Dangerous dieting: the lessons I learned from 10 days of rapid fat loss.

rapid fat loss title pic

I lost 6 pounds in 10 days.

That’s right. If this makes you lean in and want to find out how, well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I’ll tell you how I did it. The bad news is that if you try it you’ll feel absolutely horrible, you’ll learn that it’s probably not wise, sustainable, nor necessary, and you will probably have some strong thoughts on what I did by the time you reach the end of this article.

But you’re still reading, so I’ll share more.

Lightning-quick fat loss is the magical, elusive unicorn of our diet culture. We want fat loss and we want it fast. After all, dieting for a long time sucks.

I think by now many of us know that crash dieting is not the wisest path to lasting weight management. Yet many of us, in some dusty corner of our brain, still hold out hope that there’s something missing that will make fat loss happen more quickly. And with fewer days of feeling hungry.

Well, kids, you can lose weight faster. It’s called a crash diet. Crash diets take many forms, and while most are merely ineffectual for the long run, some are actually dangerous. The bulk of them are basically a bad idea for the vast majority of people.

Over the years, I’ve learned that a moderate approach to fat loss is both more enjoyable as well as sustainable than resorting to extremes. For nearly all of my days cutting over 100 pounds of weight, I have enjoyed eating pretty much all of the things I have wanted – just in smaller quantities and with a much heavier priority of incorporating lean protein and whole foods into my diet.

But what about when you want to get really shredded? I mean visible abs, lean-and-mean shredded. As my own body settled into a place with relatively low body fat, I noticed that weight loss really slows down even while on a deficit. That was my sign that I needed to be done for a while: maybe even forever. Months spent dieting is hard on our hormones. It was definitely time for a diet break. But first, an idea gnawed at me.

You see, in my own dusty corner of my brain, I can still appreciate looking lean. And you know what? That’s okay. As my vacation to Jamaica approached, I imagined how I might rock a bikini if I got shredded – the way a bikini competitor does – for just a few days: just long enough to feel smokin’ on the beach. Yeah, I know: there is no such thing as a bikini body. I agree with this idea. Yet I’ve had visible abs almost no days of my life, because I really, really love pizza. And that’s cool too. However, I was still curious: what would it be like to have some abzzz?

At the same time, I wondered if it would be helpful to understand what it’s really like to dramatically lean out short term for an event like a bodybuilding competition or a powerlifting meet, when lifters cut weight temporarily to strategically land at the top of their desired weight class.

First of all, note that I said “short term”. The ripped models you see on stages and magazine covers don’t walk around looking like that year round. And as you’ll soon learn, using this method sets most people up for months of frustration.

But I’d already talked myself into a plan after reading Lyle McDonald’s manual, Rapid Fat Loss. I’d do it for science! And journalism. Plus for aesthetics, of course. If nothing else, I’d have a hell of a story. I pitched the idea to my own coach, Jordan Syatt, who probably thought I was nuts. He never advocates this diet for his own clients but he gave me the green light, having been through the process himself at one point and knowing I’d likely learn something from the experience. Jordan also knew enough to be able to monitor me so I could do my experiment safely. As he gave me permission to proceed with my crazy project, he chuckled at my folly.

“You’re going to feel terrible”.

In my mind, my coach had just thrown the gauntlet to me. Surely he had no idea of my mental fortitude. I swore inwardly that I wouldn’t complain to him, not even once. After all, struggling to lean out for ripped abs rests upon the mountain top of first world problems.

How my fat loss diet worked:
There are various forms of a very low calorie diet (VLCD), many of which have been studied under controlled conditions for hospital-based studies. The Rapid Fat Loss Diet is a protein-sparing modified fast (PSMF) that places an emphasis on protein consumption to theoretically retain as much muscle as possible while losing fat.

McDonald theorizes that when you eliminate carbohydrates and fats for fuel and rely only on protein, your body then more effectively burns fat by using existing fat stores to get energy. Beyond McDonald’s extensive research, several studies exist to support the efficacy of the strategies McDonald uses. There are limitations, however, that many don’t consider. I wonder how results would play out among more seasoned athletes. Most studies of this kind are done with overweight or untrained subjects. Perhaps most critically, we need to remember that while theories may hold water, they don’t account for human behavior and emotional needs. Before you get excited and even entertain the idea of trying a VLCD, learn what I experienced.

For my 10 day period, my daily calorie target was between 600 kcal and 700 kcal. My protein goal was at least 130 g daily, which left me with little more than some spinach for carbs. What I quickly found was that nothing sucks the joy out of eating like having little more than meat and eggs to eat each day. My one bowl of plain Greek yogurt topped with Walden Farms calorie-free syrup became my holy grail of desserts. I finally understood how people doing an intense fat cut for a bikini competition become enthusiastic about protein mug cakes: I made several. They tasted vaguely of cocoa and not of meat, so I became momentarily grateful. How quickly I had fallen away from my culinary and dietary dogma that boiled down roughly to “make mostly healthy shit that tastes great. And always eat real dessert”.

Dear Diary…

Day 1
When I began the fast, I mostly felt hungry and a little depressed about having to miss out on my favorite foods for the coming week or so. On day 1, my energy was fine. But by the end of the day, I was so hungry that I balled my fists in frustration. I ate my bowl of spinach and tuna and distracted myself with Netflix. I’d already found that social media was a bad idea, as it was brimming with recipes for beautiful food that I couldn’t eat. Screw you, Instagram.

Day 3
My energy was now waning, though with careful timing, I made it through my workout. My coach warned me that I’d likely not be able to complete all of my sets and that this was okay. I left the gym feeling a bit smug. My bench press wasn’t even weak. Victory! By now, my hunger had diminished – that was a bit unexpected given my low intake, though on other fat loss phases I’d observed that my hunger adjusted to lower calorie intake fairly quickly. I stumbled upon a few silver linings too as I discovered that egg whites scrambled with cinnamon and stevia become pretty tasty when topped with PB2. Maybe this diet wouldn’t be so terrible after all.

Day 5
I looked at my husband with a mixture of sadness and disgust while he devoured an orange beside me, and he merely urged me to give up. I then sullenly pointed out that he was a super unsupportive jerk, deeply inhaled the scent of the fruit, and huffed off to the living room. An orange would definitely be the first thing I ate after finishing my fantastically dumb diet.

Day 6
I became very tired… a kind of fatigue that I could feel deep within my bones. I couldn’t imagine having to go work outside my home full time while doing a VLCD. Unlike many, I had the luxury of doing most of my work from my house, and more frequently this week, from my sofa or bed. This was the day that I could begin to feel the crushing weight of the world fall upon my chest in the afternoon. I wasn’t even hungry most of the time, and yet I could barely muster the energy to do anything past 12 pm. Teaching my evening class became a Herculean effort.

Day 7
I sent out a newsletter to my followers. My coach read it and replied, asking me if I’d written my recent emails hastily. I asked him why. I could tell Jordan was politely informing me that my work was suffering. He noted that I’d made quite a few glaring grammatical errors, which are completely out of character for me. I normally catch everything or at least take the time to scour my writing before I shout it out to the world. My mind was foggier than a day in London town. I just sighed and went to bed after eating a tiny bowl of sugar-free Jello. Yes, this was my new daily dessert. And let me tell you, on a VLCD, that stuff is jiggly gold.

Day 8
This day was my lowest point on the VLCD. Jordan emailed me, concerned about my welfare. I caved, breaking my vow to remain steely in the midst of my difficult yet completely self-imposed discomfort. My reply included a torrential downpour of strongly worded sentiments about how truly awful and stupid this diet really was. My coach always wins. Always. Damnit. On Day 8 I cried. For no good reason. I was exhausted, emotional, and mad about nothing in particular other than feeling like a train wreck. Yet with only 2 more whole days to go, I wasn’t stopping. I rolled around listlessly in my bed for a few minutes and then dozed off, leaving my work for the next day.

Day 9
My attitude shifted. I was nearly at the finish line and somehow it all felt more doable. Perhaps the emotional breakdown from day 8 was cathartic; I have no idea. My workout was so unproductive it was comical. I could barely lift the bar to bench press. I wandered around aimlessly and then trudged back up the stairs and drove straight home to my bed. In retrospect, I don’t think I lost any measurable strength but my body was completely carb deprived and my mind was utterly unfocused. There was no way I was going to have a good gym session. Lesson: carbs are really important for both gym performance and life.

Day 10
Hell yeah, I was nearly there. I began fantasizing about what food I would eat first. I felt surprised that I didn’t think about pounding down some donuts or a burger. All I craved was a bowl of oatmeal and one perfect piece of fruit. I breezed through this day as I saw the end point firmly within my grasp.

beautiful orange

Breaking the Fast
The alarm sounded for my 4 a.m. wakeup call. I climbed out of bed and headed straight to the kitchen, where I peeled my beautiful, perfect orange and savored every bite. Then I took a picture of my leaned out bod, preserving it for posterity.

Jamaican Me Crazy
The idea of dealing with an all-inclusive resort after being on a crash diet flooded me with unease. Would I binge? I went in with a plan, and I ended up doing just fine on that front. Unfortunately, I also caught E. coli on my beach vacation, which both curbed my opportunities to overindulge and bloated me to hell and back. My leaned out midsection ended up being even more short-lived than I had imagined.


If that’s not some kind of cosmic injustice, I don’t know what is. After recovering from the infection, my appetite returned with a vengeance. There are tales everywhere of figure competitors who binge themselves into oblivion after a show. I can now understand why. I was ridiculously hungry and craved all of the carbs. Thankfully, I both had the wisdom to know I should keep my eating moderated and a coach to support me. Still, I went on a cooking bender of epic proportions. I just fed most of it to friends and family. I baked my ass off in a feverish frenzy that I still can’t quite explain. My Instagram feed had never looked more delicious.

In the end, I did indeed lose 6 pounds… but for only a few days. It’s crucial to understand that I didn’t shed all that much fat: I lost a fair amount of water from carb depletion. After you eat those energy-boosting carbs again, your scale weight will increase once more.
As for my final result? After the dust settled from my trip and illness, I found my scale weight was back to right where it was resting when I began my crazy, awful, no good, very bad diet. And that’s what one should expect. Because in reality, diets like these aren’t meant for real, lasting change. At best, a seasoned pro can use them to manipulate their physique or scale weight for a day or two. But at what cost?

Yes, there is a cost.
The costs of crash dieting are real. First of all, you’ll feel miserable while doing these diets. You will lose muscle mass as well as lose valuable time that you could spend banking up improvements in the gym. Moreover, the behaviors that many people display following an extreme fat cut make crash dieting counterproductive to the point of them rarely being worthwhile. It’s very typical to see figure competitors binge their way to becoming heavier than they were before they leaned out dramatically. On the flip side, people can develop really disordered thinking about food, becoming fearful of eating. I didn’t binge or restrict food because I have a good deal of experience with weight management as well as eating disorders.

My coach also monitored me every step of the way, yet still had to help me work through a little mental anxiety after it was all done. Some of those feelings actually did arise in me. And that surprised me. Most people don’t have my background, and so the prospect of encouraging someone to follow a diet like this makes me even more uneasy after I’ve been through the process myself.

So don’t resort to extreme dieting. Just don’t. If you have a vision of yourself that you want to see for an event, that’s alright. But make a plan that doesn’t include the risks I mentioned. It is absolutely doable to lose body fat while enjoying your life. Even when you’re already quite lean – I’ll use my client “B” as an example. (She’s shy about using her real name so let’s just call her that.)

B, a 34 year old mom of 2, has a wicked sense of humor and is one of the smartest, coolest women I have ever known. In my eyes, B has always looked like a million bucks. But she came to me wanting to lean out and get some definition for a few special events next summer. She also wanted to finally get started with consistent strength training as well as honing in her nutrition.

In roughly 8 weeks, B made rock star progress, losing 11 pounds while taking 2.5 inches off her waist and an inch off her hips. She took pleasure in seeing her muscle definition begin to appear. She also learned to deadlift, squat, and went from 0 chin ups to 2. B She blew my socks off with the giant strides she made in her fitness in such a short time.

Here is what B did to get there:

-Ate at a caloric deficit LESS than 500 kcal under her maintenance calories. Her deficit was actually one of the most modest I’ve given to anyone.
-Lifted weights 3 times per week and did a few days each week of light conditioning work.
-Cooked most of her meals at home.
-Developed consistency: this was her key to such rapid success. She followed her program 99% of the time. But it was easier to do because none of it was drudgery for her.

In short, B had passion and drive that went far in fueling her consistency. Yet she did absolutely nothing extreme to get those results. I completely promise you that you’ll reach your goals without needing to do a miserable crash diet: plus the reward of taking it slower is worth the patience – you’ll gain skills that will help you sustain your physique for life.

Looking to learn exactly how you can build strength and get lean for life? Become an insider below and I’ll send you my e-book, Fat Loss on a Budget, in a flash. It’s free!


2 thoughts on “Dangerous dieting: the lessons I learned from 10 days of rapid fat loss.”

  1. There are no magic foods. Some foods may help you suppress your appetite a little. Some other foods may slightly increase your metabolic rate. Unfortunately, the effect is miniscule. The only way to really lose fat is to consume fewer calories than you burn. This way your body will tap into the fat stores to get the energy it needs.

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