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Diets: Bogus or beneficial?

British Heart Foundation diet and other fake diets
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

One thing is certain: whether in health or fashion magazines, in papers or on the internet - there is no shortage of tips for losing weight, feeling better and improving your looks.

"Five belly fat busting diet tips"; the "Wedding Dress Crash Diet"; the " Cabbage soup diet". The seemingly endless list of weight loss programmes often tries to lure us with the hope that we can lose the maximum amount of weight in the minimum period of time, with the smallest amount of effort.

Expert advice

No diets please, we're losing weight

Eleanor Donaldson, a dietitian from Leicestershire, has a list of pointers for spotting the bogus diet. More on those in a moment - but her number one piece of advice may come as a surprise: be wary of any plan that has the word 'diet' in it. "My top tip is: if it's got the word 'diet' in it, avoid it, because a diet is something you start and then you stop," she tells us.

Most dietitians agree: losing weight should involve more than a few days slavishly following the latest guru, celebrity or fad, but instead involve a change of lifestyle and a realistic assessment of why you want to slim down.

Eleanor, a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, says she has seen many patients who have tried every kind of diet that comes along. "Then they eventually make some proper, sustainable lifestyle changes and they look back at what they've done over the past two years and they think, 'gosh, why did I lose that time'," she says.

Bogus diets

Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), says it is fairly simple to spot poor dieting advice. "Quite often with 'fad' diets, if it looks too good to be true, the chances are it is."

The BHF recently spoke out against a "bogus" diet circulating on the internet after callers to its switchboard wanted to know whether it had really been endorsed by the charity. The answer was, it hadn't. What had previously appeared under a number of aliases, including the " Heart Healthy Diet", the "Greenlane Diet" and the " 3 day diet", was also being promoted as the 'British Heart Foundation Diet'.

Victoria told us they decided to issue a press release to make it clear that the diet, which involved a strict regime lasting three days, had nothing to do with them and was, "quite far from what we would recommend".

Going viral

Where once diets were found in magazines, newspapers and books, the internet has opened up a vast new arena, allowing users fast access to information at the click of a mouse. It has also meant that dieting advice can be spread around the globe, regardless of its value and probably nobody will know where it came from. "The problem with the internet is that there are an awful lot of unreliable sources out there," Eleanor says.

The origin of the 'heart diet', for instance, is unclear. Despite its misleading links to a British charity, there were national variations in some of the products mentioned. However, wherever it appeared it followed a basic formula. On day one, breakfast consists of black coffee or tea, half a grapefruit, a slice of toast and a tablespoon of peanut butter. On day two, dieters can have two frankfurters with a cup of cabbage and half a cup of carrots.

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