Fad diets are unforgiving. Boring. Restricting. They ban specific foods or entire food groups, only allow you to eat certain foods, require special pills or supplements, and promise nearly impossible results. They are, by definition, fleeting. They're trendy for a few months, maybe a year or two, until people realize that these diets simply can't deliver the results they promise and move on to the next.
Americans alone are estimated to spend $40 billion annually on diet programs and products, many of them fad-based. As a fitness aficionado, you know better than to subsist only on cabbage, lemon water, or grapefruit. Still, it can be frustrating when your usual workout regimen has slower results than you want, or when you seem to hit a plateau. It can be easy to be lulled in by the siren song of Before and After photos of pudgy dads becoming hunky hardbodies and the promises of lasting effects.
Newer science shows that the concept of dieting really doesn't work for anyone trying to lose weight or maintain a new physique. These fad diets should actually be called “fat diets,” because for every pound you lose on one, you're extremely likely to gain back, plus some. This is because radically changing your diet is a temporary solution, rather than a sustainable lifestyle change. It's a band aid fix borne of desperation; as soon as you return to eating normally, your body will boomerang back to its previous state.
Fad diets lead to dehydration. Rather than burning fat, fad diets usually help you shed water weight. Water does have weight, yes, but it's also vital to healthy skin, proper digestion, waste removal, regulating body temperature, and allowing metabolism to occur. You should be aiming to drink between six to eight glasses of water a day, and more if you're working out frequently. If you have too little, you risk dehydration—which claims the gnarly side effects of weakness, dizziness, confusion, heart palpitations, and fainting. When you want to lose weight, water is your friend. To stay full and cut down on unhealthy snacking, drink one full glass before and one after each meal.
Fad diets are bad for your mental and physical health. These diets are wholly unsustainable and set the dieter up for failure. This can lead to a pattern of yo-yo dieting, or gain and loss cycles. This is extremely demoralizing—particularly for anyone new to fitness. Dieticians agree that crash diets also can lead to disordered thinking or unhealthy body image. “Punishment is not an effective way to make long-term, livable changes to your eating habits,” says registered dietitian Mary Bamford. “A sense of guilt and failure doesn't help people keep the weight off. To make a change that matters, you need an approach that you can live with.” Eating too few calories will lead to serious fatigue. When you restrict your intake, the body hits starvation mode and begins to dip into its muscles stores. Working out during this time is an almost sure way to get a nasty injury.
The Top Four Weirdest Fad Diets
- The Cabbage Soup Diet This is a gross one. While we like cabbage on occasion, this diet involves eating nothing but the boiled leaves in soup for a few days as a “cleanse.” While it's true that cabbage is full of fiber, we say pass to this bland, mushy diet… and its shall we say, unpleasant side effects.
- Blood Type This fad diet seems to have come straight out of left field. According to the diet's founder, each blood type has an ideal meal plan associated with it. For example, Type O allegedly shouldn't eat dairy or wheat, and Type A should avoid most meats. There's little, if any, science to back up these claims.
- The Twinkie Diet Mark Haub, professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, spent two months living on only snack cakes, Doritos, and Oreos to prove a point. He lost 27 pounds, because he took in fewer calories than he burned. This experiment legitimizes the growing If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) movement, but living on Little Debbies alone won't earn you that six-pack. There's more to food than calories, and it's a quick route to “skinny fat” if you don't pay attention to anything else.
- The Baby Food Diet The weirdest was saved for last. Celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson is to blame for this one. The gist is that followers eat two jars of baby food a day and a sensible dinner. Apparently Lady Gaga was a fan at some point. For the average Joe, this is a terrible idea. Baby food is low on calories but high on sugar—not to mention that the texture is goopy!
A healthy weight loss plan involves a variety of foods, ongoing exercise (both cardio and strength-training), moderate weight loss goals of .5 to two pounds per week, and common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is—unless you're talking about the Promax protein bars, which won't work any miracles, but will keep you full and fuel some great workouts.
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