By Julie Upton, RD
Before you even think about starting a diet to drop pounds fast, I've compiled a list of the worst diets around so you won't waste your time on them. This list isn't just my opinion, either; I sought the help of registered dietitians who are members of the Weight Management Dietetic Practice group of the American Dietetic Association. Here are the nominees:
Raw Food Diet
Eating raw is based on trying to get the majority of your calories from unprocessed and uncooked foods. Rawists believe that eating foods above 116°–118° F will destroy enzymes that provide many health benefits. While most dietitians would agree that eating lots of minimally processed fruits, vegetables, and grains is best, we also understand that processing actually boosts the bioavailability of several key nutrients, primarily the phytonutrients, and inactivates some of the unhealthy compounds.
The raw food diet is rich in all plant-based foods including fruits and vegetables; nuts and seeds; and sprouted seeds, grains, and beans. Don't get me wrong; these ingredients are great—and you can make plenty of meals (here are five delicious ones) using these guidelines. But following this type of diet to a T requires a lot of complicated food preparation—creating pine nut and yeast "cheese," for example—that makes it impractical for most working women.
I have had plenty of experience with raw foods because I live in Marin County, Calif., where Roxanne Klein, the coauthor of Raw, started Roxanne's Fine Cuisine, a line of pricey prepared raw food creations available at our Whole Foods and other high-end supermarkets. I've tried several of the items but have found them to be extremely expensive and not very tasty—certainly nothing I could follow for more than a day or two at most.
As a "flexitarian" and part-time vegan, I know that eating lower on the food chain can help promote weight loss, but I also know that caloric content is not related to the heated treatment of food. Skip the raw food diet, and eat more healthful whole foods—cooked or raw—to help whittle your waist, not your wallet.
Next page: Injections with what?
The hCG diet is a very low-calorie plan (500 to 800 calories per day) supplemented with injections of the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). Any diet that drops below 1,000 calories is really unsafe for most of us to begin with, and you're apt to lose a lot of weight even if you're getting injected with milk shakes. Of course, the golden rule of dieting is that the faster it comes off, the more likely you are to regain it, so this diet would be on my list no matter what...but the hCG shots raise so many red flags I don't know where to begin. Bottom line: Scientists don't know if hCG is safe to inject when you're not producing it naturally, so please don't be a weight-loss guinea pig.
In southern California, this is a big trend. Dieters are trying the "cleanse" by drinking a concoction of squeezed lemons, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper several times a day for 10 days, says Karla Campbell, MS, RD, a dietitian in Long Beach, Calif. Then they down an herbal laxative tea at night and a quart of salt water first thing in the morning, supposedly to clean out the GI tract and bowels. Needless to say, there are no studies to suggest that our GI tracts and organs need any help in removing waste or so-called toxins from the body.
The diet is only 650–1,300 calories, and it lacks key nutrients like protein, calcium, iron, and zinc—so no dietitian recommends doing it for more than a day or two. Campbell also adds this warning: "Dieters who try it end up losing lean body mass, and then when they are 'cleansed' and go back to their old ways, they gain fat. They end up being a fatter version of their old selves." Read more about the safety of detox diets.
Cabbage Soup Diet (and all of its single-food-diet cousins)
Contrary to rumors, this diet is not recommended by, nor did it originate with, the American Heart Association (AHA); the Sacred Heart Memorial Hospital, in Spokane, Wash.; or any other health organization. In fact, AHA and others have made it known that you should steer clear of this fad diet.
While there are several versions of the diet, all have a seven-day cycle based on all-you-can-eat "fat-burning" cabbage soup (a mix of cabbage, carrots, celery, tomatoes, peppers, and onions).
Since the diet provides plenty of liquids and nutrient-packed veggies, it's not as bad as many other fad diets. However, if you enjoy food at all or have a life, you won't be able to stay on any diet that restricts food groups or relies on one or two superfoods for very long. And then you'll be back where you started right after you go off it.
Next page: This just sounds painful...
This relatively new fad is based on a theory among acupuncturists that an area of the ear regulates your appetite. The procedure is like getting an ear pierced, but the constant pressure of the staple on the "stomach" of your ear is supposed to curtail your eating.
Fat chance. There is no science behind ear stapling for weight loss, but there is plenty of evidence that stapling could lead to serious infections and deformities. If you need help in controlling your appetite, better to try something that really works, like eating more fruits and vegetables and less of everything else.
This one takes the cake. (Oh, but only if it did.) It's a diet that promotes living on air alone, no food or water. Hmm. That is pretty contrary to what I learned in undergraduate and graduate school while studying nutrition. I believe our bodies will only survive a few days without water and a few weeks without food.
The mumbo jumbo on this diet is that you align yourself to the universe and you won't need water or food. You know what this sounds like to me? Starvation.
Next up: I'll look at meal plans worth trying as we move into 2009. Happy holidays, and let's all be thankful there's no such thing (yet) as the Christmas Cookie Diet.