Trying to lose weight with fad diets

At any given time, one woman in every three is 'dieting'. Most take the intelligent route, eating low-calorie, low-fat foods including plenty of fruit and vegetables, and paying adequate attention to their hunger 'triggers' at the same time. However, the promises of the fad diet still prevails today, despite increased levels of awareness about how eating is a way of life, not a diet regime. People are always seeking a magic formula and fad diets appear simple and quick, furthermore, in the short term they actually appear to work. Yet, as any fad-diet veteran can sadly testify, at some point the scale inevitably creeps back up. What are the reasons for this? Regardless of how scienti?cally sophisticated a crash diet sounds, the vast majority operate on one fatal tactic, which is drastic calorie cutting. These doomed diets usually deprive your body of essential nutrients, can trigger overeating, and could even make it much more difficult long term to lose weight. When you starve your body of calories, your metabolism actually slows down to conserve energy, and this physiologically, renders you highly incompetent at keeping your weight down.

The 'Atkins' or 'High Protein' Diet.

For decades, bodybuilders and very serious athletes had been avid users of this approach, and then, in the early seventies, the now well-known Dr Atkins suddenly appeared. His theory was that too many carbohydrates prevent the body from burning fat and dieters should, therefore, ?ll themselves up on protein. Science condemned these views, and for a time, carbohydrates reigned as the intelligent choice of diet food.

Today however, high-protein-diet books like 'The Zone' and 'Protein Power' are plentiful in the bookshops and the good Dr Atkins is with us yet again, now appearing on American television promoting butter-drenched lobster as diet food!

You are informed that it is possible to stay on this diet inde?nitely. You can consume large quantities of protein in unrestricted amounts, including meat, ?sh, shell?sh, poultry, eggs, and cheese. Pasta, bread, and foods with large amounts of re?ned sugar are eliminated. Breakfast may be bacon and eggs (no toast, no juice); lunch can be a small salad and double cheeseburger, without the bun. Dinner is a salad with blue cheese dressing, and steak or fried chicken. His book 'The Zone' strongly promotes low-carb vegetables such as broccoli, green beans, and fruit, along with protein, whilst dramatically limiting bread, pasta, grains, corn, and potatoes. 'Protein Power' disciples can cheerfully chomp away on deep-fried pork rinds but must religiously avoid most fruit, condemned as 'carbohydrate mine?elds'.

Women have been ?ocking to this philosophy because the pounds drop off very quickly in the beginning, although this is largely due to water loss, and meat devotees get to indulge themselves guiltlessly. In its favour, the diet can accurately claim that high-protein foodstuffs like meat and cheese may well slow down the carbohydrate absorption rate, so blood sugar levels remain steady and keep hunger at bay.

However, signi?cantly unhealthy aspects are present. Protein-rich diets tend to be crammed full of saturated fats and cholesterol, which increase the risk of heart disease. When carbohydrate calories are dramatically reduced for several days, the body starts burning fatty acids for fuel; these release chemicals called ketones into the bloodstream that can cause intense headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and halitosis (bad breath).This is why it is sometimes referred to as a 'ketogenic diet'. Too much protein can also tax the kidneys, which go into overdrive trying to process and excrete the nitrogen in protein. Over time, this may cause permanent damage, resulting in increasing levels of severely immobilising lower back pain, often experienced by extreme bodybuilders.

This diet method is not advisable, but eating moderate amounts of protein as part of a sensible balance, can help suppress appetite. Good sources are poultry, fish peas, beans, low-fat yoghurt and skimmed milk.

Liquid Diets

There are no absolute records on how these originated, but the Americans tell the tale of a Chicago doctor called Stoll, who in the early 1930's sold 'Dr Stoll's Diet-Aid as a "Natural Reducing Food" in the beauty parlours of the city. He instructed the dieters of that time to mix a teaspoon of his concoction consisting of milk chocolate, starch, whole wheat and bran, into one cup of water. Delivering only 11 calories in total, it was to be drunk for breakfast and lunch. So in the early 1970's, when our hospitals began offering 'Optifast' to obese patients, suddenly, commercial meal-replacement drinks appeared in the shops.

SlimFast' calls for replacing two meals and one snack per day with a shake made from eight ounces of skim milk and a powdered drink mix. The third meal should be a low-fat combination of nutrient-rich foods amounting to 600 calories. Each drink weighs in at about 200 calories and one to three grams of fat. Total c intake is around 1200.

Women adore what is the ultimate in convenience. All you have to do is open the can, grab a glass, and add milk; some producers even offer premixed shakes or confectionery-like bars. Sugar-laden flavours such as vanilla, strawberry, and various chocolate choices, certainly appeal to those with a sweet-tooth. On the plus side, they do have advantages, as they are actually nutritionally balanced. For example, one shake will provide 19 vitamins and minerals, including the following RDA amounts: 40 percent of calcium, 50 percent of iron, 40 percent of magnesium, 30 percent of folic acid, 100 percent of vitamin C, 50 percent of vitamin A, and 40 percent of vitamin B6.

Disadvantages are that once a person returns to eating solid foods full-time, the pounds will definitely return. In addition, the emerging importance of phytochemicals (plant substances which protect against disease) make it impossible to estimate just how many of these vital natural organic nutrients we could be missing out on! Plus, liquid dieting doesn't develop the healthy eating habits needed to maintain lifestyle weight loss, once you come off these diet shakes.

If you have problems controlling the size of your food portions, then these drinks could offer a healthy solution. This view is supported by George Blackburn (Associate Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School) who is a clinical obesity researcher. Professor Blackburn conducted long-term study of 200 dieters who use commercially available drinks. His results showed subjects keeping the weight off for one to two years by drinking 5-10 shakes a week. However, if you do decide to use them, make absolutely sure you snack liberally on fruits and vegetables to ensure you have a healthy phytochemical intake.

The Grapefruit Diet

This also began in the USA in the 1930's and was dubbed the 'Hollywood Diet'. To go on it you were required to consume a small number of select vegetables, small amounts of protein, and grapefruits, which were believed to contain special fat burning enzymes. This basic structure has given rise to more than a dozen grapefruit combination plans thereafter.

Your length of time on this particular scheme is 21 days, and an average day might consist of half a grapefruit and black coffee for breakfast; then half a grapefruit, an egg, cucumber, with a piece of dry melba toast and black tea or coffee for lunch. Dinner would consist of two eggs, half a lettuce, a tomato, yet another grapefruit and again tea or coffee. Only one of the versions allowed small amounts of meat or fish, but calories still added up to less than 800 per day.

Its popularity was assured, as you didn't have to think or calculate anything. It made counting calories or making major food decisions obsolete. The sheer monotony of it probably also numbs the appetite, and because the calorie cutback is so dramatic initial weight loss can be impressive. Often four to seven pounds for a moderately overweight person to even 12 pounds for an obese individual. In its favour, grapefruit has no fat, is low in calories and sodium, and is liberally packed with vitamin C. The pink grapefruit variety delivers beta-carotene as well, and because it is high in water and ?bre, it certainly helps to ?ll you up.

On the minus side, certainly any diet based on one food is much too restrictive to be healthy. You get no calcium, which is vital to bone strength; no iron, to ward off anaemia; no folic acid to protect against heart disease. Unfortunately, you also miss out on most of the other essential vitamins and minerals you need too.

The 'Hay' or Food Combining Diet

In 1934, diet-book author William H. Hay announced that starches should be consumed separately from proteins, and fruits should not be eaten with either starches or proteins. In 1981, nutrition 'expert' Judy Mazel revealed her 'Beverly Hills Diet', claiming that fruit enzymes could burn up calories before they "hit your hips", and also recommended eating carbs and proteins at different times. 'Fit for Life' a nutrition lifestyle based on the food-combining concept, was published in 1985 and still attracts people. This scheme suggests consuming only fruit and fruit juices before midday. The Judy Mazel version of food-combining, i.e.- the 'Beverly Hills Diet' lasts six weeks.

For the first ten days, you eat nothing but fruit. The portions are gloriously generous -- half a pound of prunes at a single meal, and five pounds of grapes in one day. On Day 11, a half pound of bread, two tablespoons of butter, and three ears of corn are added; only on Day 19 is a complete protein (steak or lobster) included. Dieters are allowed to indulge in treats like cheesecake and ice cream. Yet again, weight loss comes early. Perfectly logical really, as fruits are very low in calories. Dieting individuals who thrive on discipline structured plan appealing. And the ice cream and cheesecake allowance is a pretty appealing factor too.

In its defence, the 'Beverly Hills Diet' allows for more variety than many other fad plans, and, in the later stages when foods like baked potatoes or steak are included, it can be followed fairly easily, even when eating out. The pitfalls are, that there is absolutely c evidence whatsoever (or even credible theory) to prove that the body processes particular combinations of foods any differently than random ones. This diet has been reviewed by distinguished researchers on both sides of the Atlantic and declared extremely low in vital nutrients, eventually causing diarrhoea. A fact of perhaps even greater gravity is that because it is generally so very low in protein, it will actually encourage the gradual breakdown of muscle and vital-organ tissue, if it is followed for longer than ten days.

If you still decide to take the plunge with a fad diet this summer, remember three golden rules when you do.

  • Take daily vitamin and mineral supplementation, which provides at least 100% of the RDA's.
  • Drink a minimum of eight large glasses of water every day (preferably spring or mineral), and you should really increase this if you're following a high protein plan.
  • If you feel dizzy, develop headaches, or experience any other significant problems or discomfort - discontinue following the diet plan/food regime.

Courtesy of Alan Gordon, Personal Trainer

Don't despair. Some fad diets are based on concepts that can, with nutritional adjustments, be used to temporarily drop a few pounds before a big event, or to aid an intelligently constructed weight-loss plan. But on their own, will bring results which are nothing more than temporary, and quite possibly unhealthy. As summer arrives and the temptation to launch into a frenzied last minute attempt to achieve the shape we want, becomes very strong, I have provided the 'low-down' on four of the most popular 'magic wand' formulae which are being used at the moment.

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