We all know that fad diets wreak havoc on your body and often leave you weighing more than when you started on them. But you may not realize that common, beloved ways of eating, like vegetarianism, can make your weight yo-yo just as easily. And others have long-term, adverse health effects. Here, the top 10 diets that can do your body more harm good, and the expert advice you must know before you change your eating habits.
Ditching meat can have you reaching for not-so-nutritious protein sources, like tofu and tempeh. “They’re the most highly processed foods,” points out Kathy Keenan Isoldi, PhD, a registered dietitian at Long Island University and author of . Processed foods not only tend to be but also filled with sugar, which can cause weight gain by spiking insulin, and salt, which can cause bloating. Instead, Dr. Isoldi suggests making your own veggie burgers, and filling up on beans and lowfat cottage and mozzarella cheese.
While this meat- and nut-heavy diet is chock full of nutrients, it’s also calorie-packed—as in, not a recipe for weight loss. Making matters worse, registered dietician and health coach says this diet can be hard to follow because it restricts carbohydrate intake, limiting even healthy sources found in fruit. Although many athletes adopt this protein-heavy diet, Macdonald notes that cutting out carbs, your body’s preferred source of fuel, can make you lethargic. “If you want to cut grains, that’s fine, but then throw in a sweet potato to get more energy.”
This plan allows bacon, butter and cheese in large portions, yet shuns carbohydrates. Without healthy carbs in grains and fruit, your body burns fat for fuel, which “gives you headaches, hurts your brain chemistry and damages your heart and arteries,” says Macdonald. In fact, over time, it can cause bad breath, nausea and even organ failure. Besides, low-carb diets are hard to stick to because "any time you restrict a certain food, it triggers cravings for the forbidden fruit and sets up a restriction-binge cycle," says registered dietitian . The fix? The Eco-Atkins diet, which discourages unhealthy fats and permits lean protein from meat and fish and natural carbohydrates from vegetables and fruit.
Similar to Atkins and Paleo, Dukan revolves around eating a lot of meat all while discouraging carbs, but also high-fiber beans, nuts and lentils. “Diets low in fiber don’t leave you feeling full, so you go off it or eat large portions,” which can result in weight gain, says bariatric physician, Sue Decotiis, MD. Then there are the extreme protein-only days, which can make dieting unenjoyable and potentially, a waste of time. Instead, try a moderately low-carb (rather than no-carb) diet, which permits healthy legumes. And skip one-food-group-only days: They only set you up for failure.
And you thought cleanses were extreme: This three-to-six-week diet restricts you to 500 calories per day—and requires injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone women produce during pregnancy. It’s supposed to prevent your muscles from breaking down from such little sustenance, and is believed to reduce hunger too, according to weight-loss physician , MD. But Dr. Decotiis won’t let her patients consume fewer than 700 calories, and insists on weekly checkups to see that the dieters are staying healthy. One more warning: A lot of over-the-counter forms of HCG are useless because they never reach your bloodstream.
More and more people are going gluten-free, whether because they believe they’re gluten-intolerant or they’ve heard claims that gluten causes Alzheimer’s. Though most people aren’t actually sensitive to gluten, and the jury’s still out on its detrimental effects, it can be a good diet. “You’re avoiding processed flour, which isn’t something our bodies metabolize well,” says Dr. Decotiis. The problem: Once you start eliminating sugar-heavy carbs from flour, a piece of cake can become toxic to your liver. Another downside: Many gluten-free packaged foods popping up in supermarkets are highly processed, and you know what that can do to your waistline. Opting for whole foods that are naturally gluten-free is your best bet if you go this route.
“Eat cheese, drink wine and savor chocolate!” How can this work for the Europeans? “Because they’re eating teeny, tiny portions and dining slowly, rather than shoveling food in their mouths like we do,” says Macdonald. “Take 20 to 30 minutes to eat a meal and you’ll find yourself getting fuller faster,” she says, because this allows your brain time to receive the signal from your stomach that you’re full. If you want to enjoy your favorite foods, Macdonald recommends kicking off each day with a high-protein breakfast to limit cravings, and then reducing your lunch and dinner portions.
Juicers actually eliminate healthy fiber by straining the pulp, and these “healthy” juices contain 50 to 70% fruit—an average of 50 grams of sugar per tall glass. “They’re missing the two most important things: fiber and protein, which curb hunger,” Macdonald says. Worse still, found that those who drink fruit juice have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A better idea: drinks that are 80% vegetables and 20% fruit with unsweetened almond milk, protein powder and chia seeds mixed in for healthy fat, protein and fiber, suggests Macdonald. Blend to keep the pulp, and consider the drink a meal replacement rather than a side beverage.
No dairy, meat or alcohol—or sugar for that matter. Most fresh vegetables are fine. Some fruit is, too, but not all. “Too many rules confuse and overwhelm dieters,” says Macdonald. “When you eat some fruits but not others, how do you draw the line?” The goal of this diet is to balance your pH to prevent problems like kidney stones and osteoporosis. “But our bodies’ blood has a relatively neutral pH and a good ability to keep the pH in the correct place,” says Macdonald. Still, reducing high-fat animal protein, sugars and refined grains in favor of veggies is smart.
After Oprah that she incorporated the Amazon rainforest berries into her diet back in 2009, people started believing that they were fat-busting, cleansing miracle-workers. Reality check: “I haven’t seen it burn calories,” says Dr. Decotiis. And the colon cleanser with which the berries are usually paired is dangerous. “When your gut is healthy, it will get rid of the waste it needs to get rid of,” she adds. Do this by eating the right nutrients, such as prebiotics found in protein, aloe and certain herbs, and omega-3 fatty acids which help regrow cells, “not by flushing water up an unhealthy gut.” Doing so can result in abdominal inflammation, infection, diarrhea and even death.