Rapid Weight Loss and How It Affects Your Period
Flip through any fashion magazine and you’re bombarded with images of “perfect” bodies. There they are – stick-thin women with perfect hair and makeup, sometimes draped over hunky guys with abs of steel. Most of us know these images aren’t real life – they’re an advertising ploy designed to sell the latest in fashion or makeup or shampoo.
What is the perfect body, the perfect weight? The answer could depend on where you live. Not all cultures value slender bodies. According to Bradley University, in Fiji “larger bodies are symbols of health and connectedness to the community. People who lose a lot of weight or are very thin are regarded with suspicion or pity”. In Jamaica, “plump bodies are considered healthiest and most attractive”. In western culture, a lean body is considered the beau ideal.
The National Institutes of Health provides a Body Mass Index calculator to provide an indication of whether someone is in the underweight, normal, overweight, or obese range. The BMI is just a loose guide to determining a healthy weight. It isn’t a fail-safe and doesn’t take into account factors such as age, muscle mass, bone density, or overall body composition (percentages of muscle, fat, bone, and water).
There is no such thing as the perfect weight for everyone. Your ideal weight is a personal, individual thing.
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Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, whatever the healthy weight for you is, is a good thing. It can help protect you from numerous diseases, improve heart health, improve your emotional outlook, give you more energy, and many other desirable outcomes.
In fact, “lose weight” has been among the top ten New Year’s resolutions year after year, and many times it appears very near the top of the list. Weight loss is a goal for so many people that weight loss centers, programs, and products abound in a thriving industry.
But beware of those promising rapid weight loss. Like the skinny models in fashion magazines who are supposedly portraying perfection, it simply isn’t real. Rapid weight loss is, for one thing, not sustainable. Numerous studies have determined that the weight losses are not only not maintained but that many people gained back more weight than they lost.
Rapid weight loss can also be very unhealthy and can result in low energy, hair loss, a weakened immune system (just what everyone doesn’t need right about now), weakened bones, muscle cramps, irritability, loose saggy skin and stretch marks, and a whole host of unintended consequences.
One of those unintended consequences of rapid weight loss can be the effect it has on the menstrual cycle. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, “women who lose too much weight or lose weight too quickly may stop having a period or have irregular periods.”
The reason for that is the effect of low-carb and low-calorie diets on three primary hormonal glands – the hypothalamus, the pituitary, and the adrenals. These glands interact to keep your hormones in balance. A diet that is too low in calories acts as a stressor and causes glandular dysfunction.
Another danger with too much weight too quickly is that it might not be fat that you’re losing – it could be lost water or lost muscle mass that’s showing up on the scale. And, as Dr. Michael Nowazek points out, “if they’ve lost muscle mass instead of fat, they’ve just increased their fat to muscle ratio; they now have a greater proportion of fat to muscle than they did before the weight loss. That’s not healthy, and the weight loss may not be sustainable because an increased ratio of fat can affect hormone function and lead to cravings”. Losing muscle instead of fat can lead to, among other things, menstrual irregularities.
Dr. Donald Hensrud recommends a moderate rate of weight loss, typically one or two pounds a week, based on a safe and healthy approach with lifestyle changes in eating and exercise.
There are many factors other than caloric intake that can affect weight and weight loss. Digestive issues, inflammation, liver function, and other health conditions could impact attempts at weight loss. Those who are concerned about their weight should consult a qualified medical practitioner for a program that will promote better health and gradual and sustainable weight loss.
Losing weight isn’t easy for many people, and those who are working toward achieving and maintaining a healthy weight should be applauded and supported.