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Weight Loss: Spotting Fad Diets

There are literally hundreds of different diets that have at one time or another been promoted as the best approach to losing weight. Unfortunately, most of them, in their efforts to succeed, involve omitting certain foods, and sometimes even entire food groups.

Fad diets take form in many ways: low-fat, low-carbohydrates, high-protein, or focusing on one particular food item such as grapefruit. These diets lack major nutrients such as dietary fiber and carbohydrates, as well as selected vitamins, minerals, and protective phytochemicals, such as antioxidants (substances found in vegetables, which are protective against disease). Over the long term, by not receiving the proper amounts of these nutrients, you may develop serious health problems later in life.

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For the food groups that these diets do permit, the proportions are either well above or well below those recommended by major health organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association, as well as the Surgeon General and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Some common claims of these diets include blaming particular hormones for weight gain, suggesting that food can change body chemistry, or touting or banning a particular food. However, they all have one thing in common: They offer only a temporary solution to what for many people is a lifelong and chronic condition. Once the diet is stopped, the lost weight is usually regained quickly, and when weight is lost rapidly, chances are it is not fat that is lost but water weight and precious muscle -- but when it is regained, it is usually all gained as fat. This is because none of these diets teach you how to eat right.

How Do I Spot a Fad Diet?

While there is no set approach to identifying a fad diet, many have the following characteristics:

  • Recommendations that promise a quick fix.
  • Dire warnings of dangers from a single product or regimen.
  • Claims that sound too good to be true.
  • Simplistic conclusions drawn from a complex study.
  • Recommendations based on a single study or testimonials.
  • Dramatic statements that are refuted by reputable scientific organizations.
  • Recommendations made to help sell a product.
  • Recommendations based on studies published without review by other researchers.
  • Recommendations from studies that ignore differences among individuals or groups.
  • Eliminating one or more of the five food groups.

Devoting yourself to a lifestyle that includes exercise and eating a proper diet with moderate portions is still the best method to lose weight and to keep it off. Most people who make the change from a typical high-fat diet and sedentary lifestyle to one that follows a diet based on the new recommended food pyramid will slowly and safely lose weight.

In general a balanced diet of whole, unprocessed foods is ideal. The more you cook at home, even simple meals, with ‘real’ unprocessed foods, the better.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on August 03, 2012

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