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Why You Should Think Twice Before Trying a Fad Diet

Not so fast: Beware of diets promising rapid, extreme weight loss

If you struggle with your weight, chances are you've at least considered (or dabbled with) a fad diet (or two) that promised to help you drop pounds quickly. While many of these diets can tease you with quick and dramatic results, they're not designed for long-term success. They can also contribute to long-term health problems.

The sad facts about fad diets

Fad diets carry strict guidelines regarding which foods to avoid—and which ones to eat more of—in order to regulate (or drastically reduce) your caloric intake and, in turn, help you lose weight. While these diets can, in fact, produce rapid weight loss, the bulk of that weight loss is typically in the form of water weight and lean muscle—not body fat. Also, while consuming fewer calories isn't necessarily a bad thing, depriving yourself of specific nutrients and energy—especially for an extended period of time—can result in a greater chance of illness or even considerable long-term health issues.

It should also be noted that fad diets also can be incredibly boring. While you might be excited about your initial weight loss, it's extremely difficult (if not impossible) to limit yourself to the same foods every day. Once the boredom sets in, you'll likely stray from the routine. If that happens, and if the fad diet was your only plan for losing weight, you'll likely gain back everything you lost—and maybe even more. Changing habits for the long term is key.

Is it really a fad?

If a diet makes promises that sound too good to be true, they probably are. When considering a diet, look out for the following warning signs:

  • The diet promises rapid and significant weight loss, which you will also (supposedly) have no trouble maintaining no matter what you eat or how little you exercise
  • The diet tries to persuade you to try via the use of dramatic “before and after” photos, overly simplistic scientific claims, and testimonials from so-called experts
  • The diet advocates that you severely limit your food choices instead of eating a healthy variety of foods

There are other warning signs, too. For example, you shouldn't have to attend a conference or buy diet pills. Also, if the diet suggests that you buy things like bars, beverages or meals, those products should be healthy, and supplemental items to healthy eating habits—like meal replacement bars that are part of the popular WonderSlim plan.

The “ideal” weight-loss plan

No matter how tempting a diet might sound, it's important to let your physician check it out before getting started. Also, at the same time you're doing that, ask him or her to give you your ideal weight, as well as the caloric intake you should shoot for to achieve (and maintain) that weight. Then, it's time to lose weight the right way...

The first step in achieving your ideal weight is taking stock of what you eat—and how much. While it's important to lose weight, it's just as important (if not more so) to be healthy while doing so. Instead of following a diet that restricts you from this food or that, be sure to stick to a balanced diet and healthy serving sizes (found on food labels). According to WebMD:

  • A cup of fruit should be no larger than your fist.
  • An ounce of meat or cheese is about the same as the size of your thumb from base to tip.
  • 3 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry is about the size of your palm.
  • 1 to 2 ounces of nuts is roughly the size of your cupped hand.

Healthy weight loss amounts a steady 1 to 2 pounds per week, not the considerably bigger (and quicker) amounts promised by fad diets. If you commit to a healthier lifestyle, not only will you lose weight—and keep it off—but you will feel better and have more energy, as well.

Follow these tips:

  • Get all the high-calorie, high-fat, and sugary foods and drinks out of your kitchen and replace them with healthy foods like lean proteins, low-fat dairy products, fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc.
  • Cut way back on the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, cholesterol, and sugar you consume each day. Also, cut way back on (or eliminate completely) sodas, alcohol, juices, and other liquid calories.
  • Eat breakfast every day and never skip meals. 〉 Read our healthy breakfast ideas
  • Aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day during meals and in between. Mix up the colors, too. Green veggies are especially good for you, as are dark berries.
  • Find a few exercises that you like doing—preferably a mix of weights and cardio—and do them for 30 to 60 minutes, four to six times per week. You can also add other “sneaky” exercise to your day, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking farther away from the front of the store or mall. Use a pedometer with the ultimate goal of reaching (and maintaining) 10,000 steps each day. 〉 Read our tips on workouts you can do at work