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Do Bones Shrink When You Lose Weight?
We have all the bones we will ever need when we are born. All 206 of them, to be exact.
Bones start as cartilage and harden as we age. This allows our bones to change and grow as we do, but we never get any more. The growth plates in our bones are what allow them to change as we do.
But – no matter how much weight we gain or lose, our bones will not shrink. This is obvious in people who have lost a significant amount of weight. Suddenly you will see bone structure in areas you couldn’t see it before.
As we shed excess pounds, our bones may become more prominent, but they will never shrink as our waistline does.
What can happen, however, is bones can lose density as we lose weight.
Bone density is vital for long term health. The density of your bones is a huge determinant in a bone’s overall strength. The more dense your bones are, the less likely they are to fracture, splinter, or break.
Your bone density is important at any age, but becomes much more important as you get older. People who lose bone density during weight loss can be causing significant issues for their body structure later in life.
So how can we lose the extra weight while also not causing damage to our bones? There are several factors that are in play and certain things you can do to make sure you get your body to a healthy weight without compromising your bones and doing any long-term damage to them.
1. Don’t Lose Too Much Too Fast
Perhaps the biggest contributor to bone density loss while you are losing weight is that if you lose too much weight, too quickly, you are setting your bones up for long-term harm.
Multiple studies have shown that individuals who go on a drastic calorie-deficient diet are much more likely to suffer bone density loss than people who reduce their calories at a slower rate, and therefore lose weight in a longer time period.
When you greatly decrease your calories, your body will begin to do whatever it needs to, in order to keep its main systems operating. Though your body will burn fat stores to keep your heart, lungs, brain, and circulatory system functioning correctly, it will also begin to pull energy from other areas, like your muscles, and bones.
Our bodies are amazing machines that have learned how to adapt over thousands of years. If in a state of drastic calorie decrease, your body knows which systems need to be fed first in order for it to survive.
Unfortunately, that means things like bones will be low on the list of priorities. Throwing your body into a state of starvation means that your bone density will begin to dissipate, as your body won’t have enough calories (energy) to keep the regeneration of bone mass going.
Though the effects may not be realized in the short term, while you are losing weight, severe calorie reduction in a short amount of time will have adverse effects later, as your bone mass may have been permanently changed by such a restrictive diet.
If you are committed to losing weight, it is best to take the long game approach. Yes, you may not see the difference in your physical self as quickly, but you will be doing your skeletal self a huge favor.
2. Don’t Deprive Your Body of Certain Nutrients While Losing Weight
Another way that you can continue to lose weight, but not put your bones in jeopardy is to make sure that while you are limiting your caloric intake, you choose wisely which calories you are going to eat.
Oftentimes when people are focused on decreasing their food consumption, they struggle to find foods to eat that are low in calories but high in nutrients. And thanks to the thousands of different diets out there, it’s hard to make sure your body and bones are getting what they need, while also not sabotaging your attempts to lose weight.
A good example of this is diets that encourage you to cut out all dairy products.
Foods that fall into the dairy groups are things like cheese, milk, and yogurts. These foods are all high in vitamin D, a nutrient that is crucial for bone health.
But – dairy products also tend to be high in fat. And almost anyone who is trying to cut calories knows that high-fat foods don’t lead to significant weight loss.
On the other hand, diets that encourage eating fats, like the Keto Diet may allow a good portion of dairy to be consumed and claim you can still lose weight, but they have also been criticized for potentially leading to bone damage, as they greatly restrict nutrients that are found in many high-carbohydrate foods, like grains and fruits.
So, what is the best way to lose weight and still maintain the appropriate amount of nutrients in your diet so as to not harm your bones?
Most nutritionists and medical professionals will tell you that – though some diets will indeed lead to weight loss – the best course of action is to choose foods that are plant-based, high in healthy proteins and fats, and give you a big bang of nutrient-rich calories while limiting the ones that do nothing for your overall health.
By choosing your foods wisely, you can still lose weight while ensuring that your bones stay healthy and aren’t going to be compromised in the long run.
3. Do Engage in Weight-Bearing Activities While Losing Weight
Finally, an important part of any (healthy!) weight loss plan should incorporate exercise into your daily regime.
We all know that you can’t lose weight by exercising alone. A bad diet built on lots of empty calories can not be “out-exercised.”
No matter how many hours you spend running or at the gym, your body needs good food to survive, thrive and maintain a healthy weight.
But – experts now know that people who lose weight by just reducing calories are at a significantly higher risk to have bone mass complications later.
The reason for this is simple.
Engaging in weight-bearing exercise forces our bones to work harder in order to offset the stress that the exercise puts on them.
So, if you are reducing your calories, but also going to the gym, for a long walk, or getting on your bicycle, you are encouraging your bones to respond to the increased activity.
In essence, you are giving your bones a job – an important job that keeps them healthy.
Exercise while losing weight will also do more than just keep your bones strong. It also will aid in your overall weight loss, as it helps burn the fat stores in your body, which will lead to increased weight loss without forcing your body to burn any of the good stuff that your body needs.
No one is going to ever suggest exercise isn’t good for helping you lose weight. But knowing it is also going to help keep your bones strong is a huge benefit many don’t think about when they begin a weight loss journey.