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Fad Diets Vs. Lifestyle Changes: Why A Quick Fix Is Not The Best Solution

Fad diets may give you short-term results, but rapid weight loss usually ends up being temporary.
Fad diets may give you short-term results, but rapid weight loss usually ends up being temporary. Photo Credit: Phelps Hospital Northwell Health

Wouldn’t it be nice to lose 15 pounds in two weeks by eating everything you want while enjoying increased energy and better health? New magic diet plans, such as The Master Cleanse and HCG Diet, are constantly appearing with such promises.

The Master Cleanse, based mainly on a type of detox lemonade, can cause nausea and diarrhea as well as headaches and irritability. There isn’t much scientific evidence to support dietary cleanses since your body has its own natural detoxifying systems through the liver and kidneys.

In the HCG Diet, HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), a hormone produced during pregnancy, is injected or taken orally to promote weight loss and a 500-calorie diet is prescribed. Weight loss products with HCG may increase cancer risk by promoting the growth of androgen cells, plus the severe calorie restriction can lead to gallstones, irregular heartbeat and electrolyte imbalances.

In the '90s, popular low-fat diets replaced dietary fat with refined carbohydrates. Little differentiation was made between heart-healthy fats like olive oil and salmon vs. harmful saturated and trans fats, such as deep-fried foods and commercial pastries. And we now know that refined carbohydrates should be avoided. In the end, low-fat diets backfired for many and resulted in weight gain.

While these popular fad diets may give you short-term results, rapid weight loss usually ends up being temporary. Such diets can pose risks, are very difficult to maintain and will fail if you just go back to old eating habits. Without learning to truly eat better, those old eating habits will inevitably bring back the unwanted pounds you worked so hard to shed.

The basis of fad diets isn’t necessarily wrong – the problem is that they often go too far to the extreme.

Many of my patients benefit from a low-carb diet that focuses on eating quality protein like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and nuts, plus plenty of vegetables. The amount of fruit, dairy and fat consumed depends on the individual. Added sugars are avoided and grain-based foods like bread and pasta are limited.

Other patients do well on a plant-based diet, which includes more grains, fruit and beans making sure to focus on whole foods rather than processed ones. In addition to weight loss, this diet often improves other health issues such as cholesterol and reflux. Plant-based diets encompass vegetarianism and veganism, but some meat, eggs or dairy can be incorporated occasionally to add variety.

Also beneficial is the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on fresh produce, whole grains, fish and healthy fats while encouraging home-cooked meals in a relaxed environment with friends and family.

The most significant trait that fad diets have in common is that it is difficult to follow them long-term. That’s why I advocate for creating lifestyle changes and recognize that one dietary strategy does not suit everyone. A registered dietitian can help create a plan for achieving your specific nutrition and lifestyle goals. In some cases, simple guidelines of what to eat or cut back on might be all you need.

The ability to reject a fad diet and instead adopt a structured lifestyle plan is the key to your success.

Ready to focus on nutrition in the New Year? To make an appointment with a Phelps Registered Dietitian, please call (914) 366-2264 or click here.