I lost 24 pounds during a 12-day cleanse. I know people who have lost 20 pounds in a week and 12 pounds in a day. Heck, I lose 8 pounds of water weight in a 90-minute hot yoga class. I lived with a bunch of wrestlers in college so I heard hundreds of rapid weight-loss stories. Then there are my friends in Vegas and on Wall Street who have turned diet into a sport.
In a bet between two poker professionals, Mike "The Mouth" Matusow won $100,000 from Ted Forrest by going from 240 pounds to 179 pounds in a year. Then the 5-11 Forrest got revenge by winning $2 million from Matusow by shrinking from 188 to 138. But Forrest paid a price (not to mention the difficulty in collecting).
"I think he's 50-50 to die," Matusow said of Forrest. "He starved himself for 11 days and ran 16 miles a day. He's lost all of the muscle around his heart. He could have a heart attack."
It leads us to the question: How much weight can you safely lose in a week?
Before we answer, let's say you need to squeeze into your fancy wedding suit, make weight for a match, win a bet (HealthyWage.com, dietbet.com, GymPact and StickK offer varieties of weight-loss for money), or look better than you actually do for three hours while on the verge of passing out at your high school reunion, wedding, or crashing an ex's party.
What you should do:
1. Sweat a lot. Infrared sauna is doubly effective because it pulls toxins from the body. Hot yoga allows you to gain flexibility while you're dying ... I mean sweating.
2. Lift weights. Forrest lifted four days a week to win his bet and said, "I didn't want to build too much muscle, but I needed to build a little to keep my metabolism up."
3. Avoid salt and starches. "When you reduce sodium and cut starches, you reduce fluids and fluid retention, which can result in up to 5 pounds of fluid loss when you get started,” says Michael Dansinger, MD, of NBC's The Biggest Loser show.
4. Poop a lot. While the urban legend of Elvis dying with 40 pounds of fecal matter in his colon seems far-fetched, the intestines are fertile ground for unwanted weight. Fasting teas, salt water flushes (both part of The Master Cleanse) and colonics (which were part of my 12-day cleanse) are all controversial, so consult a professional first. Artichokes, navy beans, figs and prunes make the list of Dr. Oz-approved high-fiber heavyweights and will help move out that dead weight. Beware high-fiber cereals which are processed and often loaded with sugar.
5. Drink coconut water. Sweating, eating less and drinking less water puts you at risk of passing out. Coconut water is loaded with potassium and has the dual benefit of being a slight diuretic, so you’ll pee out the water and retain the nutrients.
6. Find a distraction. When you restrict yourself, cravings can be intense. Sex is better than TV since one coincides with moving and the other with eating. Chewing gum may help. Lots of people chew tobacco or smoke cigarettes to make up for not eating.
The mal-adaptive behavior of replacing food with tobacco brings us to the question: what price are you willing to pay to lose weight? Even Forrest and Matusow had a clause forbidding diuretics or amputation. Cut off a leg and you’ll bring new meaning to the phrase "dropping a quick 20."
Most experts agree you can lose about 1 percent to 1.5 percent of body fat in a week. In other words, when you're on a healthy path you are not going to see the huge loss that you would from a fad diet. We tend to be slaves to the scale when what we’re really seeking is feeling good, looking good and having lots of energy.
Starving ourselves does neither of the three -- even if you can fool the camera for a few hours.
The real twist is that losing weight fast through fad diets makes it much harder to lose weight in the long run because it slows your metabolism, decreases muscle mass and disrupts your hormones. Dr. Rudolph Leibel, an obesity researcher at Columbia, was quoted in a New York Times article titled "Study Shows Why It's Hard to Keep Weight Off" saying that losing weight "is not a neutral event" and added that 90 percent of people who lose a lot of weight gain it back. “You are putting your body into a circumstance it will resist.”
According to the same New York Times article, “One hormone, leptin, which tells the brain how much body fat is present, fell by two-thirds immediately after the subjects lost weight. When leptin falls, appetite increases and metabolism slows.”
Matusow said he has gained all his weight back and believes Forrest has as well. The Mouth's advice on fad diets: "Don't do them."
If you're thinking about the long term, understand that fad dieting turns your body against you. Jon Gabriel, who detailed how he lost 220 pounds without dieting in the international bestselling book "The Gabriel Method," said, "Starvation diets make your body want to be fatter. You can lose a little bit of weight in the short term, but you'll have to pay it back with interest."
Coffee, cigarettes and cocaine are a sure-fire formula for losing weight. So was Ephedrin, the active ingredient in Ephedra, before it was banned by the FDA in 2004 and blamed (though not confirmed) for the death of athletes Korey Stringer, Steve Belcher and Rashidi Wheeler.
Lesson: Think about the big picture and what you really are seeking before going on a fad diet.
If you want to lose weight in a hurry, you can do it. Just be warned that you could be putting yourself in danger, creating mal-adaptive behaviors, and making it harder to lose weight in the long run. Even $2 million may not be worth it if you end up bigger and sicker than when you started. Or if you really go to an extreme, not even around to enjoy it.
-- Greg Dinkin is a Certified Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and the author of three books including The Poker MBA. He explains in his TED talk how he used the power of both mind and body to lose 100 pounds.