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The Promise

If you’ve been to enough baby showers, you may have played the baby food guessing game, in which you sample various baby foods (labels obscured) and try to identify what’s in them - peas? pears? spinach? But some people are purposely eating entire jarfuls, not to win a shower prize but to get a Hollywood figure.

The Baby Food Diet, an Internet phenomenon rumored to have been started by celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson, is a gimmick for cutting calories and controlling portions. It involves replacing one or two meals or snacks a day with baby food -- jars of which range in calories from about 20 to 100.

This is not a weight loss diet, but a maintenance plan to help you keep off pounds you’ve already shed.

The rules, which aren’t published anywhere official, vary. One version calls for eating 14 jars of baby food during the day and a real dinner in the evening.

It’s not hard to see why a person might lose weight by replacing adult-size meals with a few small jars of bananas or peas. And because many people find it difficult to eat more than a few spoonfuls, portion control is probably not a major issue.

What You Can Eat and What You Can't

All flavors of baby food seem to be fair game, which means your meals can consist of pureed fruits, vegetables, and a few meats, such as turkey, chicken, and beef, with “gravy.”

People who’ve tried it say many of the flavors take getting used to as an adult, and you may need to do some expensive, and possibly unpleasant, trial and error to figure out which ones you can stomach, figuratively and literally. Some say the readily digested fare speeds through their system.

Level of Effort: High

Giving up regular food and chewing takes commitment.

Limitations: You’re limited by what baby foods are available. If you’re looking for baby food pizza or hamburgers, they don’t exist.

Cooking and shopping: You’ll be stocking up on a lot of baby food, and doing less cooking, if you follow this diet.

In-person meetings: No.

Exercise: Not required.

Does It Allow for Restrictions or Preferences?

Vegetarians and vegans: Since most baby food is made from fruits or vegetables, it’s not difficult to eat vegetarian or vegan on this diet. But plant sources of protein, like beans and soy products, aren't typically found in baby food products.

Gluten-free: Most fruit and vegetable baby food products should be free of gluten, but check labels. Some other baby food products, including cereals and meat-based “dinners,” contain wheat.

What Else You Should Know

Replacing meals with baby food could result in nutritional imbalances and getting very few calories. And because protein, fiber, and the act of chewing food help you feel full, you may find your stomach grumbling after a “meal” on this diet, depending which foods you choose and how much you eat.

Keep in mind that the right way to lose weight and keep it off is to find a healthy eating plan you can live with for life, and get some regular exercise.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, when trying any new diet, you should ask yourself, “Can I picture myself eating this way forever?” If the answer is “no,” you’re looking at a short-term fix at best, not a long-term solution.

Cost: Calorie for calorie, baby food is not especially cheap. A jar will cost you in the neighborhood of a dollar or more, and if you’re eating 16 jars a day, the cost will add up fast.

Support: This is a diet you do on your own.

What Dr. Melinda Ratini Says:

Does It Work?

The Baby Food Diet is a fad diet that may help you lose weight for the short term. Substituting several jars of baby food for standard meals will likely lower the amount of calories you eat by sheer portion control and taste bud boredom. But just like a baby, it won’t be long before you outgrow this diet and start to gain weight.

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

Gerber, a leader in prepared baby foods, states on its web site that its baby foods meet the American Heart Association’s (AHA) sodium recommendations for a 1- to 3-year-old child: less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. This is the same amount that the AHA recommends for adults as well. But that assumes you are only going to be eating the amount of baby food that a baby would eat in a day. If you are going to be eating more than that and adding an adult meal or two a day, you will need to be reading labels closely to make sure you do not go over your limit of salt, especially if you have high blood pressure or heart disease.

If you have heart disease or high cholesterol, the baby food diet may help decrease the fat in your diet. This is because you are bound to fill up on the pureed fruits and vegetables rather than on the less tasty meats. You will have to make sure that you are getting enough protein and other nutrients in your “adult” meal each day.

The nutrition guidelines of the American Diabetes Association state that all diets should be pleasurable and practical. An eating plan should help you make healthy food choices. The Baby Food Diet falls short in both of these respects.

Any weight loss will help decrease your chances of getting diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. But there are healthier and tastier ways to shed the pounds. And exercise should be part of the plan as well.

The Final Word

The Baby Food Diet may be an option if you are just trying to kick-start some weight loss. Your actual food prep is minimal unless you choose to puree your own baby food. All you need to do is pick out jars of baby food at the store. They are easy to pack for lunches. And many versions of the diet allow you total freedom for a daily “adult” meal.

But unless you do make some of your own baby food, your choices will be pretty slim. You are also likely to find out that a lot of the enjoyment of eating involves not only taste but texture. Your stomach is liable to feel pretty empty, making it tough to resist temptation. Costs may add up quickly, too, depending on how many jars a day you will be eating. And all that individual packaging doesn't do much good for the environment either.

It would be far better to look into another eating plan that you can stick with and not quickly grow out of. And while you are at it, look for one that involves some age-appropriate exercise as well.

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