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Spotting Fad Diets

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The old adage that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is, seems to apply to many so-called fad diets.

Their promoters promise the eating plans will get that excess weight off you and keep it off -- but experts caution there are better ways to shed pounds.

As The Early Show continued its "Weapons of Mass Reduction" series Thursday, registered dietician Keri Glassman offers tips on how to know a fad diet when you see one, and pointed to potential shortcomings of several strategies that many experts consider to be fad diets.

She also said that, as a rule of thumb, if you're planning to go off a diet eventually, you really shouldn't go on it. You're better off making meaningful diet and lifestyle changes that you can comfortably stick with for over the long haul.

Glassman said giveaways that an eating plan is indeed a fad diet include:

  • It promises too much weight loss too soon.
  • It eliminates entire food groups for significant lengths of time.
  • It acts as a laxative.
  • It substitutes non-foods for foods.
  • It recommends too little fat, or carbohydrate or protein.
  • It offers you tricks you can use to counteract feelings of hunger you might experience when you follow the diet. There is no reason to endure hunger in order to cut calories and lose weight.

    Examples Glassman mentioned:

    "Cleansing Diets"

    A recent one appears in a book called "21 Pounds in 21 Days: The Martha's Vineyard Diet Detox."

    A big part of losing weight through cleansing diets is through their laxative effect. They make you go to the bathroom more. This is not a lasting form of weight loss. You lose nutrients, and when you've finally decided you've had enough of this diet, you'll want to overeat to make up for the deprivation you have caused yourself. They even recommend a coffee enema. Who wants to do that?

    If you look into ingredients a diet like this recommends, you have aloe vera, which is a laxative. You have psyllium husk, the active ingredient in Metamucil. You have a green drink made out of grass.

    If you really want to stick with this, you can't eat out. And frankly, you're giving a very bad message to your kids. It's better to overeat in front of them than to portray this sort of deprivation as something they should do. Watching you do this could be the start of an eating disorder in a child.

    This stuff may not be palatable. Also, it doesn't provide any of the "mouth feel" that makes normal food satisfying. You may be tempted to overeat the moment you're done with this diet.

    "lnconvenient Diets"

    These are ones for which you really need to work hard to follow all of the diets' rules. One recent example of that is something that's called the "Reverse Diet."

    This one actually contains a bit of common sense. It says you should eat a large meal in the morning, so you have time through the day to burn it off, and a small meal at night. That's terrific. Many people just grab a yogurt in the morning and call that breakfast, and that really is too little. But while this approach is onto something, there's also a gimmick involved: They suggest that you eat traditional dinner foods in the morning, and traditional breakfast foods at night. That's absolutely not necessary. Do you really want to wake up and have to prepare a dish of chicken and pasta, etc., first thing in the morning? The list of items for the morning includes chicken, fish, meat loaf, and other heavy dishes, along with occasional omelettes and other egg dishes. Meals of that nature won't be appealing for very long. This diet plan has sensible advice at its heart, but is far too much bother to follow for more than a couple of weeks.

    "Food Substitute Diets"

    In these, something such as a shake the promoters sell you is supposed to substitute for standard food. Diets like these include something called the "Hollywood Cookie Diet."

    You lose weight because the calories are restricted, which also works with regular food. Swapping meals for cookies is just wrong. No matter how many nutrients they put into cookies, those nutrients aren't as effective as when they come from foods in which nature originally put them. No cookies provide adequate nutrients, no matter how 'enhanced' they are. You can think of it this way: Would you give a child a cookie instead of vegetables and fruit? Of course not. So why would you think of doing that to yourself?