6 truths you should know about fad diets

Published on March 29 2010 - 3:59 PM
6 truths you should know about fad diets

Since I know we’re gearing up for dieting season, I think it’s a good time to confess I’ve never been a fan of fad diets. They make ridiculous promises. Sure, you may drop 10 pounds in a week eating cabbage soup, and little else, but it’s water weight, not fat. (What about fasting to jumpstart weight loss and other “too-good-to-be-true” diet claims?) Once you go back to eating like a normal person you’ll gain it right back. That’s the biggest problem with most fad diets: they generally don’t give you eating patterns that you can stick to long-term. Essentially, they set you up to fail. (Click here to get a healthy 4-week plan to slim down filled with delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes.)

But I’ll be the first to admit that there are kernels of truth buried in the shaky “scientific” rhetoric of many popular plans—real advice that will help you lose weight healthfully. (Click here for a comprehensive healthy weight-loss plan that keeps the weight off for good.) Without further ado, I give you 6 weight-loss secrets I’ve found hidden in fad diets...and how to apply them with common sense to your own healthy weight-loss plan.

#1: Eat delicious foods that you love. The bottom line of French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano: food should be savored and enjoyed. Guiliano is right: We should continue to eat foods that we love, like chocolate and cheese—just in small portions. Deprivation diets only work for a short time. Making room for a small treat every day can help you stick to an overall-healthy eating plan for the long haul. (Click here for 100-calorie chocolate desserts you can make in an instant.)

#2: Keep things simple. Celebs like Jennifer Hudson and Kelly Clarkson have reportedly tried Dr. Siegal’s Cookie Diet—which prescribes six pre-packaged cookies, plus a one real meal every day. The beauty of this plan is, well, you just eat what you’re told. But you don’t need “appetite-suppressing” cookies (there’s no science to show they really work) to cut calories. It’s the hassle you want to cut to so try pre-portioned frozen dinners that feature lean proteins and vegetables. Better yet, seek out quick, simple recipes that transform fresh whole ingredients into satisfying low-calorie entrees. (You can have a full dinner, including dessert, for 500 calories with our delicious 500-calorie dinner menus here.)

#3: Have some lean protein, good carbs and lots of veggies. According to “The Zone” diet, created by Dr. Barry Sears and made famous by big-name followers like Jennifer Aniston, meals that are precisely 30 percent protein, 30 percent fat and 40 percent carbohydrates can reset your metabolism in a way that results in weight loss, reduced risk for heart disease and loads more energy. I don’t buy into the Sears’ super-exact 30-30-40 formula but I do know that meals like the ones he suggests—a small amount of lean protein, such as salmon, paired with “favorable” carbohydrates, like vegetables and whole grains—do tend to be more satisfying. Science shows that gram for gram, protein tends to be more filling than carbohydrates or fat. Vegetables and whole grains contain fiber, which causes you to digest them more slowly than refined carbohydrates like pasta or white rice. (Not sure how what to make with a certain vegetable? Browse our recipes for inspiration!)

#4: Don’t be afraid of fat. If the Atkins’ diet taught us anything, it’s that following a fat-free diet isn’t always the best way to lose weight—especially if your favorite fat-free foods are big, caloric cookies and bagels. Then, the more sensible South Beach Diet came along and taught us to opt for healthy fats, like almonds and fatty fish, over the artery-clogging burgers and bacon that Atkins permitted. South Beach also encouraged carbohydrates that fall low on the glycemic-index (i.e., they don’t cause rapid spikes and drops in your blood sugar)—vegetables, whole grains like brown rice and barley. (Find new ideas for whole grain recipes here.) And we all should adopt the philosophy that judicious amounts of healthy fats trump unlimited refined carbs any day.

#5: Soup can help you lose weight. The anonymous creator of the “Cabbage Soup Diet” was onto something: soup (based on a low-calorie veggie, like cabbage) very well may help you lose weight. Various studies show that soup is highly satisfying. In one study, published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, people consumed the fewest calories on days when they ate soup. Broth-based soups packed with vegetables and lean proteins or fiber-rich beans give you the biggest bang for your caloric buck. (Need ideas for yummy soup recipes? Click here to get 6 skinny soup recipes that are ready in 30 minutes or less.)

#6: Keep an eye on sugars. The Zone, South Beach, Sugar Busters and Atkins, all had us cutting back on sugars. While I don’t advocate limiting healthy foods that naturally contain sugars, like fruits and dairy (unless you have diabetes and your doctor tells you to) I agree that cutting added sugars is good for our health and our “bottom lines.” The average American consumes 355 calories of added sugars each day. Recently, the American Heart Association released new recommendations advising women to eat no more than 100 calories per day from added sugars (that’s about about 6 teaspoons) and men to stick to less than 150 calories, approximately 9 teaspoons. “Sugars” on Nutrition Facts panels include natural and added sugars, so check ingredient lists for sugar and all its aliases: corn syrup, honey, molasses, etc. The closer sugars are to the top of the list, the more the food contains. (Get recipes for 7 delicious desserts, no sugar added.)

Nicci Micco is co-author of EatingWell 500-Calorie Dinners. She has a master's degree in nutrition and food sciences, with a focus in weight management.