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The Dangers of Fad Diets and Losing Weight Too Quickly

We’ve all seen the seemingly too-good-to-be-true advertisements and social media ads that claim extreme or quick weight loss results. If you’ve ever been desperate to lose a few pounds quickly, whether for a big event like a wedding or reunion, you may have even tried one of them. I mean, if it worked for  Beyoncé, it has to work for me, right?

However, many of these trendy fad diets aren’t backed by research and may cause your body more harm than good. The main issue is that most of these diets focus on the wrong way to lose weight and don’t actually delve into the true physiology of obesity, said Christine Lovato, MD, a bariatric surgeon at Banner – University Medicine Obesity and Bariatric Surgery Center in Phoenix.

“As humans, we always want a quick, easy fix,” Dr. Lovato said. “Although, many people know deep down that it will require a lot more work to lose and sustain the weight loss, we are hopeful that it won’t be that way for us.”

How to spot a fad diet from a mile away

Unfortunately, no pill, powder or food is a magical cure. The next time you see a weight loss ad, think twice before jumping in. Here are some telltale signs you’re being had by marketers.

The diet:

  • Claims fast and easy weight loss
  • Promotes “magic foods” (e.g., cabbage, grapefruit)
  • Eliminates certain food groups (e.g., carbs)
  • Makes claims based on a single study or testimonials
  • Requires the purchase of special shakes or dietary supplements labeled as fat burners, metabolism boosters or weight loss aids
  • Doesn’t require exercise

Why fad diets and quick weight loss are dangerous and always fail

We all want things fast and easy, so the idea that you could actually drop 10 pounds in 10 days is alluring. But don’t give in to false advertising. Here are some of the downsides of fad diets.

They’re not sustainable

Some fad diets hype certain foods, others high-fat, low carb diets, but they all have one thing in common: They propose a temporary solution. Fad diets don’t focus on real, sustainable lifestyle changes to help ensure you keep the weight off. So once the “diet” ends, the weight comes back just as fast.

“Think of your weight as a thermostat that has a pre-set temperature,” Dr. Lovato said. “Our weight has a learning option that always goes back to the pre-set weight. Real physiologic weight loss can only occur when there are actual hormonal changes in the pathways that control our metabolism and what we store versus what we burn.”

This can be done with changing your food culture, weight loss medications that target hormonal pathways and bariatric surgery, which changes your anatomy to alter the hormonal response to food.

They are harmful to your physical and mental health

Cutting calories may help you lose weight quickly, but it will also send your metabolism (your body’s calorie-burning machine) into survival mode—hanging on to extra fat for fuel.

“Your body will slow its calorie-burning down in order to make up for missed calories,” Dr. Lovato said. “This form of deprivation can also lead to things like binge eating, which can result in weight gain to get you back to your pre-set weight."

Losing weight too quickly and without proper nutrition can also cause you to lose muscle, which is helpful in burning lots of calories. Add to this the mental toll fad diets can have, causing you stress, anxiety and guilt over food choices.

They aren’t balanced

Some diets may encourage you to cut certain food groups that your body needs for fuel and nutrients. Slashing calories and cutting out entire food groups can put you are risk for nutrient deficiencies and changes in your digestive, muscle and bone health.

They are expensive

A lot of fad diets require you to buy expensive books, supplements, shakes or to enroll in a costly program. Often, your money could be better spent investing in nutritious fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains at the grocery store.

How to make real, sustainable weight loss happen

While we live in an instant gratification world, Dr. Lovato said the only way to truly lose weight and keep it off is to focus on long-term healthy lifestyle choices. These include:

  • Eating whole, real foods: Focus on high-protein, low carbohydrate diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits.
  • Avoiding processed foods: Eliminate processed foods, as well as sugary (and artificial sweeteners) foods and beverages, like diet soda.
  • Exercising daily: Cardiovascular exercise and strength training are both important—to help burn calories and build muscle mass.
  • Making sleep a priority: When you’re tired, you tend to eat more. Aim for at least seven hours of quality sleep each night. If you have trouble sleeping, talk to your health care provider.
  • Controlling stress: Stress can play a role in your waistline and how easily you lose weight. Reduce stress through exercise, meditation and intuitive eating. Behavioral health therapy may also help.
  • Having patience: It can take a long time to lose the weight you’ve gained but remember to give yourself grace and patience. Focus on the journey you’re on, establishing healthy habits that will ensure a healthier future.

 For other weight loss articles, check out:

Wellness Weight Loss