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Why Fad Diets Suck

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Updated May 08, 2014

A fad diet is any trendy diet that promises fast and easy weight loss, like baby food diets, alkaline diets, Paleolithic diets, gluten-free diets, cleanses and fasts, etc. They're tempting, and the advertisements for the fad diets lure you in with magnificent claims of weight loss.

Just imagine -- no need to worry about counting calories or exercising, just follow the rules and the extra pounds fall right off. They don't work, so don't fall for the fad diet hype.

Fad diets are bad because they don't address the problems that caused you to gain weight in the first place. Once you're through with the fad diet, you'll probably gain the weight back as you reestablish old eating habits. Fad diets are also bad because they usually require the elimination of foods that aren't bad for you, which can result in nutritional deficiencies.

How do you know you are looking at a fad diet? Typical signs include:

  • Claims of fast and easy weight loss.
  • Elimination of certain food groups or bad foods.
  • Includes dietary supplements impressively labeled as fat burners, weight loss aids, hoodia, and metabolism boosters.
  • Tells you that foods need to be specifically combined for proper digestion to occur.
  • No need for exercise.
  • Highlights specific foods, such as grapefruit, maple syrup and lemonade or special soup.

Some people develop a pattern called "yo-yoing" or weight-cycling, which is losing weight, gaining weight, and then losing it again. They repeat this pattern for many years. Some experts believe that weight-cycling is unhealthy. There isn't any evidence to support this idea, but obviously it isn't as effective as adopting a healthy balanced diet that you can follow for a lifetime.

What About Fat-Burners?

Don't fall for the claims of extreme weight-loss "fat-burner" supplements. Take your eyes off the svelte woman (who just lost 30 pounds in a few weeks!) and look down at the bottom of the ad. You will see a disclaimer in tiny letters, "weight-loss not typical, your results may vary." That means most people don't lose much weight.

Some diets require you to eliminate certain food groups. The diet authors claim that we haven't evolved enough as a species to eat wheat, or some say specific foods don't match your blood type. These are interesting hypotheses, but there's not enough reliable evidence that supports those claims. Certain health conditions require the elimination of specific food groups due to allergies or metabolic disorders such as celiac disease, but most of us should choose foods from all major food groups every day.

A few fad diets require you to combine certain types of foods. The claim here is that your body can't digest carbs at the same time it digests proteins or with fats. But that's absurd. Your digestive system utilizes specific enzymes for digestion of different foods and they don't cancel each other out -- in fact, they all work quite nicely together.

Are Any Fad Diets Healthy? What About Low-Fat or Low-Carb Diets?

The Mediterranean, low-fat, and low-carb diets are the big kids on the dietary block and each has a fair amount of research backing some of their claims. In the short term, low-carb diets tend to result in more weight loss than low-fat diets, but long-term results aren't clear because weight loss diet research studies rarely last longer than one year.

These diets have their good points. Mediterranean diets include lots of fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. Low-carb diets eliminate excess sugar and high fructose corn syrup that add empty calories and low-fat diets prohibit unhealthy saturated and trans-fats. But, you can do all of those things with a regular balanced diet.

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