Wannabe stripper-turned-wuss Poonam Pandey’s kidney stones, infrequent actor-turned-covergirl Sonam Kapoor’s stomach distress and former size-zero postergirl Kareena Kapoor’s frequent fainting spells are likely to have the same cause: ‘infrequent and irregular meals’, the kinder term for dieting.
Chronic dieting and frequent fasting — which gives some the religious sanction to starve — can cause several health disorders. A Johns Hopkins University study reported in 2009 that people who lose weight suddenly or undergo gastric-bypass surgery are at risk of kidney stones. “Kidney stones is a common side effect in dieters who lose weight suddenly, as are dehydration and dizziness,” says nutritionist Ishi Kholsa, director, WholeFoods.
It’s not just young girls choosing near-starvation diet plans. Ranjana Chaturvedi, 52, started dieting when she was nine. “I was a fat child and I’ve been dieting ever since I can remember, since I was 8 or 9 years old. I’ve never had a full chocolate in my life and once survived on milk, cornflakes and cucumber for six whole months to lose weight quickly,” says Chaturvedi.
She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an auto-immune disorder at the age of 28, which her doctor said could have been triggered by her dieting. Some of the other common health problems are:
Sudden dizziness and ringing in the ear are among the common side effects of low blood pressure and nutritional imbalance. It’s common among people who are on a sustained low-calorie diet over several weeks.
Dehydration / edema
Vitamin, mineral and electrolyte imbalances skew the water balance in the body, causing dehydration. “Dieters should have at least 12 glasses of fluids a day,” says Khosla.
Then, there’s water retention caused by protein lost. “A week to 10 days before periods, there is some water retention anyway due to the premenstrual hormones spike. In such cases, cutting back on salt helps, but for crash-dieters, also eating some bit of protein every day is imperative,” says Rekha Sharma, president, Indian Dietetic Association.
Irregular or skipped meals confuse the stomach, which secretes digestive juices at meal times. The first sign of trouble is a stomach burn. “Over time, irregular meals can cause stomach inflammation, ulcers and gall bladder stones, all of which are being reported in women in their mid-twenties, many of who have been dieting since adolescence,” says Khosla.
Increasingly, bone health experts are focusing on ensuring that teenagers — especially girls — eat right to build healthy bones for a lifetime. “Maximum bone development takes place during 11 to 25 years and if teenagers invest in their bones by eating calcium-rich food and getting a lot of exercise, they can reduce the risk of brittle bones and fractures after menopause,” says Sharma.
According to WHO estimates, one in two Indian women and one in three men over the age of 50 years have low bone mass, which can lead to debilitating fractures in later life.
“We now get people in their 20 and 30s with low bone mass. If there is no bone bank to build on, it’s hard to recover lost bone density. Instead of popping calcium supplements after 50 years, going for a glass or two of skimmed milk in your teens does wonders for bone health,” she adds.
The sharp fall in food intake makes the digestive organs, including the intestines, sluggish. The decline in intestinal function causes constipation. Having fibre and laxatives can shake intestines from slumber, but a normal diet high in fibre is the only long-term solution.
Irregular periods and infertility
“Hormonal imbalances make periods irregular and, in some cases, lead to infertility. If a normal diet does not restore normal menstrual cycle, visit a gynaecologist as you are likely to need medical treatment,” says Sharma.
Lowered food intake not only makes you sluggish and weak, but also affects your thought process and mood as nutrition to the brain falls dramatically in this case.
Irritation, depression, mood swings and melancholy are far more common among dieters than those who are on a healthy diet.
Dry, blotchy skin
“Deficiencies of minerals such as zinc, magnesium and fat-soluble vitamins such as B-complex and vitamins A and E, make the skin appear shriveled and rough. Drinking plenty of water while dieting lowers the dryness, as does increasing the fat intake by having a moderate amount of dried seeds and nuts,” says Khosla.