Before you spend any money on a fad diet, read this first. Because your fad diet may be making you fat.
It’s time to retire three bogus fad diets, which not only do not work, but can also be quite dangerous if followed for too long. Studies consistently show that the vast majority of weight lost–particularly on fad diets– is regained. Why? For one thing, to cope with an ultra-low calorie diet, your body goes into starvation mode and down-shifts its metabolism. When that happens, weight re-gain is likely to ensue even at lower calorie levels than before when regular food intake resumes. Either way the proof is in the numbers. The diet industry is a $ 60 billion industry, but all that money spent on the ever-growing number of quick-fix diet books, foods and products available has certainly not translated into results: the number of overweight and obese Americans has been steadily growing for the past few decades and remains at an all-time high.
The Cookie Diet
Surprisingly, there’s actually more than one version of the “Cookie Diet” being marketed in this country. Both require you to eat 500-600 calories-worth of their (expensive) cookies instead of breakfast and lunch, and then allow you to eat real food for dinner. The original “Dr. Siegal’s Cookie diet” calls for a strict, 300-calorie dinner of just lean protein and vegetables, while the newcomer “Hollywood Cookie Diet” allows for a significantly higher 800 calorie “light, sensible dinner” (on what planet is 800 calories a light, sensible, meal for someone trying to lose weight, exactly?). If one is able to stick to the Original Cookie Diet regimen, weight loss will surely be quick: on an 800-calorie per day diet, the body quickly enters starvation mode, breaking down fat and muscle stores to meet its needs. Hunger is also likely to be pretty well-controlled if you can make it past the first few days, since starvation produces chemical compounds called “ketones” that produce a euphoric-type feeling and suppress hunger.
But before you spend your money on the cookie diet there are several problems with this approach. First, a very low calorie diet (under 1,000-1,200 calories/day) should only be undertaken under medical supervision, as several adverse affects can result from drastic, rapid weight loss, including the development of gallstones. Because the diet is nutritionally inadequate, an appropriate vitamin and mineral supplementation regimen must accompany it to prevent malnutrition, bone loss and anemia. Over the long term, the most troublesome aspect of the Cookie Diet approach is that it doesn’t instill healthy new eating habits to carry with you in your post-cookie diet life. When you tire of eating 6 cookies per day instead of real food, will you just revert back to your old eating habits, and regain the weight? Probably; and since your metabolism has slowed to cope with the starvation, weight re-gain is likely to follow even at lower calorie levels than before. While the Hollywood version allows for a more reasonable 1,400 calories per day, thus avoiding the starvation-metabolism pitfall, it instills counterproductive eating habits (skipping breakfast and lunch, then eating a huge dinner) that are likely to promote weight re-gain once the diet is ended.
The Cabbage Soup Diet
I love cabbage as much as the next nutritionist, but eating mostly cabbage soup for an entire week seems like a much greater sacrifice for weight loss than just spending 30-60 minutes a day walking and skipping the sweets. The seven-day diet starts with a strict regimen of just cabbage, fruit and non-starchy vegetables, and as the week progresses you get to add some beef and skim milk to the mix. Nutritionally, there’s nothing magic about cabbage with respect to its weight loss-promoting properties; this fad diet’s formula could be recreated with any low calorie food and still produce the same results. Of course when you cut out three of the five food groups from your diet, you will lose weight. But then what? Unless you have a magic metabolism that can survive without adequate levels of protein, essential fatty acids, carbohydrates, B-vitamins, and minerals for an extended period of time, staying on this diet for more than a week could be downright harmful to your health. And the majority of the weight you lose will be from stored carbohydrates (glycogen) and the substantial amount of water that is released when it’s broken down for energy and used up. Once you start eating anything with carbohydrate again (and trust me, nothing will make a bagel seem more appealing than a week of eating cabbage soup), your miracle weight loss will just as miraculously fade away.
The Alkaline Diet
The notion of a weight loss diet that “alkalinizes the system” is based on some pretty vague pseudo-science. It is presumably based on the principle that certain foods, when burned in a lab, produce a residual “ash” that is alkaline (pH > 7), and others produce an ash that is more acidic (pH <7). Proponents of the alkaline diet believe that eating primarily “alkaline-producing” foods, such as vegetables and fruit, promotes fat loss, whereas eating a diet heavy in “acid-producing” foods, such as meat, eggs, dairy and grains, promotes weight gain. While it’s hard to argue with a diet rich in low-calorie fruits and vegetables and lower in higher-calorie animal products as a healthy way to promote weight loss, at present, there is no credible scientific research to substantiate any claims around the ‘alkalinity’ or ‘acidity’ of these foods as being the contributing factors. So to the extent that an ‘alkaline diet’ plan recommends that beyond just eating lots of fruits and vegetables as the basis of a healthy, plant-based diet, you should be drinking special (expensive) “alkaline water,” using expensive, unregulated dietary supplements (such as ‘greens powders’), or going on extended juice fasts, your ‘fad diet’ radar should be going off.
Our bodies have two mechanisms to tightly control the pH level of our bloodstream: our kidneys and our lungs. If the blood pH gets too high (alkaline), these mechanisms naturally kick in to bring it back within the acceptable range of 7.35-7.45. Likewise, if our pH gets too low (acidic), these mechanisms will take care of it as well. And for good reason: once the pH gets out of that range, critical metabolic reactions needed to sustain our basic life functions can no longer occur optimally, and if the pH gets too far out of range, it can be fatal. In other words, our diet cannot by definition have a significant impact on the pH level of our blood and cells because of the presence of these important regulatory mechanisms.
We know you may want to fit into those skinny jeans or get that bikini body fast, but these three diets are not the answer.
So if you’re in the market for proven strategies to lose weight–and to keep it off once and for all– try looking to the winning losers who have registered in the National Weight Control Registry for some of their time-tested, fad-free, tips. They may not be glamorous, but they’re probably your best bet for safe weight loss and lifelong weight maintenance.