Fad Diets: Why Do We Keep Falling for Fad Diets? (cont.)

Fad diets that prohibit or severely restrict carbohydrates may live up to their promises of quick weight loss at the beginning, but that's because cutting back on carbs causes your body to purge stored water, McKittrick says. But as soon as you start eating carbs again, the water weight comes back.

It's fat you want to lose, not water, and definitely not lean muscle tissue, which your body will start to metabolize if don't eat enough.

"If you're chronically taking your calories too low, you can slow your metabolism and lose muscle mass," McKittrick says.

A Short-Term Solution

If you still like the sound of a fad diet plan, try it, Dorfman says ­- but only for the short term, to jump-start weight loss and get yourself on the way to a healthier lifestyle.

"Perhaps you can lose that first few pounds and get yourself into an exercise outfit, to get yourself to the gym," she says. "If it helps you to get to that point, perhaps it was worth the $16.95 [for the book]."

But be warned that doing that again and again can lead to weight gain. "The more somebody diets, the more difficult it is going to be to develop the kind of healthy eating program that's going to be needed for them to lose weight," Dorfman says.

In the long-term, staying slim is much more important than getting that way quickly.

And the best way to wean yourself from fad dieting may be to succeed in losing weight the old-fashioned way. To that end, here are some tried-and-true tips to help you develop healthy habits:

  • Keep a record of what you eat. If you feel you need structure to help you lose weight, log what you eat for a few weeks. This will help you identify bad habits, and give you a general idea of how many calories are in various foods.
  • Move your body. "Do something you like, do it on a regular basis, and do it for more than 20 minutes," Dorfman says. If you enjoy it, you'll be more likely to do it regularly. You don't have to be a hard-core triathlete to be active. Start with 10-minute walks and move up from there.
  • Each week, set two small goals. For example, if you love doughnuts, pledge not to eat them for one week. Instead eat an extra serving a day of something healthy, such as a fruit or vegetable. If you succeed with that small goal, you'll feel good about yourself and gain momentum for adopting healthy behaviors.
  • Try new things. Eat the healthy things you know you like, and also experiment with new tastes to stave off boredom and cravings for junk food. You probably haven't tried every fruit and vegetable available at your local supermarket.
  • Allow for treats. Have your favorite high-calorie treats -- occasionally. Don't splurge all the time, but don't make yourself miserable, either.

Originally published Dec. 16, 2003
Medically updated Jan. 3, 2005.

SOURCES: Robyn A. Osborn, RD, PhD . Martha McKittrick, RD, New York Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center. Lisa Dorfman, RD, LMHC, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association. Kelly Brownell, PhD, director, Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders. Kipple, KF, The Cambridge World History of Food, Vol. 2. Roberts, D. Medical Journal of Australia, December 2001: Vol. 175, 637-640.Anderson, J. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, October. 2000; vol. 19: pp 578-590. Suzanne Somers' Get Skinny on Fabulous Food, Amazon.com. The South Beach Diet: The Delicious, Doctor-Designed, Foolproof Plan for Fast and Healthy Weight Loss, Amazon.com. Billboard.com. New York Times Best-Seller Lists, Nov. 23, 2003.

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