Don’t fall for fad diets and gimmicks

When you want to lose weight quickly, or you know you have overdone the eating (think Easter and Christmas), it can be very tempting to go on a ‘diet’ to lose the flab.dear diet

While these may have immediate effects (e.g. you lose ‘weight’), most of this weight is water, not fat. Following fad diets may cause a whole host of other programs such as:

  • Muscle loss
  • Slower metabolism (which leads to long-term weight gain)
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches and light-headedness
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea
  • Mineral and vitamin deficiencies.

Statistics show that most people who embark on a ‘weight-loss’ program regain everything they lose, plus more, within two years.

So here are some tips on recognising a ‘diet’ that may do more harm than good.

Yo-yo dieting and skipping meals

When you engage in yo-yo dieting (losing weight and gaining it back and losing it again, etc.) — often through reducing your kilojoule intake or skipping meals — your body responds to these periods of semi-starvation by lowering its metabolic rate, or the rate at which your body burns up energy. When you lose weight, you lose fat and muscle. You don’t want to lose muscle as it burns kilojoules, whereas fat doesn’t.

This is why, when you come off the ‘diet’ and eat normally again, your body burns fewer kilojoules than before because your metabolic rate is slower. This can lead to a cycle of yo-yo dieting, which does not lead to long-term weight loss.

Restriction diets

Any diet that advises excluding whole food groups or foods is not healthy. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends we eat a balanced diet, consuming foods from each of the five major food groups each day — fruits, vegetables, protein, grains and dairy. You should avoid any diet that prohibits one or more food groups.

Low-carb or no carb diets

Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for our body. While it’s not recommended that you eat carbohydrates high in fat and sugar (e.g. cakes, biscuits and pastries), there are some carbs that are good for you — whole grain bread and pasta, brown rice, oats, barley, rye, quinoa, etc. It’s also important to realise that fruits and veggies are also good sources of carbs.

Diet pills and creams

There is no scientific evidence that proves diet pills work. Diet pills are full of artificial ingredients, which are not likely to be good for you long term. Similarly, there is no ‘magic’ cream or lotion to help you lose weight.

Meal replacements

While there may be a place for these (under the medical supervision of your doctor), meal replacements overall, are not a good choice. While a few are formulated by government guidelines, with appropriate levels of vitamins, minerals, fibre, omega-3s and more, others are lacking in key nutrients and are not nutritionally complete. Using these does not teach you the importance of making your own healthy food choices, learning to prepare healthy meals, and developing an active lifestyle. Usually, once you stop using meal-replacements, weight regain occurs.

Exercise machines

Our bodies are designed to move, and moving them through regular exercise is the healthy way to lose fat. Simply targeting muscle areas, particularly through machines (also called ‘spot reducing’) will not lead to real fat loss.

Pre-made meals

A program of pre-made meals is not necessarily a gimmick, but you do run the risk of gaining back any lost weight, as you have not learnt to control portion sizes, nor learn to cook your own healthy meals. While it may be convenient, these programs are likely to be more expensive than making your own food. They also do not help you change your lifestyle, which led to the weight gain in the first place.

How can you lose fat?

The secret to losing fat is to make lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle changes that lead to healthy, long-term and sustainable weight loss include:

  • Eating a balanced diet which includes all food groups (carbohydrate, protein, dairy, wholegrain, fruit and vegetables)
  • Limiting highly processed foods, and foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar
  • Limiting portion sizes
  • Drinking 6-8 glasses (1 ½ – 2 litres of water) each day
  • Reducing your alcohol consumption
  • Increasing your movement (i.e. exercise), to 30 minutes on most, if not every day.

If you feel you need to lose some weight, forget about the quick and easy fix, as there is no such thing. Instead, speak to your doctor, or visit a qualified dietitian for some expert advice on getting started.


Further information:

Dietitians Association of Australia

Australian Guide to Healthy Eating