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Published on February 27, 2014

Dieting Dangers: The Truth About Fad Diets

Dean Dietitian Amanda Hellman explains how fad dieting can be detrimental to healthy weight loss goals and shares her advice on healthy weight loss planning

It seems that each week there is a new diet or cleanse promising to melt away pounds or detox your body. Even though each new plan promises to be the “cure” to those extra, unwanted pounds, new diets keep coming. The diet and weight loss industry generates about 60 billion dollars a year! They make money on selling a quick, but rarely effective, fix.

Are there any health benefits to a juice diet or juice cleanse?

Despite rising popularity of juice or detox diets, they offer very few benefits. In fact, for people with kidney disease, diabetics, or those undergoing chemotherapy juice diets can be dangerous. 

Some people may find that following a juice or detox diet for a couple days gives them a feeling of accomplishment, of doing something good for their body. This could promote healthy habits that lead to weight management. Following a juice diet for a short time may help them break unhealthy eating habits and motivate them to get started on a healthier nutrition plan. In other words, a short juice or cleanse diet could be a jump-start into eating better and maybe moving more. 

Following a juice or detox diet for a couple days is probably not going to harm most people, but there are really no proven benefits to juicing or detoxing.  After all, the kidneys, liver, and intestines are designed to detox the body.

How can juice diets and other fad diets be detrimental to healthy weight goals?

Fad diets and yo-yo dieting can lead to unhealthy eating habits, avoiding certain food groups, restricting calories too much or even damaging ones’ relationship with food. Putting foods into “good” and “bad” categories can lead some people to feel guilty if they eat a perceived “bad” food.  Often times this leads to a cycle of emotional eating and weight regain.

In addition, with most fad diets there are usually some new “secret food” to either avoid or eat large quantities of – think the Adkins diet or the grapefruit diet. When we limit entire food groups (carbohydrates) or load up on others (protein), we are throwing our diet out of balance. A healthy diet, and one that promotes realistic weight loss, is one that provides balance, variety, and interest. A dietitian can help you develop a plan that works for you. 

Juice diets can lack fiber and antioxidants that are found in the skins. The fructose from the juice is absorbed much faster than if the fruit were eaten, leading to fluctuations in blood sugar and also decreased satiation. Additionally, juice diets lack adequate protein need for and often provide insufficient calories to support proper metabolism.  This could lead to decreased metabolism making weight loss even more difficult. Lastly, much of the weight that is lost on these types of diets is water weight and will be regained as soon as fluids or foods are reintroduced.

Why are fad diets so hard to stick to?

Fad diets can be hard to stick to because generally they have unrealistic requirements and promote exaggerated results.  Many fad diets promise quick, easy weight loss in just a few days or weeks, often without having to change nutrition or activity habits. Some diets require you cut out entire food groups, stick to a very low caloric intake, or even buy their products or pills. Remember, the diet industry does not get rich by promoting realistic, effective weight management plans.

The next time you think of starting a fad diet ask yourself the following questions. How likely is it that you will NEVER eat carbs again? Will you never eat soy/eggs/sugar or whatever else the diet has you eliminating? Do you want to/need to buy special pills or food? Can you see yourself following this plan long-term? We are promised quick results but true weight loss occurs at an average rate of one to two pounds per week  and generally requires changes in nutrition and activity.

How can I lose a moderate amount of weight (like five to 15 pounds) in a healthy way?

First ask yourself if losing those last 5-15 pounds provides any medical advantages. Is the weight loss just cosmetic? Is it a realistic goal? If you feel like weight loss is a realistic goal, start planning.

I recommend you sit down with a calendar and plot the weeks it will take to reach your target weight. Remember to plan about on to two pounds weight loss per week; and also plan for events that may make weight loss difficult. Think about holidays, celebrations, and work commitments. You’ll probably have to build in some extra time to account for these periods when weight loss might not be realistic.

Next, meet with a registered dietitian (RD) to develop your individual nutrition plan. Each person has unique medical concerns, food habits, and lifestyles. An RD can help develop a plan that accounts for these variables.  Accept that weight management plan is not something that you do for 30 days then go back to your old habits; it’s a lifestyle .

You’ll need plan for about 250 minutes a physical activity each week. This can be split up into 10-15 minute bouts if needed. Find activities that you enjoy, remember this is part of your new lifestyle.

Weight loss and weight maintenance are an ongoing process. You will need to continually reassess your nutrition and activity plan, develop skills to manage your life. Enlist the help of professionals (physicians RD’s, personal trainers, mental health providers).

What are some other ways I can take a healthy approach to weight loss and weight management?

Get support. Whether it is a friend, family member or group, research shows that most people are more successful with support. Dean Comprehensive Weight Management is a great place to start. We can offer individual meal plans, medical and surgical weight management options, health management classes and support groups, and referrals to other services like physical therapy or mental health.

Celebrate your victories along the way. Setting small goals, like losing five pounds, getting your exercise in each week for a month, or decreasing the number of times you dine out each month can help keep you motivated.

When you reach your goals, reward yourself –but NOT with food. Buy a new gym shirt, DVD, or get a massage. 

Treat yourself with love and respect now – not when you reach your goal weight.  Remember that positive self-esteem comes in all sizes and shapes. Take inventory of all the great things your body can do right now.

What are your healthy weight loss tips? Share them in the comments!

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