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Why Do We Keep Falling for Fad Diets?

Here's how to break the fad-diet habit and lose weight for good
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WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Exclusive Feature

It seems that just about every week brings a new diet craze. From low-fat to low-carb to food combining, the diets come and go in the magazines and on the best-seller lists. Some prove lastingly popular, but many go the way of the latest dance fad. (Anyone remember the macarena? How about the cabbage soup diet?)

Meanwhile, dietitians keep giving the sensible advice they've been advocating for years: To lose weight, we need to eat less and exercise more.

Let's face it: We all know better than to keep falling for every fad that comes along. So why do we keep doing it?

"I think most people are put off by the fact that what we usually promote is life-long change," says Robyn A. Osborn, RD, PhD, a dietician and educational psychologist in Indianapolis, Ind.

Fad diets are often programs you're supposed to follow for just a few weeks. But nutrition experts insist that the right approach to weight loss is to change your lifestyle -- permanently.

People need to feel that the benefits of changing their behavior will outweigh the costs, Osborn says. For many dieters, she says, the psychological cost of giving up their fattening lifestyle seems too great. So they opt for the "quick fix."

"Or they just identify with the individuals who wrote the book," says Lisa Dorfman, RD, a dietician, mental health counselor, and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

For example, dieters may not think about whether a weight-loss plan touted by an attractive celebrity is healthy or logical. "They just like the way she looks and they'd like to look like her, too," Dorfman says.

Fad diets tend to appeal more to people's vanity than to their desire to stay healthy. The focus is on inches and pounds, not reducing the risk of diabetes or heart disease.

"They're more motivated by wanting to change the way they look than their health," Osborn says. "Maybe that's one of our problems as nutrition health professionals, because we so much focus on the long-term health consequences rather than how you look. We would prefer that people are comfortable with the way they look but they're more concerned with their health."

But in reality, bikini season or an upcoming high-school reunion may seem like more concrete and compelling reasons to slim down. And fad diets are always there, offering seemingly easy solutions.

What's more, you can't discount the warm-fuzzy factor when it comes to advice on weight loss, which causes so much anxiety and frustration for so many people. Authors of diet books often try to come off as nurturing and warm, while "official" advice from the government or professional organizations can seem clinical and cold.

Fads Are Nothing New

Although fad diets usually claim to be cutting-edge, most recycle ideas that have been knocking around for a while -- in some cases, more than a century.

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