What to do when extreme diets stops working

The rise of the extreme diet

More extreme is more extreme, not more effective. This is especially true with extreme diets.

I’ve been in the nutrition game a while now, about 12 years, and have seen a lot.

One of the most interesting things I’ve seen is that over the last several decades we are seeing that fad diets are essentially just becoming more extreme versions of older diets.

For example… about 10-15 years ago we had the rise of the Paleo Diet, this eventually lead into ketogenic diets, which lead into the Snake Diet, which lead into the carnivore diet

Why do extreme diets exist?

Why did this happen might you ask? 

Well, here is my theory… fad diet plans work at first, until they stop working… then when you try to just “diet harder” using that fad diet, you either A) still end up stuck, or B) you end up with some weird medical condition (more on that later).   

When you get stuck doing the most hardcore version of your current diet the only logical place to go is to go more extreme… so maybe you go from low-carb to keto… that works for a while, but then stops… so you go to zero carb… and eventually you find there is no where else to go. You have hit dieting rock bottom.

This often leads to a reset and you find the most sensible and logical approach… balancing calories, eating robustly, and trying to exercise as much as your life allows you.

Now, here is the followup up from option B. 

I remember when I would follow a lot of the “personalities” who would make many fad diets famous and I noticed something pretty interesting. Every 12-24 months these people would end up with some new medical condition that they would miraculously cure by switching to a new diet… this means they either were selling a story to sell a new book, or their old diet resulted in some weird metabolic/hormonal issues that caused them to need to change their approach.

So here is the major point I am trying to make. When you start down a path of aggressive restriction, you often get into this feed-forward cycle of “to continue forward I have to become even more restrictive”… and I want to show you that there is a much different and better way. 

Sometimes you need to step back and start down the better path.

What do you do after your extreme diet?

This is perhaps the most difficult part of the journey… the steps you take immediately following a relative extreme approach to dieting.

The reason it is difficult is that you finally have to pay the piper. This often looks like a few weeks of mental and sometimes physical discomfort.

For example, let us imagine for a moment that you just finished 9 months of a keto or zero carbohydrate diet. And it has stopped working and you are starting to not feel great (low energy, maybe your hair is falling out, etc.) and you decide to reintroduce carbohydrates into your diet.

Well, you need to mentally prepare for the scale to go up a few pounds because you are going to be reintroducing glucose to your body which will “refill” your glycogen stores. This means your muscles are going to begin to refill with carbohydrates and water, which causes body weight to go up. In fact, on study that actually ran this experiment found that a week of carbohydrate refeeding after very low carbohydrates for a few months resulted in a ~7-8 pound increase in body weight.

You may also find that your digestion is different and you need to slowly reintroduce foods so your stomach acid, enzymes, and microbiome can get used to digesting new food groups again.

Here are some of the main steps to take after you finish a diet that is more extreme and transition to a more moderate approach.

  1. Shift your expectations and think about this next phase as a longer term approach
  2. Set out a clear plan for how you are going to transition to a new way of eating
  3. Identify some behaviors that you want to solidify and begin working to develop those as habits
  4. Take some time to put less pressure on yourself and allow yourself some flexibility and space to breathe. Jumping from one thing to another is not always the best idea.