Beware of the Fad Diet

We’ve come to the end of another Meatless Monday, folks. Over winter break, I was hoping to get a chance to try a recipe for a veggie burger, and tonight I did! I made the Moosewood Restaurant’s classic tofu burger, topped with caramelized onions (have I mentioned how much I love caramelized onions?). I’m very pleased with how they turned out: great texture and great flavor. Definitely just as satisfying as any burger made of meat. photo

Now, as I wrote about in my last post, the beginning of the year is a very popular time for people to set health goals and go on “diets.” Just today, a friend of mine asked me to look over a diet plan that advertises to help one lose 10 pounds in a week or something to that effect. Sounds too good to be true, right?

When I took a look at the rules for each day I started to laugh because the diet limits you to a single food group or food each day, with no apparent rhyme or reason. Why on earth would you be allowed only bananas and yogurt for an entire day?

That was one of the more laughable ones I’ve seen. But there’s no doubt that the creators of many fad diets have developed what seem to be very impressive scientific arguments; take Dr. Atkins, who advocates eliminating carbs, or the Wheat Belly guy, who advocates eliminating wheat. Don’t be fooled! These diets are part of a million-dollar weight-loss industry that is just trying to make money by providing consumers with a quick fix for those extra pounds. If there truly is scientific research to support any miracle, quick-fix diet, there is far more research to support a diet based on whole, minimally processed, mostly plant-based foods, as I’ve written about many a time.

Can you lose weight on a fad diet? Sure–a low calorie “cleanse” like the one my friend showed me will certainly help you lose weight quickly, but you might as well just eat a lot less of what you were already eating. The problem with most fad diets is that they are unsustainable for most people; either they eliminate foods or an entire food group that are purportedly making you fat, or they allow too few calories for you to feel and function well. As soon as you return to your usual way of eating, you’ll gain the weight right back. The word “diet” already connotes something temporary, and you should not think of the way you eat as temporary. If you want to be healthy and slim for life, you have to have a healthy diet for life, not just until you lose 20 pounds.

The truth is, I’m sorry to say, that there is no quick fix for weight loss, or overall health for that matter. In simple terms, to sustain weight loss, you have to eat less, eat better, and move more. But our society does not make it simple or easy to do any of those things; in fact, our environment is all but forcing us to eat more, eat worse, and move less.

Don’t set yourself up to fail by falling for a claim of miraculous weight loss. We who study nutrition have a rule of thumb for this sort of thing: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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