Fad Diets: Can Quick-Fix Diets Work? (cont.)

"In reality, all of the glitz and glamour approaches will probably not be effective for safe and long-term weight loss if they don't incorporate a balanced, healthy diet and increased physical activity," says Steagall.

Fat Smash Diet

One popular diet that vigorously promotes exercise is the Fat Smash Diet, seen by TV viewers on VH1's Celebrity Fit Club. Host -- and author of the diet -- Ian Smith, MD, has made exercise an important focus of the program, with a "prescription" for 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week, in the initial stage of the program, and an increase in activity in each of the remaining three stages.

Smith has said that the 90-day program is designed to change our approach to eating and exercising by making lifestyle changes. You first "detoxify" by eating mainly fruits and vegetables for nine days, with no meat, bread, cheese, coffee, or alcohol allowed. During the "foundation" phase, which lasts three weeks, more foods appear on the permissible list and exercise is kicked up 10% to 15% above phase one. The four-week "construction" phase allows for an occasional treat, and exercise jumps 25% over phase two. Once dieters reach the lifetime "temple" phase, Smith claims they will have constructed a routine of good habits that will last a lifetime.

While there may be some credibility to the "jump start" that dieters can get from an initial quick-loss phase of a weight loss regimen, most successful diet plans are designed for gradual weight loss and modified behavior, says Robert Eckel, MD, president of the American Heart Association (AHA).

"If you're healthy, a quick, short-term weight loss -- perhaps motivated by a special event, like a wedding or reunion -- is not likely to be harmful," says Eckel. "In the long run, however, most such plans are fairly extreme and hard to adhere to."

Recognizing this, the AHA has claimed its own bookshelf space with the American Heart Association No-Fad Diet: A Personal Plan for Healthy Weight Loss. The program promotes healthy eating choices, increased physical activity, tips for maintaining your success, and advice on creating a healthy eating environment for the entire family. Through questionnaires that help users identify what kind of dieter they are, the plan offers three different options that make it "user friendly," says Eckel.

Make Healthy Choices

Healthy people can probably begin most weight loss programs on their own, Eckel advises. If you have any existing illness, however, he cautions that you see your doctor first. That advice is reiterated by the American Diabetes Association (ADA), which strongly recommends that people with diabetes avoid fad diets, such as those that promote extreme low-carbohydrate or high-protein intake.

In the September issue of Diabetes Care, Ann Albright, PhD, RD, writes, "There is no evidence that these diets are successful at helping people keep weight off once they lose it, and there are ample concerns about the fiber, vitamins, and minerals people give up when they severely restrict their diet, say, by sharply limiting carbohydrate intake.

"Fad diets come and go," continues Albright, who is ADA president-elect for Health Care and Education. "We want people to be provided with sound nutrition advice that will help them in making choices for maintaining good health for the long term."

"While fad diets may take the weight off, they don't teach you how to keep it off," emphasizes Steagall. "Remember, you're learning a way to live, not just a way to diet.

"To keep the weight off, you must stay motivated," Steagall adds. "Successful weight control depends upon you -- not upon any particular product or program, no matter who is promoting it or how glamorous it appears on the surface. 'All that glitters is not gold.'"

Published Aug. 31, 2006.

SOURCES: Jenna Anding, PhD, RD, LD, associate department head for extension, department of nutrition and food science, Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas. Janet Basom, RD, LD, clinical dietitian, Joe Arrington Cancer Center, Lubbock, Texas. Robin Steagall, RD, nutrition communications manager, Calorie Control Council, Atlanta. Robert H. Eckel, MD, 2005-2006 president, American Heart Association, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. News release, "How to Eat to Prevent or Treat Diabetes: ADA Releases First Food Guidelines Tailored to Medical Categories," Aug. 25, 2006.

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Last Editorial Review: 9/8/2006