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Three Reasons to Avoid Fad Diets

A quick weight loss program may sound like the perfect way to shed those extra pounds; however, following a fad diet can actually cause more harm than good to your body and your waistline, reminding us that there are no “quick fixes” in life. As their name suggests, fad diets are just that – fads that fade when the next hot trend arrives. These diets are typically characterized as being low fat, low-carbohydrate or high-protein, or concentrate on one particular food item such as the cabbage soup diet. Beyond the seriously lacking science behind their weight-loss claims, these diets usually go against established scientific principles on human health and nutrition. As has been proven again and again, long-term weight loss is most successfully achieved by adopting a low-fat diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins in conjunction with regular exercise and stress management techniques. The following are three key reasons to avoid the pitfalls of the fad diets and choose balance instead.

1) Dehydration: The main draw common to all fad diets is the promise of rapid weight loss. However, it is important to understand how the body copes with a drastic dietary change. There is no “magic” behind the significant weight loss associated with high-protein, and low-carbohydrate diets. When the body is not consistently receiving a supply of carbohydrates, glycogen is moved out of the liver and muscles in order to supply the body’s cells with the energy they need to function. As this lack of carbohydrate intake persists and the body’s glycogen stores become depleted, ketone bodies are produced from fat in order to continue providing energy to various cells and fueling the brain. These two metabolic processes are the body’s coping mechanism for starvation, and they both result in the loss of water. Each gram of glycogen is mobilized with two grams of water, and ketone bodies attract sodium to the kidney as they are being expelled, which in turn further increases water loss. The rapid initial weight loss associated with these fad diets is therefore largely due to significant amount of water that is expelled from the body and not fat loss, as one would expect.

2) Poor Health: On top of dehydration, studies have indicated that low-fat, high-protein and low-carbohydrate dieters frequently complain of headaches, constipation and fatigue. This is not surprising as fruits, certain vegetables as well as whole-grain cereals and breads are scarcely consumed in low-carbohydrate and high-protein diets. This unbalanced eating pattern fails to provide the body with the long-term adequate nutrients and energy it needs for healthy functioning. High-protein diets put a large amount of stress on the kidneys and increase calcium excretion that can eventually lead to the formation of kidney stones. In an effort to make up for the calcium that is leaving the body, calcium starts to be mobilized from the bones, which can in turn contribute to the development of osteoporosis.

3) Weight Gain: Research has shown that the overall compliance rates with fad diets are quite poor over the long-term. Regardless of encouraging weight loss results, depriving the body of major food groups cannot be sustained for a prolonged period of time before nutritional deficiencies occur. In addition to the negative health impacts associated with poor nutritional status, deficiency can also cause cravings for certain foods and eventually lead to binge eating. Furthermore, fad diets can significantly disrupt the metabolism, which adapts to surviving on fewer calories and a limited variety of foods. When fad dieters eventually revert back to their usual eating habits, weight gain becomes virtually inevitable and rapid as their metabolism struggles to adjust. More importantly, at the end of this dietary roller coaster, fad dieters still do not have a clear understanding of the problematic eating habits that caused the weight gain weight to begin with. Without a positive lifestyle change involving healthy dietary habits, it is virtually impossible to obtain sustained and long-term weight loss. Instead of seeking a quick fix that will lead you back to where you started, stick to the tried-and-true method of enjoying a variety of wholesome foods, watching portion sizes and of course, incorporating physical activity into your daily routine. These three steps are the key to maintaining weight loss and a healthy body for life.

References: Astrup A, Larsen MT, Harper A. Atkins and other low-carbohydrate diets: Hoax or an effective tool for weight loss? The Lancet 2004; 364. Denke AM. Metabolic effects of high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets. The American Journal of Cardiology 2001; 88: 59-61. Katz D. Competing dietary claims for weight loss: finding the forest through truculent trees. Public Health 2005; 26: 61-88. Katz D. Pandemic Obesity and The Contagion of Nutritional Nonsense. Public Health Reviews 2002. Willy J. Fad diets: why they make you fat. 2009: