5 Fad Diets That Do More Harm Than Good
In the never-ending quest to lose weight and achieve the “perfect “ body, many people fall prey to the unrealistic promises of fad diets. From our perspective, a fad diet is one that offsets the body’s natural balance or provides only short-term weight loss at the expense of long-term health.
There are many diet programs on the market to capitalize on the fantasy of quick and long-lasting results, but in this post we’ll take a closer look at five diets. We’ll explore the rationale behind them, and why they may do you more harm than good.
1) Raw Food Diet
The premise behind the raw food diet is that heating foods, whether by cooking or processing, destroys their nutrients and natural enzymes (though so does our stomach acid, as Dr. Andrew Weil points out).
People following this diet don’t eat food that has been heated to 115 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, or anything pasteurized or processed including sugar, alcohol or caffeine.
While a raw food diet is rich in antioxidants and nutrients from fresh fruits and vegetables, there are some serious concerns:
- Some raw roots, seeds, stems and leaves contain natural toxins
- Common raw food preparation methods like sprouting and dehydrating can be time-consuming and may require expensive equipment
- Eliminating grains can lead to nutritional deficiencies
- In a 2005 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a raw food diet was linked to low bone mass
2) Intermittent Fasting Diet (also called The Fast Diet)
As its name suggests, intermittent fasting diets involve alternating periods of fasting with periods of eating normally. Proponents such as Mark Sisson suggest that intermittent fasting holds benefits far beyond weight loss, including cancer prevention and survival, longevity, brain health, and exercise performance.
Sisson cites three studies that found weight loss results, one from the International Journal of Obesity, and two from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2005 and 2009). The medical professionals at Berkeley Wellness, however, dug deeper and concluded that fasting diets are not sustainable solutions for weight loss, and are particularly risky for people with eating disorders.
According to registered dietician Joy Dubost, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “For the everyday active person, intermittent fasting may present some challenges and may not be the best approach for managing your weight. People practicing intermittent fasting may feel light-headed, dizzy, tired and nauseated, and their workouts may suffer.”
3) Blood Type Diet
The wildly popular diet book Eat Right 4 Your Type has sold more than 7 million copies worldwide. Author and naturopath Peter J. D’Adamo says that blood type is “the key that unlocks the door to the mysteries of health, disease, longevity, physical vitality, and emotional strength.”
People with Type A blood need to restrict their diets the most, as D’Adamo recommends a mostly vegetarian diet. Type Os, on the other hand, eat a high-protein diet, while avoiding dairy products and grains. Type Bs are to avoid corn, wheat, buckwheat, lentils, tomatoes, peanuts, sesame seeds, and chicken. People with AB blood should avoid caffeine, alcohol, and smoked or cured meats.
Two studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2013) and the online journal PLOS ONE (2014) concluded there is no scientific validity to D’Adamo’s claims. As well, restricting entire food groups can lead to nutrient deficiency and can be difficult to sustain over time.
4) Lemonade Diet (also known as Master Cleanse)
The lemonade diet was designed to flush toxins from the system by following a liquid diet including salt water, laxative tea, and “lemonade” (lemon juice mixed with water, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper).
Because people using this cleansing diet achieved rapid—albeit temporary—weight loss, others started using and recommending it as a weight-loss tool.
This diet can cause harm in many ways. According to the Mayo Clinic, laxatives can lead to electrolyte imbalance, which can cause abnormal heart rhythms, weakness, confusion and seizures.
By eliminating solid foods, you are at great risk for nutrient deficiencies, not to mention fatigue, nausea, dizziness, irritability, and even tooth decay due to the high acid content of the lemon juice and the high sugar content of the maple syrup.
5) hCG diet
The hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) is a hormone produced during pregnancy. In fact, hCG is what is measured in pregnancy tests.
On the hCG diet, you take the hormone orally or injected as a shot, and then eat a very restricted diet of just 500 calories per day, spread over two meals containing at least one protein, one vegetable, one bread, and one fruit.
One study published in the South African Medical Journal (1990) concluded that there is no rationale for the use of hCG injections in the treatment of obesity. Another from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1976) found that the addition of hCG injections had no impact on the results of a calorie-restricted diet.
Aside from its lack of scientific evidence, this diet is considerably harmful due to its very low calorie intake, leading to nutrient loss. As well, side effects of taking hCG may include headaches, restlessness, fatigue and pain, as well as other hormonal and pregnancy-related effects.
Weight loss should be a slow and gradual process, and should never come at the expense of balanced nutrition and good common sense.