Many of us are constantly on the search for the “magic bullet" that would help us lose pounds rapidly and more or less painlessly, from Atkins to South Beach to the Zone to the Blood Type Diet, to name a few.
Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 17 Dec 2021.
Dangerous Fad Diets And How It Harms Your Body
Beyoncé Knowles embarked on a crash diet that consisted of drinking a combination of water, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup as a replacement for regular meals when she wanted to shed 22 pounds quickly for her part in the film Dreamgirls. She cleared the pounds and, in the process, caused a craze on maple syrup as word of her slimmer form spread. “I would not encourage it if someone weren’t filming a movie," Beyoncé has told interviewers, “since there are other methods to reduce weight."
Nutritionists who are sceptical of Beyoncé’s quick-fix weight reduction method may be relieved to learn of her warning to dieters. “This diet is lacking critical nutrients and is unlikely to foster healthy eating and lifestyle habits that would allow any weight loss to be sustained," says Jenna Anding, PhD, RD, LD, associate department chair, Texas A&M University’s department of nutrition and food science. “Dropping 20 pounds in two weeks is also unhealthy; nutritionists advocate losing no more than 2 pounds a week."
Our Fascination With Fad Diets
The “syrup diet" is just one of several (although more severe) diet ideas that have piqued our interest over the years. Many of us are constantly on the search for the “magic bullet" that would help us lose pounds rapidly and more or less painlessly, from Atkins to South Beach to the Zone to the Blood Type Diet, to name a few.
Why are we so captivated by the plethora of diet regimens that fill bookstore shelves, despite the advice of most nutritionists? “Most people desire cutting-edge weight-reduction solutions," says Robin Steagall, RD, nutrition communications manager for the Calorie Control Council. “Fad diets provide, at least on the appearance, ‘novel’ strategies to overcome the dull mathematical realities of long-term weight reduction."
“All diets operate on the idea of lowering calories," Steagall continues, “but every new diet has some unique twist to achieve this aim." Cutting 500 calories a day may result in a 1-pound weight reduction in a week, for example.
The Fast-Food Diet, co-authored by Stephen Sinatra, MD, and Jim Punkre, is one of the most recent, capitalising on the American love affair with, yep, fast food. While the diet does not advocate fast food per se, it does recognise that many of us (the authors estimate that 25% of the population visits fast-food restaurants on any given day) do so because they are quick and economical.
So, if you’re already there, they recommend making healthy choices that will help you lose weight. Some pointers: Choose the smallest drink size available, or better yet, switch from soda to club soda or water; order from the children’s menu; or choose for a baked potato rather than fries.
Eating From the Bible
Another popular programme, Jordan S. Rubin’s Maker’s Diet, is based on the premise of a “biblically right diet and lifestyle," which includes small quantities of whole foods from natural sources ingested as near to their original condition as possible. Rubin’s programme also emphasises emotional and spiritual well-being. Eat to live, supplement your diet with whole foods, living nutrients, and superfoods, practise advanced cleanliness, condition your body with exercise and body treatments, eliminate toxins in your surroundings, avoid lethal emotions, and live a life of prayer and purpose are the seven keys to his diet.
Janet Basom, a clinical dietitian at the Joe Arrington Cancer Center (JACC) in Lubbock, Texas, says that just because a diet plan — especially this diet plan — is on the best-seller list doesn’t indicate it works or is practical.
“This strategy is in line with what I consider to be true, based on both my professional and personal experience," Basom explains.
“This isn’t a fad diet," Basom clarifies. “The program’s purpose is to assist individuals in making long-term lifestyle changes, not necessarily to help them lose weight. It’s more about educating people how to make the greatest decisions possible, not only in terms of what they eat but also in terms of how they live."
The Maker’s Diet’s results have inspired Basom so much that she has been awarded funding to undertake a study on the programme among JACC’s 100+ workers.
Recognising the Fads
According to Basom, not every trendy new diet qualifies as a “fad," which she describes as a “short cure" that doesn’t lead to better health and can’t be maintained over time.
According to Steagall, there are various methods to spot a fad diet. A fad diet is a diet that is popular for a short period.
- It doesn’t provide the diversity of foods required for optimal health and fails to instil proper eating habits.
- It claims that you can “trick" your body’s metabolism into losing calories or energy.
- Make bold promises about how quickly and easily you can lose weight.
“If a balanced, nutritious diet and increased physical activity aren’t included, all of the glitter and glamour ways will probably not be beneficial for safe and long-term weight reduction," adds Steagall.
Fat Smash Diet
As shown on VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club, the Fat Smash Diet is one popular diet that strongly encourages activity. Ian Smith, MD, the show’s host and diet’s creator, has made exercise a vital component of the programme, with a “prescription" for 30 minutes of exercise five days a week in the first stage and increasing activity in each following three steps.
According to Smith, the 90-day programme improves our food and exercise habits by implementing lifestyle changes. For the first nine days, you “detox" by eating only fruits and vegetables, with no meat, bread, cheese, coffee, or alcohol permitted. More foods are added to the acceptable list during the three-week “foundation" phase, and activity increases by 10% to 15% over phase one. The four-week “construction" phase allows for a treat now and again, and activity increases by 25% compared to phase two. Smith argues that once dieters reach the lifelong “temple" phase, they will have established a lifelong practice of beneficial behaviours.
While the “jump-start" that dieters might obtain from an early quick-loss phase of a weight-reduction programme may have some validity, most effective diet regimens, according to Robert Eckel, MD, president of the American Heart Association (AHA), are structured for progressive weight reduction and modified behaviour.
“A rapid, short-term weight reduction — may be spurred by a special occasion like a wedding or reunion — is unlikely to be hazardous if you’re healthy," adds Eckel. “However, in the long term, most such plans are very extreme and difficult to follow."
The AHA has claimed its own shelf space with the American Heart Association No-Fad Diet: A Personal Plan for Healthy Weight Loss. The programme encourages healthy eating habits, more excellent physical activity, success ideas, and advice on creating a healthy eating environment for the whole family. According to Eckel, the plan provides three alternative options that make it “user friendly," including surveys that assist users in defining what kind of dieter they are.
Make Healthy Choices
Most weight reduction regimens may be started by healthy adults on their own, according to Eckel. However, if you have a pre-existing illness, he advises that you see your doctor first. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) reiterates this suggestion, suggesting patients with diabetes stay away from fad diets that encourage extreme low-carbohydrate or high-protein eating.
Ann Albright, PhD, RD, writes in the September issue of Diabetes Care, “There is no evidence that these diets help people keep the weight off once they lose it, and there are numerous concerns about the fibre, vitamins, and minerals that people lose when they severely restrict their diet, such as by severely limiting carbohydrate intake.
“Fad diets come and go," says Albright, who is the ADA’s Health Care and Education president-elect. “We aim to give them appropriate dietary advice that will assist them in making decisions that will help them maintain good health in the long run."
“While fad diets may help you lose weight, they don’t teach you how to keep it off," Steagall says. “Keep in mind that you’re learning a way of life, not simply a diet.
“You must remain motivated to keep the weight off," Steagall says. “Weight loss success is based on you, not on any specific product or programme, no matter who promotes it or how appealing it looks on the surface. ‘Not everything that glitters is gold.'"
- Jenna Anding, PhD, RD, LD, associate department head for extension, department of nutrition and food science, Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas. Janet Basom, RD, LD, clinical dietitian, Joe Arrington Cancer Center, Lubbock, Texas. Robin Steagall, RD, nutrition communications manager, Calorie Control Council, Atlanta. Robert H. Eckel, MD, 2005-2006 president, American Heart Association, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. News release, “How to Eat to Prevent or Treat Diabetes: ADA Releases First Food Guidelines Tailored to Medical Categories," Aug. 25, 2006.