Thursday, May 21, 2009


Fad diets don’t work in the long run

If you are like many Americans, you are on a weight management diet and chances are it is some kind of low carb, eating plan for your blood type, or detoxify diet – basically senseless elimination or fad diets.

We cannot ignore the fact that more and more people are becoming overweight or obese. By not maintaining a healthy weight, there is an increased risk for many ailments such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Why is this problem with obesity or being overweight happening? Americans are eating about 300-500 calories extra per day than we did 20 years ago as well as moving less. So if you are looking to shed some of those extra pounds, how should we approach doing so?

Reading the newspaper, watching television or even attending local community events, it is hard to judge whether nutrition advice is sound. Often you only receive a tiny fraction of the underlying research, if there is even valid research. Do the results of these fad diets promise sound too good to be true?

A fad diet is a diet that guarantees quick weight loss that does not last over the long run. Weight loss can usually be attributed to fluid loss and comes right back as soon as the diet is stopped. Often, these diets advise people to avoid specific foods or replace meals with supplements, characterize some foods as “bad,” don’t focus on lifestyle changes, and claim they are the best new diets.

But these diets may be lacking in many essential nutrients that the body needs to maintain health. In the end, the diet may do more harm than good. Many fad diet books lack sound research to support their claims, and the proponents of these books generally nave no nutrition expertise. Generally the primary reasons for fad diets are to sell a product.

So why do some people swear by a particular fad diet and actually shed a few pounds temporarily? The key word here is temporarily.

Fad diets work to restrict caloric intake therefore when less is eaten, weight loss occurs.

Then where should we turn? The answer is to go back to the simple concept that has withstood the test of time. In order to maintain a healthy weight over the long term, you should decrease total calorie consumption, increase the calories you burn through physical activity and adopt a balanced eating plan based on the Food Guide Pyramid by eating adequate amounts of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein and low fat dairy. Easier said than done.

However, by choosing one or two diet and activity goals to incorporate into your lifestyle to start -- small steps in the right direction -- long term weight management goals can be achieved.

When seeking or reading about nutrition advice, you can trust the information if presented by a registered dietitian, the Food Guide Pyramid, US Dietary Guidelines or if the weight management information recommends variety, moderation and exercise.

A recent book review in Today’s Dietitian magazine reviewed two books that were suggested for use: "Move It. Lost It. Live Healthy. The Simple Truth About Achieving & Maintaining a Healthy Body Weight" and "The Daily Fix: Your Guide to Healthy Habits for Good Nutrition."

Both books were written or co-written by a dietitian and offered sensible, science-based recommendations for healthy weight and eating habits.

If you like snack chips, have a few, not the entire bag, have them once in a while, not every day. It is the limitations with food choices with fad diets that is unrealistic, and in the end makes eating less enjoyable.

Sarah Hospod is a registered dietitian in the Food and Nutrition Department at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Hospod and all of the Healthy Living columnists at or comment on their blog at

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