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Diabetes and the Risk of Fad Diets

Plenty of popular gimmicks promise quick weight loss, but for people with diabetes, fad diets can be dangerous.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Remember Jared, the Subway Diet guy? He lost 245 pounds eating subs and not much else, every day for a year.

If you want to lose weight, there are plenty of fad diets and gimmicks out there. Think: The Zone, Sugar-Busters, or the cabbage soup diet. Sure, you can lose weight -- but if you have diabetes, you might also put your health at risk.

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"You can cut carbs, eat grapefruit, stand on your head a few days -- anybody who sticks to any diet will lose weight," says Luigi Meneghini, MD, director of the Kosnow Diabetes Treatment Center at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Problem is, once the diet's over you're likely to return to those bad dietary habits that got you in trouble in the first place.

"Most people look at diets as a temporary measure to lose weight," Meneghini tells WebMD, "but they're not a real plan for changing unhealthy dietary habits."

The key to dieting for everyone -- whether you have diabetes or not -- is keeping the weight off and sticking to healthy eating habits.

Fad Diets & Diabetes: The Special Risks

For people with diabetes, there's another caution -- fad diets can cause downward spikes in blood sugar, says Cathy Nonas, MS, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

"Reducing your calories, even at one meal, will affect your blood sugar," Nonas tells WebMD. "If you're taking medication that's also lowering your blood sugar, you will need to reduce that medication. You will need to monitor your blood sugar more often, depending on the severity of the diet and how calorie-restricted it is."

A fad diet can also increase cholesterol and blood pressure levels -- creating an especially high-risk situation for someone with diabetes, says Tara Gidus, MS, RD, a national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a private-practice nutritionist in Orlando, Fla.

"Diabetes can affect a number of systems in the body," Gidus tells WebMD, "putting you at higher risk for heart disease and other chronic health problems -- life-threatening health problems."

You simply have to be more savvy about your diet, says Gidus. A person with diabetes "cannot regulate blood sugar in the same way as a person without diabetes. There is more risk of complications. A fad diet can increase that risk."

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