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Diets that don't work

Avoid these five types of diets for best weight loss results, experts say.
By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

"Eat what you want, when you want, and watch the pounds disappear!" You've heard of them, maybe even tried them: miraculous-sounding diets that claim to shed kilos with minimal effort. There are hundreds of these quick-fix diets out there, from the grapefruit diet to the detox diet to the "caveman" diet. How do you tell legitimate weight loss plans from diets that don't work?

One reason's it's so hard to tell the difference is that even the worst diets will probably result in weight loss. Don't be fooled into thinking weight loss can be achieved because of some magical food, pill or potion. What causes weight loss is eating fewer calories than you burn. Ridiculous, unbalanced diets cause weight loss because they are basically low-calorie diets.

After a few weeks on an unrealistic diet, dieters usually become frustrated and give up. This leads to feelings of failure that can help send them right back to their unhealthy lifestyles.

" Fad diets not only fail to produce long-term weight loss, they can lead to deprivation, weight gain, and discouragement", says Dr Michelle May, author of Am I Hungry? What to Do When Diets Don't Work. “ In other words, you are often worse off than before you started".

The worst diets ever

Experts have identified five types of diet that are unlikely to produce long-term results for most people.

1. Diets that focus on only a few foods or food groups (like the cabbage soup diet, grapefruit diet, strict vegan diets, raw food diets, and many low-carb diets).

Beware of any diet that rules out entire food groups. People need to eat from a variety of food groups to get all the nutrients they need.

Although some restrictive diets do work initially, they fail long term. You can lose weight on diets that focus on single foods, like cabbage soup, but how much cabbage soup can a person eat? Before long, you grow weary of eating the same foods every day and cravings for favourite foods lead you back to your former eating behaviour.

Keep in mind that all foods can fit into a healthy lifestyle in moderation, even things like bacon and ice cream. And when diets forbid certain foods and dieters envisage a life without their favourite treats, those diets usually fail.

2. "Detox" diets. (Extreme regimes calling for procedures like liver flushes, bodily cleanses, colonics, or hormone injections).

“All the flushes and cleanses are pure nonsense, unnecessary, and there is no scientific basis for these recommendations", says Dr Pamela Peeke, chief medical correspondent for the Discovery Health channel. "Your body is well equipped with organs, such as the liver and kidneys, and the immune system, to rid itself of potential toxins and does an excellent job of cleansing itself without needing flushes or cleanses".

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