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Health eTips is produced by the staff of the St. Charles County Department of Public Health. The department consists of three divisions - Environmental Health and Protection, Health Services and Humane Services - that provide a wide range of services focused on enhancing the well-being of this community.

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Apr 19

Fad Diets

Posted on April 19, 2018 at 1:57 PM by Doug Bolnick


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In our busy world, it's tempting to seek shortcuts or "hacks" that allow us to do more in less time. One of these shortcuts is the "fad diet", where those seeking to lose weight consider a quick fix at meal time.

What are Fad Diets?

The Cleveland Clinic describes fad diets as plans that cut out particular foods or nutrients or ones that emphasize certain foods over others. St. Charles County’s WIC dietetic intern Lauren Hecht, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is seeking to become a Registered Dietitian, offers a closer look at the problems of these plans.

A few popular examples of fad diets include:
  • High-protein/low-carbohydrate diets
  • Liquid-only diets
  • Detoxification diets
  • The grapefruit diet
  • The all-cabbage diet

Common characteristics of Fad Diets

Although they differ in composition, popular fad diets make similar claims. Common characteristics of these meal plans include:
  • Promises of quick or easy weight loss (often ones that are “too good to be true”).
  • Restrictions on specific quantities or types of foods/nutrients.
  • Specifications for certain food combinations with rigid menus to follow.
  • Messages that advertise “no need for exercise” and target those desperate to lose weight.
  • Limited scientific research or ignoring of differences among people/lifestyles.

Problems with These Claims

Rapid Weight Loss
Rapid weight loss rarely leads to long-lasting success. Dieters are more likely to regain the pounds quickly when they return to a normal routine. When a person loses weight quickly, it is usually because they have lost muscle, water, or bone weight. A slow, steady program that focuses on decreasing 1-2 pounds of fat per week — rather than muscle, water, or bone loss— will generate long-term benefits.

Restrictions/Limitations on Foods or Nutrients
Plans that allow unlimited quantities of certain foods, while eliminating or severely restricting others, cause dieters to miss out on the benefits of key nutrients – even if they take multivitamin supplements. Nutrient-dense foods from all food groups will provide the body with the calories and benefits it needs.

Specific Food Combinations/Rigid Menus
There is no long-term scientific evidence proving that a combination of certain foods results in prolonged weight loss. However, combining reasonable portion sizes with regular exercise has always proven to be successful.

For those limited to a rigid menu, a good question to ask themselves is, “Can I eat this way for the rest of my life?” Rigid menus are usually boring, overwhelming and hard to stick with for the long-haul. As a result, the lost weight usually returns when old eating patterns and habits resume. Small changes to current behaviors are most successful in creating a long-term healthy lifestyle.

Limited Exercise
Regular physical activity is essential for weight management. It’s not just diet or exercise, but a life-long combination of the two that makes good health. The keys to success are finding enjoyable physical activities, maintaining a regular schedule, and working with a partner to keep you motivated. For long-term benefits, seek 30-60 minutes of activity most every day of the week.

Health Complications
A body requires the right combination of all nutrients to function effectively; missing out on them can cause serious long-term health problems. An effective combination of the vitamins, minerals, fats, water and fiber found within the five food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy — will provide the building blocks and energy for development and help to minimize preventable diseases.
Photo of a fruit tray

Tips for Successful Dieting

Make calories count by eating meals packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber. Choose lower calorie options and try new foods to make your meals fun. St. Charles County WIC offers recipes and suggestions for healthy meal planning. In addition to meal changes, establish an exercise routine that works for you and stick with it.

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