Body Sense: Fad diets = bad diets

Contributed by C. Claire Armagnac, B.A.

Let’s face it. Fad diets are the Lindsay Lohans of the nutrition world. They have horrible reputations, and they’re disorganized, damaging, and unhealthy, but they still continue to make headlines and have millions of devoted fans.

Most of us have a coworker, friend, or friend-of-a-friend who has lost weight by following an extreme, temporary weight-loss plan, more commonly known as a fad diet. This month’s post is an exploration of the dangers of some of the more popular fad diets. It also includes tips on how to choose a smart nutrition plan that can work for you. Click here for more Body Sense posts.

Fad diets don't workFirst Offender: The Cabbage-Soup Diet

This fad diet has a devoted following and its own creepy website where you can download an e-book that provides you with “tips on how to survive the full 7 days on the cabbage soup diet.” Survive? Yikes!

According to the health information site WebMD, dieters who follow the cabbage-soup diet’s nutritional guidelines are encouraged to eat a bland, chunky soup that consists of cabbage and other vegetables, along with fruit, a few servings of brown rice, and plenty of water. This diet is only supposed to be followed for 1 week at a time and promises 10 pounds of weight loss.

Although the allure of losing 10 pounds in such a short amount of time may be tempting, WebMD (and anyone who has taste buds) strongly advises against this diet. It doesn’t provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals, and the number of calories consumed while on it is so low that fainting, dizziness, and lethargy are common side effects.

So unless you want to put your health at risk and feel like a wilted bag of coleslaw, this diet is not for you.

Second Offender: The hCG Diet

Although not as well-known as the cabbage-soup diet, this nutritional nightmare has garnered media attention in recent months because it promises weight loss of up to 30 pounds in 30 days.

Diet participants consume less than 500 calories per day while receiving injections of hCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin), a hormone naturally secreted by women’s bodies during pregnancy. The hormone is supposed to make dieters feel less hungry even though they’re eating very little.

It’s suspected that the hormone causes a nonpregnant woman’s body to dip into its fat reserves to find fuel for metabolic functions, such as maintaining a constant heartbeat. The body’s consumption of its fat reserves is supposed to lead to rapid weight loss, but it can also lead to an unhealthy alteration to the body’s metabolism and liver function.

If this diet sounds like sketchy pseudoscience, that’s because it is. Its effects on men haven’t been studied, but it’s probably risky for both genders and should definitely be avoided.

Third Offender: The Baby-Food Diet

Celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston are rumored to have used this diet to lose weight before movie shoots, and it’s become popular because of its deceptively simple nutrition plan.

Advocates for this diet explain that baby food is safe to eat because it’s mainly made of fruits and vegetables and it contains pure nutrients. While this may be true, baby food is in no way considered an acceptable substitute for all of the fiber and flavors we get by consuming real food. Eating enough small jars of baby food to feel full will get expensive and will probably still mean consuming at least 1,200 calories per day, which will cause weight loss to be gradual instead of rapid.

You may be able to lose weight on this diet, but you’ll gain it back once you start to eat normally again. This diet isn’t worth your time or money, especially when there are plenty of ways to lose weight that are safer and more enjoyable.

Smarter Choices, Better Results

One of the best ways to start losing weight is by keeping track of the number of calories you currently consume. There are many apps for iPads and smartphones that can help you keep a diary of your diet and exercise habits ‒ my favorite one for the iPad is called Calorie Counter. These apps are useful because they link into the websites for many popular restaurant chains and provide nutritional data for everything from Chili’s boneless wings to Cracker Barrel’s biscuits. They also provide estimates for the number of calories in common foods such as yogurt and cheese.

If you don’t have a smartphone, keeping a paper journal of the foods you eat can be just as effective. Simply knowing that you will have to admit on paper to eating 6 Oreos or a whole basket of fries can be a deterrent, and seeing your daily diet written out can help you to recognize days of the week or times of the month when it’s difficult for you to eat healthfully. By being realistic about the number of calories and types of foods you consume, it will be easier for you to make changes, such as replacing whole milk with skim milk and eating a sandwich on one slice of bread instead of two.

Exercise is my personal favorite way to lose weight and maintain physique because it can be fun (a lot more fun than eating endless mounds of cabbage!) and can have physical as well as emotional benefits. Adding a few hours of strength training or fitness classes to your weekly schedule may not cause you to lose 30 pounds in 30 days, but it’s much safer than any fad diet and can also promote heart health and longevity.

What do you think, readers? Are there any other risky fad diets that we should be on the lookout for? Send me your feedback at carmagna@stetson.edu! Click here for more Body Sense posts. Share this post by using the buttons below.

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One thought on “Body Sense: Fad diets = bad diets

  1. OMG, pretty much any diet can promise a 10 pound loss in weight by simply reducing water that our bodies hold. Why is it that we humans insist on instant weight loss while we continue consuming fast foods? Just doesn’t make sense, does it.

    Eating raw foods I no longer care about counting calories. It “ain’t” that important when we eat right!

    Thanks,
    Mona

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