From the cabbage soup diet to going fat free, carb free and gluten-free, diets that claim to help you lose weight fast and drop pounds in days flood the internet. The truth however, is that they’re rarely very effective, and most importantly, are often bad for your body.
To sustain a long-term healthy diet, you need to eat the right kinds of foods
But while we all know that the best way to lose weight, should you need to, is to eat a well-balanced healthy diet and get some exercise, a quick-fix can certainly sound tempting.
So to help you sort the fact from the fiction and avoid the fad diets that are truly terrible for your body, or just plain fibs, we’ve consulted nutritionist and Channel 4’s go-to healthy eating guru Hala El-Shafie.
An expert in the psychology of eating, Hala knows her stuff when it comes to the diets that just don’t work.
From the weight loss plans that’ll see you gaining pounds rather than dropping them, to the real reason you need to eat fat and carbs, here’s what she has to say about the internet’s most popular diet myths.
“The cabbage soup diet works”
The myth: Replacing all of your main meals with just cabbage soup for seven days will help you to drop pounds quickly, and leave you looking slimmer.
Hala says: You will certainly lose weight in the process of doing this, if you can even manage to do it for seven days, but (and this is a big but), what you will also be losing is water, essential glycogen stores needed for energy and possibly even muscle.
It’s also very likely that after you finish this diet, you’ll regain all the weight you lost plus extra; any quick-fix diet like this leads to yo-yo weight gain. When the body goes into starvation mode, as it would during this diet, our metabolism slows down while the body attempts to conserve energy, which actually makes losing weight harder. If you want to gain weight, this is the quickest route. Don’t do it!
“You should only eat when you’re hungry”
The myth: To lose weight you should stop eating at regular mealtimes, and only eat when you start to feel very hungry.
Hala says: If you start to eat only when you are very hungry, you’re more than likely to start over eating. This approach to nutrition and weight loss is a definite no-no.
Eating regular meals is important for stabilising blood sugars, although it is also key to understand your body and know when you're actually hungry and not eating just because you are tired, bored or stressed.
“Weight loss pills are safe these days”
The myth: Diet pills are a safe way to lose weight quickly, especially when they’re made using herbs and natural ingredients.
Hala says: Diet pills are just madness! There are numerous legal and illegal diet pills available over the internet, and while many are simply ineffectual and an expensive waste of money, others are potentially fatal as they contain prescription-only or banned ingredients, which can’t be monitored by a health professional.
Sellers of diet pills use clever marketing ploys to prey on people's weight worries, but this is highly risky and a potentially life threatening method of trying to achieve your weight loss goals. At best it's an expensive waste of money, and at worst it can lead to organ failure or death.
Also, if you did manage to lose weight via appetite suppressants, your body would ultimately regain any weight lost at a rapid rate, along with additional pounds. I would strongly advise people to stay firmly away from any form of diet pill.
“Gluten-free diets are great for losing weight”
The myth: Gluten-free diets can help you lose weight quickly, by cutting out all unnecessary carbs and fat.
Hala says: Gluten-free diets can only help you lose weight if they are balanced, and you take in less calories than you burn. There is no magic weight-loss formula to eating a gluten free diet, as much as people may love to think otherwise.
If you are gluten intolerant or coeliac then it is essential that gluten is omitted from your diet, but as a weight loss tool, the only reason you would lose weight on a gluten-free eating plan is if you're already over eating.
Gluten-free products can often be as high in fat and sugar as their non gluten-free counterparts, and unless people are very careful, a gluten-free diet can lack vitamins, minerals, and fibre. A well-balanced approach to this diet can indeed have its merits, but, dieters need to stay mindful, ensuring that their bodies are still receiving and processing all of the nutrients necessary to maintain a clean bill of health.
“A juice diet is the healthiest way to lose weight”
The myth: Replacing all your main meals with a fruit or vegetable juice for seven days or more is the healthiest diet plan around.
Hala says: This is a complete myth as juicing doesn't provide all the nutrients you need. In fact, a juice diet is completely devoid of protein and significantly higher in sugar, meaning that this will have disastrous effects on your blood sugar levels, and will make it near impossible for your body to feel satiated.
If you do manage to see a juice diet through then you will lose weight on the scales, but it won't be true weight loss; the losses will be mostly glycogen stores and fluid. You might also damage your teeth during this process.
A healthy juice or smoothie each day can help to enhance your diet, but eating fresh fruit and vegetables whole (rather than juiced) means you’ll also get the benefits of the fibre contained in them, and you're less likely to deplete the overall nutrient content.
“To lose weight you have to cut out carbs”
The myth: The fastest way to lose weight is to cut carbohydrates out of your diet completely.
Hala says: Reducing processed and refined carbohydrates, such as cakes, biscuits, white breads and pasta, that can cause your blood sugar and insulin to spike when you eat them means that you are likely to lose weight, provided the rest of your diet is well balanced.
If you replace carbs with protein, you could lose weight because it takes more energy for your body to burn protein, but cutting an entire food group out of your diet isn’t a great idea. It can lead to binging on unhealthy foods, and the bigger issues are that this is a highly unsustainable way to eat in the long term, as well as the fact that you could be at risk of cutting out key nutrients needed for good general health and a balanced mood. Those on a no-carb diet are often quite snappy! To sustain a long-term healthy diet, it’s important to eat the right kinds of carbohydrates in moderation.
“You should cut all fat out of your diet to be healthy”
The myth: If you eat fat, you’ll become fat, so it’s better to strike it from your diet completely
Hala says: Consuming too many calories and eating poor-quality fats are what leads to unnecessary weight gain. Foods that contain fat can and should be part of a healthy diet, you just have to make sure you’re eating the right ones.
Monounsaturated fats, found in almonds and avocados, and polyunsaturated fats, found in walnuts and fish, are very good for you, whereas trans fats, found in fast food like fries and packaged foods like cake mixes, should be avoided.
There are countless nutritional benefits to including healthy fats in your diet, and they are in fact essential to your body; fats help maintain a lean body and assist with metabolic function. Fat also provides a constant level of energy, and enables your body to absorb more nutrients, including essential vitamins and antioxidants, in addition to helping your body fight infections. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) also play a key role in fertility, blood clotting, heart rate, and blood pressure.
To make sure you’re eating healthily, stick to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats; they’re both easy to burn and are unlikely to stick around as stored fat, i.e weight gain.