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Video: The skinny on favorite fad diets

TODAY contributor
updated 9/17/2007 10:36:09 AM ET 2007-09-17T14:36:09

When it comes to losing weight, everyone’s in search of a magic bullet. But don’t fall for the hype.

Unfortunately, there’s no short-term fix for long-lasting weight loss.

Learn the obvious red flags and read the pros and cons of a few fad favorites.

6 fad-diet red flags
1. Diets that promote/promise drastic weight loss: When you start a diet, you can potentially drop a lot of weight during the first two weeks (some will be water weight). However, if you lose more than two pounds per week in the weeks that follow, you’ll run the risk of losing “muscle mass” and your metabolism will slow down in response. That's why true health experts advocate losing weight slowly and gradually — you’ll melt away fat and spare precious muscle.

2. Diets that claim they work because of special supplements, creams or potions — no diet and exercise needed. Or diets that make you buy MEGA supplements in order to follow the program: If it sounds too good to be true, it is!

3. Diets that are entirely different than the way you currently eat (or like to eat): If a plan is incompatible with your lifestyle, the chances are slim you’ll stick with it.

4. Diets that have less than 1,000 calories: Difficult to sustain and can often leave you cranky, irritable and with a bad headache. Not to mention hungry and lethargic.

5. Diets that claim they are effortless: No such animal. Losing weight takes focus and effort. 

6. Diets that cut out entire food groups or focus on only a few foods: Not realistic for the long haul … the sign of a plan you’re soon to go off.

The pros and cons of fad favorites

Juice fasts and Master Cleanse
Premise: Puts your body through “detox" — eliminates toxins and provides a rest for your vital organs.

Pros: Provides a feeling of temporary empowerment because you believe you’re cleansing your body. Saves you some cash and keeps you hydrated.

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Cons: For one thing, your body doesn’t need any help ridding itself of toxins — the kidneys, liver and bladder already do the job nicely. And rather than trim you down quickly, juice fasts and the “Master Cleanse” may actually cause you to overeat: The beverages are high in refined sugar, which starts the digestive process and can create peaks and valleys in your blood sugar levels, leaving you hungry (not to mention irritable, lethargic and headachy).

These plans are also void of protein, a macronutrient that’s critical during weight loss (protein helps maintain lean muscle mass, your blood sugar levels and your metabolism).  If you do decide on a liquid diet, make sure your beverages include about 50 percent of your weight in protein grams.

The NO white-food diet
  White food is the enemy and is completely removed from the diet. That means NO white bread, bagels, crackers, pasta, rice, white potatoes or dairy.

Pros: Forces you to eat colorful fruits and vegetables, which are loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber — fantastico! This diet also helps cut out a lot of “empty calories” we take in via refined starch … and encourages whole grains over refined starch (for example, brown rice over white rice, whole-wheat pasta over white pasta, whole-grain bread over white bagels).

Cons: Whole grains typically have the same amount of calories as their white counterparts … they’re just healthier. So if you don’t moderate the whole grains, you won’t lose weight. What’s more, some folks take this “no white food” literally and avoid white food and beverages that are nutrient-dense, like skim milk, yogurt, onions, cauliflower and tofu. 

Dinner for breakfast
Premise: By making breakfast your biggest meal of the day (lean meat, rice and vegetables), and dinner your smallest (yogurt with berries and a cup of tea), you’re able to burn calories more efficiently. 

Pros: If you make smart food choices, you’ll have the right amount of calories and nutrients for good health. You’ll also be fueled throughout the day and learn to stop overeating at night.

Cons: Most people are less hungry in the morning and ravenous at dinnertime. Thus, this eating style can backfire if you find yourself hungry in the evening and wind up eating a large dinner, too (calorie overload from a large breakfast and dinner!). It’s also a socially awkward food plan to follow since friends will want to meet for dinner, NOT breakfast.


One container of food for the day
: In the morning, you fill up ONE container with your total food for the day. When your allotted food is gone, you’re done eating.

Pros: Forces you to plan ahead and prepare meals. Eliminates hidden calories in takeout and restaurants and eliminates mindless munching.

Cons: Forces you to be 100 percent regimented — what if your day changes? And what if your friends want to go out for lunch or dinner (will you whip out the container in a restaurant?!)? Certainly, not realistic for the long haul.

Joy Bauer is the author of “Food Cures.”  For more information on healthy eating, check out Joy’s Web site at www.joybauernutrition.com

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