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Taking a Look at Trendy Diets

By Janet Helm, MS, RD

nutrition journal

Revolutionary. Groundbreaking. Breakthrough. Those are the words used to describe some of the most popular new diets that are making headlines and moving up the best-seller lists.

It seems that metabolism is big this year. Many of the new diets, including The Fast Metabolism Diet, promise to accelerate your metabolism so you can lose weight quickly. Burning fat is a popular claim, yet just how you do that differs dramatically. The Digest Diet touts low-fat dairy products as fat-releasing foods, yet The Omni Diet and The Virgin Diet require you to ditch all dairy.

All of the diets attempt to lure you in with numbers. The Omni Diet: lose 12 pounds in 2 weeks. The Fast Metabolism Diet: lose 20 pounds in 4 weeks. The Shred Diet: lose 20 pounds, 4 inches and 2 sizes in 6 weeks. The Digest Diet: drop 26 pounds in 3 weeks. The Military Diet, a popular online diet plan, tops them all with promises of losing  30 pounds in 1 month. Fast isn’t always better, but speedy weight loss is definitely in style this year. Yet any plan that promises rapid weight loss is a red flag to me.

Several of the popular diets rely on cycling, or what’s known as calorie-shifting.  You follow a certain calorie-restricted plan for a week, or in the case of The Military Diet, you follow it for just 3 days, and then go off for 4 days.  I guess if a typical lunch on The Military diet is a cup of cottage cheese, a hard-boiled egg and 5 saltine crackers, or a sample dinner revolves around 2 hot dogs without the bun, then who could follow that for more than 3 days?

If you’re considering one of these new diet plans, use these tips to evaluate the books before you buy.  Here are some watch-outs:

  • Does the diet have a long list of foods to avoid? One look at The Omni Diet and it appears to include loads of delicious foods. I like the emphasis on adding health-promoting foods and cooking tasty meals.  The book is focused on 70 percent plant-based foods and 30 percent protein.  Yet there’s no dairy, grain-based foods, white potatoes, sugars, alcohol or processed foods allowed.  To me, that’s overly restrictive.  I’m glad quinoa is a permitted, but why eliminate all other whole grains?  Not even popcorn is allowed.  Many of the popular diets seem to have a greater focus on what you delete than what you eat.  The Virgin Diet blames food intolerances for America’s weight problems and requires you to cut out seven foods: dairy, gluten, soy, corn, peanuts, eggs and sugar.  The promise: drop 7 foods, lose 7 pounds in just 7 days.  What’s left to eat?
  • Are you required to buy supplements? Any long-lasting diet plan should embrace foods and not require you to buy pills and potions.  The Fast Metabolism Diet, another restrictive diet plan that abolishes dairy, alcohol, wheat, corn, soy and other foods, touts an array of supplements, bars and shakes to help you maximize your metabolism.  I think you should rely on real food and exercise to do that.
  • Is the plan complicated to follow? Watch out for diet plans that require you to follow a strict regimen that limits your choices or makes you follow detailed meal plans that keep switching from week to week. You shouldn’t have to open up the book to know what’s allowed that day.  You shouldn’t have to skip family meals or avoid restaurants because you’re required to eat only certain foods.
  • Does the diet promote behavior change or learning new habits? Of the diets I looked at here, The Digest Diet, written by the editor of Reader’s Digest, probably comes closest to that.  At the end of the day, you need to learn new behaviors if you want to keep the weight off.  You need to enjoy food and learn how to eat for life.
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