Crazy Diets, And Why To Avoid Them

Ruby Grapefruits - Vitamin C iStockphoto

There seems to be no end to the lengths America will go to lose weight. From fasting to gorging, everyone seems to have a cure and a diet.

How crazy can diets get? How about getting injections of a pregnant woman's urine? Or eating nothing but cabbage soup?

On The Early Show Wednesday, Lisa Drayer, a registered dietician and author of "The Beauty Diet: Looking Great has Never Been So Delicious," spotlighted fad diets in general, and pointed to several in particular, debunking myths as she did.

She says most of the diets are based on some truth but, what many people don't understand is the damage some extreme diets can do to the body.

Fad diets, says Drayer, tend to be low in calories, low in protein, and can lead to nutrient deficiencies that interfere with health and beauty if followed for a prolonged period of time. They also cause rapid weight loss, which is difficult to sustain, and many people on them quickly regain any weight that they lost. Also, many fad diets are based on a single food. Often, we hear the benefits of a specific food (red wine comes to mind) and, next thing you know, there's a new diet out, highlighting that specific food. Typically, these diets are low in calories, and the food is just one of their components.

Drayer says fad diets interfere with inner and outer beauty: Drastic weight loss can lead to hair loss. Rapid weight loss in itself is a stress on the body and can trigger metabolism changes that affect hair growth. If you lose more than 10 percent of your body weight over a couple of months, you can lose hair. The condition, known as telogen effluvium, is typically set off by diets that lack protein. Also, nutrition deficiencies caused by restrictive diets can interfere with beauty by leading to dry skin, aging skin, brittle nails, brittle hair, as well as the hair loss.

FAD 1: The Grapefruit Diet

Basis: The Grapefruit Diet, has been around for a LONG time -- more than 70 years, and continues to gain in popularity through word-of-mouth and online.

What it does to the body: The diet is based on the premise that grapefruit contains a special ingredient that causes our bodies to burn fat. However, there are no scientific studies that prove that grapefruit is a magic fat burner. It doesn't contain special "fat-burning" enzymes.

Basically, the diet is a low carb, high protein diet, in which half-a-grapefruit is added to meals. The weight loss (10 pounds in 12 days) that occurs is from loss of fluids, not fat, due to a drastic cut in carbs and calories, not grapefruit per se.

All that being said, grapefruit is low in calories and a great source of vitamin C (pink and red grapefruit contain lycopene and beta carotene), so adding it as a snack or part of a meal can certainly boost the nutritional value of that meal and help you control calories if you're looking to drop pounds.

Cons: Short term at best; only water weight dropped

FAD 2: The Juice Fast Diet

First of all, sipping juice all day (as in a fast) is bad for your teeth. Which do you think is more harmful to your teeth: having a piece of chocolate cake at one sitting or sipping juice throughout the day? Believe it or not, the answer is juice, because sipping throughout the day provides a constant opportunity for the sugars to attack your teeth (chances are, we eat a piece of chocolate cake pretty quickly!) Teeth don't really care about portion control.

Basis: The juice fast diet is a type of detox diet. It involves drinking only vegetable and fruit juices and water; there is no intake of solid foods. People may fast for anywhere from two days to a week or longer. The purported benefits include everything from losing weight and feeling and looking younger to gaining more energy and experiencing improved mental clarity.

What it does to the body: Basically, the purpose of juicing is to "cleanse" the body. Before the fast, you eliminate alcohol, caffeine, and sugar. The juice fast consists of juices from carrots, celery, apples, cucumber, beets, and spinach.

There are a few things to keep in mind:

1. There's no biological need to detox: Our kidneys and liver remove toxins from our bodies every day.
2. The diet is very low in calories and protein, and can cause low energy, headaches, and irritability.
3. Diabetics, those prone to low blood sugar, pregnant or nursing women, and anyone with a serious health problem should not detox.

Vegetable and fruit juices can be included in your diet -- they're a good source of vitamins and antioxidants -- but they shouldn't completely replace a balanced diet containing lean proteins, low-fat dairy, and whole grains.

Cons: Bad for teeth; fasts can cause low energy, headaches and irritability.

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