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Four “Fad Diets” that Actually Work

After the holidays, a lot of us are in panic mode to shed those extra holiday pounds. It is still common to look to the latest diet craze, perhaps perusing infomercials or the Diet & Nutrition section of the book store, but more recently there has been a movement away from fad diets. People are finally realizing they need to get back to basics: calories in (food) versus calories out (daily activity plus exercise), and the latest studies reinforce what we’ve known for decades.

Yet many are still convinced that restricting or eliminating certain foods from their diet is the only way to go. While most of these fad diets do work short term because they involve caloric restriction, their long-term success remains grim. Let’s be honest, swearing of carbs completely or only eating fish or chicken with vegetables everyday is not only unrealistic, but a little depressing. Not to mention even more drastic methods like the HCG diet, which involves hormone injections and a 500-calorie limit each day. Who can live like that, even for a short period of time? Once you resume “normal” eating patterns, the weight comes back faster than it came off.

Still, fad diets are popular for a reason, and rather than dispel them completely, below are a few tried-and-true “diets” that can work:

  • Lower your carbohydrate intake. Diets like Atkins and Ideal Protein work because carbs are the foods that we tend to overeat more than anything else. This is especially true in restaurants, where plates are overloaded with sides like pasta, rice, French fries, etc., because they are cheaper to serve than extra protein or fresh vegetables.

How to do it: Limit carb servings to one per meal, avoiding altogether at dinner. One serving of carbs equates to one slice of bread, one-half cup pasta or rice, one-fourth of a bagel or five to six crackers. These servings are typically A LOT less than most are accustomed to. Cutting out carbs completely never works long-term. I know I couldn’t live without cheese and crackers and good bread, and especially a sweet indulgence every now and then. Fruits and dairy products are also classified as carbohydrates; however, fruit is a good choice since we tend not to overdo it like we do the starchy carbs. And, dairy products contain protein, which keeps us full and provides a good source of calcium.

  • Eliminate processed foods. One of my favorite books, admittedly an oldie but goodie but the principles from which still stick with me is “French Women Don’t Get Fat.” The book’s preface is that we should eat moderate amounts of everything we enjoy, but focus on the real, highest-quality foods, eliminating processed foods as much as possible.

How to do it: Focus on fruits and vegetables that are in season because they taste the best. Head to your local farmers market for fresh produce and grass-fed and hormone-free meats and eggs. Enjoy the foods you love. If you like cheese, indulge in the finest you can afford but eat a smaller amount. Go ahead and have a little chocolate, but select a good dark chocolate; a few bites is all you will need with the rich taste. Have a glass of wine with a meal instead of wasting calories on multiple pre-dinner cocktails. While this no longer a novel concept, I like this book’s approach of because it’s all about lifestyle as opposed to dieting, a word to which the author is vehemently opposed. It also stresses physical activity that does not have to take place in the gym. For example, park far away from your destination or walk if it’s close, walk to the neighborhood coffee shops instead of driving, take the stairs, swim a few laps if you have a pool or take an evening walk after dinner. Chances are, if you’re not an avid gym person, trying to spend countless hours there probably won’t stick. The latest studies show that short bursts of exercise throughout the day (~15-30 minutes each) can be just as effective as longer workouts.

  • Dr. Oz’s Ultimate Diet. This is a more specific take on the diets that call for elimination of processed foods.

How to do it: Stick with real foods. Purge your kitchen of processed foods, especially ones that list any type of enriched flour, animal fat, sugar or syrup in the first few ingredients (including honey, molasses, high fructose corn syrup or corn syrup. Stick to lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, 100% whole grains and low-fat dairy products.

  • Meal delivery services. Vendors such as Fit Gourmet can deliver meals to you based on the calorie level appropriate for you. This can work as long as you have the base of knowledge to know how to eat when not following the plan.

The Bottom Line
Don’t discount these principles and diets because they seem too uncomplicated to really work. You would be surprised how much you don’t have to restrict yourself or spend countless hours at the gym to reach your goals.

Next Month
I will discuss the foods that are worth spending a little extra money on and the ones that you can buy cheaper versions of that are just as nutritious.