Fad diets, as their name implies, are short-term quick fixes that can set up many dieters for weight-loss failure. Conflicting claims, testimonials and hype by so-called “experts” can confuse even the most informed consumers. The bottom line is simple: If a diet or product sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Steer clear of any diet plans, pills and products that make the following claims:

– Rapid weight loss
Slow, steady weight loss is more likely to last than dramatic weight changes – healthy plans aim for a loss of around ½ – 1 kg a week. If you lose weight rapidly, you are more likely to lose muscle and water and the weight is unlikely to stay off.

– Quantities and limitations
Steer clear of diets that allow unlimited quantities of any food, such as cabbage soup, as it’s incredibly difficult to stick to such a monotonous plan.  Also, avoid diets that severely restrict entire food groups, such as carbohydrates or fats.  Remember that all foods offer different nutrient benefits, and eating a varied diet and balanced diet from all the different food groups helps to ensure you meet your energy and nutrient requirements.  While these diets may appear to work in the short term, they can lead to nutrient deficiencies in the long term.

– Specific food combinations
There is no evidence that combining certain foods will help with weight loss. Eating the “wrong” combinations of food doesn’t cause them to turn to fat immediately or to produce toxins in your intestines, as some plans claim.

– Rigid menus
Life is complicated enough and following rigid meal plans can be stressful. With any new diet, ask yourself: “Can I eat this way for the rest of my life?” If the answer is no, the plan is probably not for you.

– No need to exercise
Regular physical activity is essential for good health and healthy weight management. The key to success is to find physical activities that you enjoy, and then aim for 30 to 60 minutes of activity on most days of the week.

Here is a review of some popular diets:

– Intermittent fasting
The 5:2 diet is based on a principle known as intermittent fasting (IF), where you eat normally for five days a week and fast on the other two days.  It is a simple way to reduce energy intake, but on fasting days, be aware that skipping meals can make you feel dizzy, irritable, give you headaches and make it hard to concentrate.  There are lots of versions of this diet, with some that are less safe than others. So if you choose to follow it, choose a plan that is based on healthy, balanced eating. Don’t attempt this diet if you are pregnant, have had, or are prone to eating disorders or diabetes. 

– High protein, low carb. diet
The high protein, low carb diet is designed for rapid weight loss. The meals are all based on protein with no restriction on fat and a daily carb allowance of no more than around 20-25g. The theory is that by starving yourself of carbohydrates, the body starts burning its stored fat for energy.

You can lose weight very quickly, and this can be motivating. However, the side effects include bad breath, a dry mouth, tiredness, dizziness, insomnia, nausea and constipation and the high intake of saturated fat may increase your risk of heart disease.

– Meal replacements
Meal replacement diets can be very effective with helping some people lose weight. The plan is convenient, as the products take the guesswork out of portion control and calorie counting.

However, on their own, meal replacement diets do little to educate people about their eating habits and there’s also the risk of putting the weight back on once you stop using the products. Meal replacements can be useful to kick-start your weight loss regime, but it’s important that you also learn about the principles of healthy eating for a more sustainable, long term approach to weight management. 

If you want to achieve successful weight loss, the best path is a lifelong combination of eating smarter and moving more. For a personalised plan tailored to your lifestyle and food preferences, consult a registered dietitian in your area, via the website www.adsa.org.za.

Did you know? 
Pick n Pay is committed to promoting health and wellbeing among South Africans, and employs a Registered Dietitian to provide free nutrition-related advice to the public. Contact Leanne Kiezer via the Pick n Pay health hotline on 0800 11 22 88 or [email protected] to start your nutrition conversation.