Ah the fad diet. One of the most popular topics in the world of nutrition, and one of my favorites! There are so many ‘diets’ out there that offer ‘fast results,’ it’s hard not to be seduced by them. Since I am aiming to be completely honest with you, I will tell you that my senior year of high school and for a short time in college, I took ‘ thermogenic, fat-burning’ pills (this was over 10 years ago). When I look back on it, it scares the crap out of me, and I’m pretty sure my parents are not going to be pleased to read this (don’t worry, mom and dad, I didn’t take too many, I was too scared). Anyhoo, the recommended dosage of these pills was 2 pills, twice a day. Instead, I took just 1 pill, 3 times a week, yet I was jittery and shaky even at that low dosage. But I didn’t just ignore it. The weird mix of being scared of those jitters, and my unwavering determination to have a toned body, prompted me to do some research, which eventually led to an idea for an assignment in my journalism class. I wrote an article on thermogenic pills that ended up being published in The Alligator, University of Florida’s daily newspaper (yes, I’m tooting my own horn). After researching them, I stopped taking the ‘fat-burning’ pills. Let’s just say the information I dug up was…alarming. I’m providing this example to demonstrate how the less information one has, the more likely one is to be seduced by a fad diet or miracle pill. So, in an effort to keep you in the know, here is my rundown of fad diets. Not everyone is going to agree with me, but I have based my opinions on my experiences, research, and of course, education. It’s up to you to take it or leave it. I’ll try to keep the reviews short and sweet; if you want more detailed reviews that cite studies and quote health care professionals, log on to reputable sites such as webMD, and search the name of the diet you are considering. Ok, here we go…
The Atkins Diet. While many people have lost significant amounts of weight using this method, I have seen just as many people gain it back upon reintroducing carbohydrates into their diet. This diet works because you are restricting a food group which, in turn, means you are restricting calories. So, while yes, you will probably lose weight with this method, you might be increasing your risk of heart disease. The Atkins diet recommends no more than 40g of carbohydrates a day. You need at least 130g of carbohydrates a day for your brain and body to function properly. If you’re counting, that puts the Atkins diet at 90g less than the necessary amount of carbohydrates.
Gluten free diet. I don’t feel that eliminating gluten from your diet is necessary unless you are told to do it by a health care professional. So, if you suspect that you are gluten-intolerant, I suggest that you go see a doctor or a dietitian rather than attempting this elimination on your own.
Paleo or Caveman diet. This diet has some good points (e.g. eating grains, veggies, lean meats, nuts, and seeds) but I am not completely sold on it for a few reasons: 1) We are not living in the Paleolithic era. I know few people that ‘hunt and gather’ for their meals, and if you are one of those people, kudos to you. If you’re not, it may be very difficult and/or expensive to get all the required wild game, and wild, edible plants. 2) Eating one large meal a day, is not ideal for keeping your body properly fueled; food is energy. If you expend energy throughout the day, you need to eat. Cave men did not have 9-5 jobs and extracurricular activities. 3) I am not a fan of any diet that eliminates an entire food group (e.g. dairy in this case); whenever a food group is eliminated, you run the risk of nutrient deficiencies (perhaps calcium, when cutting out dairy.)
HCG diet. RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN IN THE OTHER DIRECTION FROM THIS DIET!! Holy dangerous, Batman! Not only are you injecting yourself with hormones which are only naturally present in pregnant women, you can only consume an insanely-low 500 calories a day. Heck, a regular-size Snickers bar has 271 calories, so imagine eating no more than 2 of those a day. Of course you’re going to lose weight! Talk about calorie restriction. There is nothing beneficial about this diet. Who knows what side effects you will be faced with along with nutrient deficiencies, muscle loss, and, I would imagine, a perpetual bad mood.
Blood type diet. There is no scientific evidence backing this diet. While it may not be dangerous, it doesn’t consider individuals’ needs, so someone following this diet might end up eliminating a food that doesn’t negatively affect them.
The Master Cleanse (or any ‘cleanse’ for that matter) I have some fantastic detox products that most healthy people already have access to…your kidneys and your liver!! There is no need to do a cleanse or detox unless you’re trying to quit drugs or alcohol (and that’s a different type of detox). A little bit about the Master Cleanse which, you may not know, was developed in the 1940s: it is deficient in all essential nutrients; weight loss occurs due to the extreme calorie restriction (I don’t care what cleanse or diet you’re on, if you’re not eating your going to lose weight — in an unhealthy manner); the weight that you are losing probably includes muscle instead of fat; you can expect to feel hungry, experience headaches, fatigue, dizziness, sluggishness, diarrhea, or constipation (sounds like a blast); fasting can rob your intestines of healthy bacteria that aid digestion and boost immunity; and there is NO evidence showing that cleanses remove toxins that are not already excreted through daily waste (please don’t make me go into detail). Another fun fact: The creator of the Master Cleanse, Stanley Burroughs, was convicted of second degree murder (stemming from a patient of his dying while he was engaged in felonious unlicensed practice of medicine). This conviction was reversed, but the court felt that Burroughs was susceptible to a possible conviction of involuntary manslaughter. (Google “People vs Burroughs” to read all of his convictions…yes, there are more.)
Pills and miracle products. If you’ll notice, the fine print on every one of these products reads “results achieved when combined with a balanced diet and an exercise program.” Coincidence? I think not. Save your money, no over the counter pill currently on the market is proven to work. It’s the diet and exercise that are giving you results, the pill is just the snake oil being peddled to make money.
Here’s the bottom line that, for some reason, few choose to accept. There is no miracle diet or pill that will allow you to eat whenever you want while sitting on your arse. The one ‘diet’ that is PROVEN to work is a balanced diet consisting of lots of veggies and fruits, lean meats, low fat dairy products, whole grains and an eating schedule of a meal or snack every 3 hours. I think you know that. This program has been touted by nearly every reputable health care professional; however, the most challenging aspect of this universally recommended program is just applying what we already know. It’s like anything else, we usually know how to do it, it just takes us time to commit to it and get in a comfortable flow. Below is a sample day from my ‘diet’:
Meal 1: 2 slices whole wheat bread with Nutella and a glass of milk
Meal 2: Publix brand shredded wheat with 1 banana, milk, and Splenda. Black coffee to drink
Meal 3: 1 pear, 1/2 bell pepper, 3 slices Boar’s Head chicken, jalapeno greek yogurt dip, Tostitos multi grain Scoops
Meal 4: Oh Yeah! bar and a glass of milk
Meal 5: Protein shake (1/2 cup Pomegranate juice, 1/2 cup skim milk, 1/2 cup mixed frozen berries, 4 frozen strawberries, 1 banana, 1 scoop whey protein powder, 6 ice cubes)
Meal 6: whole grain pasta with peppers, onions, and chicken, sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese