Fad diets - false promises and magic bullets

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Tuesday, 13 January 2009.
Tagged: dieting, diets, fads, guides, healthy cooking, healthy eating, overweight, weight loss

Fad diets - false promises and magic bullets
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Many people turn to fad diets either in desperation or looking for a quick-fix to their weight loss problems. In this article I'll show you why the only "diet" you need is a healthy eating plan and why fad diets in general are counter-productive. Take a look!

Why fad diets appeal to those looking for weight loss

"Lose 14kg in 30 days!" "Drop a dress size in a weekend!" "Block the absorption of fat or carbs!" "Lose weight with our miracle supplement or juice!" "New diet melts away flab!" I'm sure you've heard them all.

Quick and easy weight loss is so appealing

Quick and easy weight loss is so appealing that it's hard not to be sucked in with sensational claims like those above.

Fad diet fashions

Fad diets come and go - every year sees the appearance of yet a "new and revolutionary" way of getting rid of unwanted flab quickly without effort. Cast your memory back to the Kickstart Soup diet, Dr Atkins Diet and the Blood Type Diet. Before them, can you recall the Israeli Army diet, the Beverly Hills Diet, the Hip and Thigh Diet?

Recycled fads

Often they are old ideas re-cycled with a new name and a new image to catch the unsuspecting. Their promises of quick weight loss has enormous appeal for anyone with a weight problem. Here's why:

  • they have only to be endured for a few days and so need little will-power
  • there is no choice of food, so no decisions have to be made about what you should eat
  • you can return to your former (fattening) way of eating once the diet is over.

Why you should avoid them if you want to keep healthy and trim

There are four key reasons why you should steer clear of fad diets:

  1. They don't work! That's because they give short term results but fail to establish sensible eating habits that allow you to eat "real food" as part of a normal life
  2. They often cause you to lose lean muscle. This creates a drop in your metabolic rate and in turn a decrease in the number of kilojoules (calories) you can burn each day. Therefore you, the dieter, must eat less and less to maintain your weight loss. And once you finish the diet, your weight often creeps back up to your pre-diet starting weight - or even higher
  3. The "yo-yo" style of weight control - repeatedly losing and regaining weight - is considered even more unhealthy than being overweight. It can place a strain on your heart not mention being "disheartening".
  4. They can cost you! Many weight loss organisations reap a small fortune each year through the sales of diet drinks, meal replacements, appetite suppressants and "fat blockers", diet books and home-delivered meals. As a nation, Australians presently spend $500 million each year with commercial weight loss organisations in an attempt to lose flab, with another $18 million going on appetite suppressants alone.

Types of fad diets and their weight loss strategies

Here's a summary of the five different types of weight loss strategies used by fad diets. Understand these and you'll understand how these diets work and how you can spot them next time you read about one:

Single food diets - weight loss through boredom!

Based on one food (like hard-boiled eggs) or one food group (like vegetables), these diets imply that they have a mysterious ability to burn-off fat, reduce your appetite or speed up your metabolism. Others offer you "unlimited" quantities of a food, knowing that you will quickly get tired of the same thing and curtail your total kilojoule intake.

They work on the principle of boredom and monotony. You end up eating very few kilojoules, so your body basically goes into starvation mode.

Kick Start Soup diet, The Cabbage Soup Diet, The Heart Foundation 3-Day Diet (disowned by the Heart Foundation), The Grapefruit Diet, The Mayo Clinic Diet (also known as the Egg Diet), The Beverley Hills Diet, the Bananas and Milk Diet.

Semi-fasts - weight loss through starvation!

Semi-fasts allow small amounts of light foods like juices, fruit, salads, herbal teas or brown rice. They promise you a feeling of euphoria and you will feel cleansed after it's finished. They're attractive as they produce rapid weight loss in only a few days, say if you go to a spa or health resort.

They are not without hazards e.g. dizziness, muscle cramps, nausea, bad breath, dehydration, constipation. Follow with caution.

Detox Diets

Hip and Thigh Diets - weight loss through kilojoule control and exercise

With the promise of spot reducing "problem areas", these diets are always popular and regularly re-surface every few years. The trouble is that weight is usually lost from all over your body, not just one spot. (And usually not the spot you want to lose it from.) Most are simply low-kilojoule diets combined with an exercise plan.

Rosemary Conley's Hip and Thigh Diet and the Cellulite Diet.

Liquid diets/ meal replacement - weight loss through convenience

You replace one, two or three meals a day with a special shake on this type of diet. The good thing is this keeps you out of the kitchen and away from food so you're not tempted to nibble or over indulge. The downside is that the shakes can be expensive and may leave you short on vitamins or minerals that are plentiful in food (although many shakes are fortified these days). And because you're not chewing and taking time to eat, you may not feel as satisfied as you would be from whole foods.

Slim Fast, Tony Fergusons, Herbalife and Optifast

Low carbohydrate diets - weight loss through water loss

Diets that tell you to avoid all bread, potatoes, pasta and cereals come into fashion every few years. Such diets claim that these carbohydrate foods are the cause of obesity and that by simply eliminating them, you will eliminate your flab.

Living without carbohydrate means a diet of meat, cheese, fish, mayonnaise, butter and cream, which creates a high-fat, high-cholesterol regime - hardly good for the heart. You definitely shed a lot of weight on such diets. But the weight is largely water and will return once carbohydrates are (eventually) eaten.

Dr Atkins' Diet Revolution, The Scarsdale Medical Diet, Boston Police Diet and Dr Stillman's Quick Weight Loss Diet.

What to look for when a new diet appears. How to check its weight loss credentials.

If you hear about a new diet (and there will be one coming to a magazine or website near you!), look over it and ask yourself the following six questions. Does the diet:

  1. Make enticing claims about losing weight quickly and effortlessly?
  2. Allow you to eat as much as you like of any one food - and not put on weight?
  3. Make one food appear important, giving it "miracle" properties?
  4. Require you to buy special diet supplements or pills or formula?
  5. Claim to be new or revolutionary?
  6. Only mention food and say nothing about exercise?

If the answer to any of these questions is YES, then this is not a balanced program and is unlikely to be based on a healthy eating plan that will lead to healthy weight loss and the acquisition of healthy eating habits that will help you maintain your weight loss. Forget it!

How to contact a dietitian

daa-logo-greenIf you feel confused about what's best for you, make an appointment with an accredited practicing dietitian. To find one near you, contact Dietitians Australia on 1800 812 942 or go to www.dietitiansaustralia.org.au.

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Catherine Saxelby About the author

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Catherine Saxelby has the answers! She is an accredited nutritionist, blogger and award-winning author. Her award-winning book My Nutritionary will help you cut through the jargon. Do you know your MCTs from your LCTs? How about sterols from stanols? What’s the difference between glucose and dextrose? Or probiotics and prebiotics? What additive is number 330? How safe is acesulfame K? If you find yourself confused by food labels, grab your copy of Catherine Saxelby’s comprehensive guide My Nutritionary NOW!