Do Fad Diets Help You Lose Weight

Every week we hear of a new miracle product that promises to give you everything you want, including that ‘perfect’ body you’ve been dreaming of. When it comes to fad diets, the clue is in the name: they end up being just another fad, taking a back seat and fading away as soon as the next hot thing bursts onto the scene. How many claims like this have you heard for a quick fix, only to find a different diet peddling them next week:

“Lose weight fast!”

“Burn belly fat with these foods!”

“Miracle detox diet!”

“Cut out this one food for huge weight loss results!”

A lot of people jump on the diet bandwagon before they stop to think about whether it’s a healthy idea or a recipe for diet disaster.

Here I’m giving you the lowdown on some of the most popular fad diets and their (limited) pros and (overwhelming and sometimes dangerous) cons!

1. Keto

What it is: Keto is short for ketosis, a metabolic state where the body turns to fat cells for its source of energy, meaning it becomes extremely efficient at burning fat stores around the body. Keto is a very low carbohydrate diet, excluding processed carbohydrates like breads and pasta, or high-carb fruits and vegetables and eating a higher fat percentage instead.

Pros: Some people experience dramatic weight loss and improved gastrointestinal symptoms, blood glucose levels and cholesterol profile. Doctors can also recommend keto diets for certain people with diabetes or epilepsy.

Cons: If you need a flexible, long-term eating pattern, you could find something as restrictive as keto difficult to stick to, even if you get short-term weight loss results.

While keto can work for weight loss, if you try it without guidance from a dietician or doctor, you risk missing out on key nutrients, particularly wholegrains and legumes which provide fibre and a range of vitamins and minerals. If you don’t get the balance right, it can also cause low energy and low concentration, as well as ‘keto flu’ in certain cases.

2. Paleo

What it is: This diet is based on Paleolithic eating. Excluding the more modern farmed foods, like processed sugar, dairy and wheat, it relies on meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.

Pros: It’s whole-food and doesn’t include the processed foods we tend to eat too much of these days. Plus, with that much protein, it’s certainly a diet that helps you feel full.

Cons: It can be expensive and time-consuming, and isn’t the most family-friendly meal plan. Again, the big issue is that these restrictions can be hard for certain people to follow, and if you can’t follow an eating plan properly then it won’t work for you. Plus, it’s not very balanced.

Paleo omits important foods such as dairy, legumes and grains, If you remove those foods and their nutrients from your diet, you need to make them up elsewhere. It can also end up being higher in fat than people expect, so you need to balance that too.

3. Lemon Juice Detox

What it is: We all know the juice cleanse! Both a ‘detox’ and a kind of fasting, this diet involves drinking a mixture of lemon juice in water (with or without other ingredients like pepper or maple syrup) and not eating any solids for a few days, possibly undertaken intermittently over a number of weeks.

Pros: You can definitely see drastic weight loss if you’re in calorie deficit, depending on how long you do this for, but it has its issues...

Cons: While there are lots of different juicing recipes (wheatgrass, anyone?), removing real food from your diet can negatively impact energy levels, concentration, judgement and health. After all, you’re basically starving yourself and depriving your body of important nutrients. Although you might lose body fat fast, it usually returns just as fast once you re-introduce food.

This diet has zero scientific basis, Detox is a process our body already does effectively, via our liver and other organs.  Plus, the calorie restriction is severe and there’s zero fibre.

4. The 24-hour fast

What it is: Also known as the ‘Eat Stop Eat’ diet or alternate day fasting, you stop eating altogether for one whole day, and then the following day you eat whatever you want. Then repeat this for as long as you want. This is different to the more balanced kinds of intermittent fasting, like the 16:8 or 5:2 approaches.

Pros: Like I said, some kinds of fasting can work for certain people, especially when it fits with their lifestyle and schedule. Intermittent fasting can be recommended by doctors for people to help them with gut or general health. Plus, being able to eat whatever you like on your non-fasting days sounds amazing, right? Cons: Not all fasts are created equal!

While athletes can use some forms of fasting to benefit their performance or body composition goals – often in consultation with a medical or nutrition professional – nil food intake for 24 hours can cause compromised judgement and poor exercise performance, so it’s not good for fitness. This manner of on-off, all-or-nothing eating can easily lead to irritability, dizziness and constipation.

With this 50/50 style, you risk low energy and concentration on the days you fast, and headaches and bad digestion on the eating days. What about weight loss? Well, you might even miss out on that if you tend to binge on unhealthy foods when you can eat due to cravings and low energy.

5. HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin supplement)

What it is: This isn’t really considered a diet, more a ‘diet pill’ taken while eating a calorie-restricted diet.

Pros: None! There’s no solid science behind the idea that these diet pills will help you lose weight or burn fat: a calorie-restricted diet will already do that.

Cons: It’s a risky move to start popping pills you don’t know much about. Of course, this one doesn’t get a dietician's approval. It’s needlessly extreme. Eating good food and keeping active are a better way to stay fit and well than taking pills. You can’t just ‘hack’ weight loss with pills.

6. The Alkaline Diet

What it is: Ok, so this one sounds scientific: the idea is that certain foods cause your body to produce acid, changing your PH levels, having a negative effect on your health. For the Alkaline Diet, you limit the amounts of these foods, including grains, sugar, processed foods, some dairy, as well as caffeine and alcohol.

Pros: You may feel better and lose body fat due to cutting out processed foods and alcohol. Not to mention cutting back on added and hidden sugars.

Cons: The idea isn’t unhealthy, but it isn’t very scientific. Your PH levels don’t get changed by just eating food, so this strict diet isn’t necessary.

Our body has its own system of maintaining a pH that allows it to function, Adding alkaline or acid food to that system will make no difference as it will just be neutralised to the pH our body likes.

7. The Cookie Diet

What it is: The idea is to replace meals with specific, high-protein ‘weight loss’ cookies, allowing you to lose weight by not eating as much as you normally would.

Pros: You may see weight loss results quite quickly if you’re not eating much food.

Cons: Extreme weight loss results are not ideal in the long-run. Like any restrictive short-term diet, this one won’t build healthy habits or a good relationship with food. If unhealthy eating is what’s causing you issues, this won’t help you change.

These meal replacements are often a form of keto, so it carries all the same possible side-effects and problems there, But getting your nutrition and energy from real food is always best!

So, what should you do instead?

It’s important to find a balance in your health and fitness and eat enough nutritious food to fuel your body based on your needs and goals.

Slimming down, and weight loss is only ever down to reducing your calorie intake, and increasing the energy you use - creating a calorie deficit. It does not need to be a complicated formula or a magic bullet but sensible, sustainable and manageable.

The best way to get yourself on track that I have found is to keep a food diary for 1-week (the fitbit app and myfitnesspal are great options) calculate your average calorie intake and then reduce this by 15%. Or better yet, come in for a nutrition session with one of our personal trainers!

The two key words when it comes to nutrition are Quantity and Quality.

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