increase in metabolism, malabsorption, or a combination of factors.

Involuntary weight loss is defined as a clinically significant and progressive weight loss of at least 9lb 15oz, or greater than 5% of the usual body weight, over a period of 24–48 weeks. This could be indicative of a serious physical or psychiatric illness.1 Involuntary weight loss is also

associated with high mortality rates.

Voluntary weight loss could be due to crash dieting (eating very little food), fad dieting (eating only specific foods at the cost of other foods or eliminating certain essential food groups), yo-yo dieting (starvation followed by binge-eating, leading to rapid weight loss and weight gain again), or intensive exercise. Rapid weight loss, whatever the cause, could do your body serious harm.2

Health Risks Associated With Losing Weight Too Quickly

Some of the side effects of rapid weight loss include fatigue, irritability, headaches, constipation, and dizziness. While these will interfere with your daily life, many other side effects can be more serious and even life-threatening.

Gallstone Formation

According to the National Institute of Health, people who lose more than three pounds per week may have a greater chance of getting gallstones than those who lose weight more slowly.3 As the body breaks down fat during

rapid weight loss, the liver secretes extra cholesterol into bile. Biliary sludge appears to build up during rapid weight loss and this, in turn, causes gallstones to form. As gallstones move into the bile duct, you may experience a gallbladder attack which can cause extreme pain and discomfort.4


According to studies, dehydration is assumed to be a major adverse effect associated with rapid weight loss. This is due to the restriction of fluid and food intake combined with excessive sweat loss. Dehydration could lead to a deficiency in electrolytes, which are required to maintain a healthy fluid balance and regulate body temperature.5 It could also lead to high blood pressure, migraine, dizziness, constipation, asthma, and allergies. In fact, research has shown dehydration could even increase the risk of ischemic stroke.6

Nutritional Deficiency

Often, rapid weight loss is achieved by cutting down on certain food groups such as carbohydrates, fruit, wheat, rice, salt, and sugar. This can cause mild to severe nutritional deficiencies, affecting energy levels and immunity, thus compromising your ability to fight infection. Vital nutrients may be required only in minute amounts, but when the body is deprived of these, it acts up in many ways.7 For instance:

  • Vitamin B1 deficiency can cause edema in the feet
  • Vitamin B2 deficiency can cause cracks in the corners of the mouth
  • Niacin (Vitamin B3) deficiency can cause skin lesions
  • Vitamin A deficiency can cause extreme dryness of skin due to hyperkeratosis
  • Vitamin K deficiency can cause you to bruise easily
  • Vitamin C deficiency can cause hemorrhages

Skin Damage and Hair Loss

Rapid weight loss could result in loose or saggy skin. The presence of excess skin can cause infections as you struggle to keep the excessive

skin folds clean and dry. It can also lead to hair loss due to nutritional deficiency. During rapid weight loss, the body, under stress, conserves energy and protein for other functions, thus leading to hair loss.8

Psychological Problems

Studies i that rapid weight loss, voluntary or involuntary, has a major psychological impact. As one study shows, athletes who undergo sudden or rapid weight loss tend to have problems with short-term memory, concentration, energy, and self-esteem. They are also plagued by feelings of anger, confusion, fatigue, depression, and isolation.9 Weight loss can lead to depression due to an imbalance in hormones such as serotonin.10

So Is All Weight Loss Bad?

If you or someone you know is losing weight suddenly, step back for a moment and check whether it is voluntary or

involuntary weight loss. If the weight loss is involuntary, you should consult your general physician immediately. The cause of rapid weight loss should be re-evaluated from time to time.11

If you don’t have a medical problem and want to lose those pounds because you are overweight, shed them slowly and steadily, preferably under the guidance of a physician. Traditional disciplines such as Ayurveda also advise a balanced, holistic approach to healthy weight loss.12 According to experts, a safe weekly rate of weight loss is between 1lb and 2lb a week. Losing weight faster than this can put you at risk for various health problems, as we saw earlier.13

The best and safest way to lose weight is through a combination of

exercise and healthy diet. Stick to a balanced, sensible diet, limiting saturated fat and sugars and including whole grains, lean meats, fruits, and vegetables. Weight loss through these means will prove to be much more permanent and health-inducing in the long run.