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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

Fads Are Nothing New continued...

"Claims that an author has a permanent solution or a new answer are pretty much bogus, because there's hardly a diet that shows up that hasn't been written about before," says Kelly Brownell, PhD, director of Yale University's Center for Eating and Weight Disorders.

For example:

  • A high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet was first described in 1863 by William Banting, who took the dieting advice of his friend, a British physician.
  • New York doctor William Howard Hay's theory that proteins and carbohydrates should never be combined in a meal was popular in the 1920s and '30s, and it's still popping up in diet books.
  • Anyone promoting a "natural" diet is about 170 years too late to claim originality. The Rev. Sylvester Graham started preaching to Americans about natural foods in 1830.

But no matter how far-fetched, faddish ideas continue to appeal to dieters.

"People are very much intrigued by those things that seem to demystify the whole thing -- there's some magic hormone, or there's something in your blood type, you have to eat certain foods together because of how they're metabolized," Osborn says. "That has to be it. It couldn't be something as simple as I need to eat less and I need to exercise more."

Confusion about nutrition is the very reason fad diets exist. If we all knew how to eat, there would be no need for diet books.

"A lot of people may feel out of control and not know what it is they're supposed to do," Osborn says. "Some of the fad diets that are very regimented I think make people feel more comfortable because it takes all the guesswork out."

Fast Weight Loss Isn't Good Weight Loss

Promises of rapid weight loss are a common feature of fad diets. But dieticians say you should aim to lose no more than 2 pounds a week.

"Any diet that's promoting more than a one- or two-pound weight loss a week, most of that's going to be fluid," says Martha McKittrick, RD, a dietician at the New York Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical Center. "It's almost impossible, unless you weigh like 500 pounds, to lose more than one or two pounds a week of fat."

Fad diets that prohibit or severely restrict carbohydrates may live up to their promises of quick weight loss at the beginning, but that's because cutting back on carbs causes your body to purge stored water, McKittrick says. But as soon as you start eating carbs again, the water weight comes back.

It's fat you want to lose, not water, and definitely not lean muscle tissue, which your body will start to metabolize if don't eat enough.

"If you're chronically taking your calories too low, you can slow your metabolism and lose muscle mass," McKittrick says.

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