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Can Fad Diets Work?

Many dieters are still trying to find the magic bullet to weight loss. WebMD gets the skinny from experts on the latest quick-fix diets.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

When singer Beyoncé Knowles needed to lose 22 pounds in a hurry for her role in the film Dreamgirls, she went on a crash diet that consisted of drinking a mixture of water, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup as a substitute for regular meals. She lost the weight, and in the process sparked a run on maple syrup as news and photos of her newly svelte figure spread. But even Beyoncé has been quick to tell interviewers, "I would not recommend it if someone wasn't doing a movie, because there are other ways to lose weight."

Beyoncé's own caution to dieters probably comes as good news to nutritionists who don't think much of her quick-fix weight loss plan. "This diet is void of essential nutrients and probably doesn't promote healthful eating and lifestyle habits that would sustain any weight that is lost," says Jenna Anding, PhD, RD, LD, associate department head, department of nutrition and food science, Texas A&M University. "Also, losing 20 pounds in two weeks is not healthy; nutrition experts recommend a weekly weight loss of no more than 2 pounds per week."

Our Fascination With Fad Diets

The "syrup diet" is just one of the many diet plans (albeit one of the more extreme) to capture our weight-crazed fancy over the years. From Atkins to South Beach to the Zone to the Blood Type Diet -- to name just a few -- many of us are always on the lookout for the "magic bullet" that will help us shed pounds quickly, and more or less effortlessly.

Why, despite the advice of most nutrition experts, are we fascinated by the myriad diet plans crowding bookstore shelves? "Most individuals want cutting-edge solutions for weight loss, and fad diets offer, at least on the surface, 'new' ways to beat the boring mathematical reality of long-term weight loss," explains Robin Steagall, RD, nutrition communications manager for the Calorie Control Council.

"All diets work on the principle of cutting calories [cutting 500 calories a day can result in a 1-pound weight loss in a week]," Steagall adds, "but every new diet has some unique twist to accomplish this mission."

Among the newest, for example, is The Fast-Food Diet, co-authored by Stephen Sinatra, MD, and Jim Punkre, which capitalizes on the American love affair with, yes, fast food. While the diet doesn't promote fast food per se, it acknowledges that many of us (on any given day, the authors say, 25% of our population) visit fast-food restaurants because they're convenient and affordable.

So, they suggest, if you're there already, make healthy choices that can lead to weight loss. Some tips: Choose the smallest drink size, or better yet, switch from soda to club soda or water; order from the children's menu; or eat a baked potato, not fries.

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