Do Fad Diets Ever Work? Our Experts Weigh In With the Facts

Ever heard that hot dogs are great for your waistline? Or that you can lose weight by replacing dinner with a smoothie? Too many of us are falling for fad diets getting the loudest buzz.

Saltines, ice cream and hot dogs top the list of must-eat foods for fans of the Military Diet. Green smoothies offer weight loss without any work, says the Smoothie Cleanse. Cut dairy and grains and you’re on the path to wellness, according to the Whole 30 plan.

What all these diets have in common is the promise of fast, permanent weight loss if you’ll just eat the right foods in the right combinations. “Many health claims made for fad diets are poorly researched, based on pseudoscience, or just plain hooey,” says Jen Bruning, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Fad diets appeal to people by claiming to do exactly what we all want: quick results. But the long-term picture isn’t so rosy: possible nutrient deficiencies, lower metabolism, rebound weight gain and overall dissatisfaction with one’s food relationship.

Number 1The Military Diet

The claim: Achieve rapid weight loss by following a strict, low-calorie meal plan for three days followed by four days of “normal” eating. Those three days include “fat-burning, chemically-compatible” foods such as saltines, ice cream and hot dogs.

The reality: “None of this is backed by research,” says Alissa Rumsey, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “The foods on the diet aren’t exactly healthy either. By using the word ‘diet,’ you limit yourself to thinking in black and white: You’re on a diet, or you’re off of it.”

Number 2The Alkaline Diet

The claim: Eating so-called alkaline-leaning foods helps your body reduce its acid production, which in turn maintains blood pH, prevents certain diseases and fosters weight loss. Many fruits and vegetables are alkaline – while meat, dairy, sugar and processed foods are on the acidic side.

The reality: “Our body precisely regulates the pH of our blood and the foods you eat aren’t going to substantially change it,” says Rumsey. “Eating acidic foods doesn’t change the pH of your blood and eating alkaline foods won’t either.”

Number 3The Whole 30 Diet

The claim: Banish unhealthy food cravings by eating only approved “whole” foods – meat, seafood, veggies, fruits, spices, oils, nuts and seeds – for a month. Proponents also claim you’ll reduce damaging inflammation, clear up your skin, improve your energy and lose weight.

The reality: While the diet in general promotes more nutritious foods than many fad plans, the elimination of dairy, grains, sugar, alcohol and legumes is so restrictive as to be unsustainable, says Rumsey. “Most people I know who have done it end up going crazy with food once they stop it.”

Number 4The Smoothie Cleanse

The claim: Drink green smoothies and avoid processed food, meat, dairy and caffeine and lose up to 15 pounds in 10 days.

The reality: The “detoxing” claims of this diet (and many others) are nonsense. “It’s an insult to your hard-working liver, which is one of the organs in charge of cleansing your body. Unless you have a health condition that affects these organs, they can do their jobs,” says Bruning.

What Should You Eat?

Making good choices is hard – but it’s worth it. “Your body functions at its absolute best when you take care of it,” says Jen Bruning, a registered dietitian. That means getting essential nutrients from produce, grains and lean protein sources plus good clean water, adequate sleep and regular physical activity that you enjoy. “Those are also the best ways to keep a revved-up metabolism, a happy and hopeful outlook and a positive view of your body and all it can accomplish,” says Bruning.

Luckily, the new plate guidelines at ChooseMyPlate.gov make it easy. They help you better structure and fill your plate with a balance of fruits, grains, vegetables, protein and dairy.

Categories: Get Healthy

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