There are innumerable diet fads marketed to the masses as a quick fix, lifestyle overhaul, or a combination of both. But if you’re serious about your health and fitness, you can’t include yourself among the masses. “Athletes must understand—any diet that suggests eliminating certain foods (dairy, legumes, fruit, etc.) or food groups (carbohydrates or fat) in an effort to improve overall health for weight loss or body composition changes may increase the risk for low energy, slow recovery, fatigue, immune system depression, injury, mental focus, low motivation and hormonal disturbances,” says Marni Sumbal, R.D., a sport dietician who works with endurance athletes.
“The word ‘diet’ actually means, ‘way of life,’ so unless you could live with your plan for the rest of your life, it’s not a plan that will keep you looking and feeling fit,” adds Bonnie Taub-Dix, registered dietician nutritionist, owner of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It.
So, to keep you from falling victim to the bear traps of wellness scams, we asked a bevy of nutritonists, and health and fitness experts for the weight loss methods they would never use. Study up and put these diets, regimens, and quick fixes to rest.
1. Cut out Major Food Groups
“Many of the diets that boast impressive weight loss statistics result from ‘cutting out carbs’ or ‘ditching all fats,’ but in my experience, those diets are rarely, if ever, sustained for life,” says Taub-Dix. Obi Obadike, certified personal trainer, nutrition specialist, and host of Workout with Obi, agrees: “Our body needs an adequate amount of carbs, protein and fat in order to function properly, so I never recommend cutting one of those macronutrient groups out all together.”
What they opt for instead is far less drastic and definitely more manageable. “I know it may sound boring, but those two powerful words ‘eat less’ allows you to still eat a variety of foods that you love…it’s a diet you never have to go off of,” Taub-Dix says. Obadike focuses on substitutions. Do a little research (or read our site for the best sources of carbs, proteins, and muscle-building veggies) and purchase the best possible source of each food group. “For example,” he says, “opt for brown rice instead of white, and go with a slice of avocado instead of cheese on a sandwich.”
2. Take a Low-Fat Approach
“Some time ago, the food industry thought it would be a good idea to blame high-fat diets for the spike in American obesity rates,” says Josh Axe, a board certified doctor of natural medicine and clinical nutritionist. Naturally, “we all took the bait and started filling our carts with low-fat cookies and 100-calorie packs of chips and pretzels,” reveling in the fat-free free-for-all, he adds. But low-fat processed foods typically have way more sugar than regular snacks because manufacturers overcompensate in an effort to make them taste good.
Our bodies need fat. “Though fat is denser in calories than protein and carbohydrates, a little goes a long way in helping you stay full longer and supports stable blood sugar and energy—important for powering through workouts, avoiding hangry meltdowns, promoting good hormone regulation, and preventing you from feeling deprived,” adds Jessica Cording, a certified dietitian and wellness writer in New York City.
You need high-fat, healthy foods in your weight-loss program like avocado, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, wild-caught salmon, chia, and flaxseeds; “they’ll help the absorption of important fat soluble vitamins like A, D and K,” says Colette Heimowitz, Atkins’ VP of Nutrition and Education and resident nutritionist.
Just keep portions in check. “Think a quarter of an avocado, a teaspoon of oil, a quarter-cup of nuts—and spread your intake out through the day to help you fit fat into your diet while still reaching your weight loss goals,” Cording suggests.
3. Extreme Low-Calorie Diets
“Many athletes who participate in aesthetic or weight-bearing sports may feel extreme pressure from the media to ‘look’ like an athlete,” Sumbal says. In an effort to lose weight, they look to restricting calories or eliminating major food groups, which can create an unhealthy relationship with food. For the most part, low-calorie diets—unless under a doctor’s supervision—are too extreme for most people to maintain in the long term, and can create detrimental effects like nutrient deficiencies, adds JJ Virgin, certified nutrition specialist and author of JJ Virgin’s Sugar Impact Diet Cookbook.
4. Raw Vegan Diet
“Unless you have a full-time chef and live in your own bubble with no kids or other responsibilities, a raw vegan diet is practically impossible to maintain, despite what the latest actor or actress would like you to believe,” says Virgin. And in case you don’t know what a raw vegan diet entails, it excludes all animal food and by-products, and food cooked at a temperature above 118 °F.
5. Juice Cleanse Craze
Juice cleanses have gained huge traction as a fat loss solution, but they’re often misused by the masses. Actually, one of the biggest problems with most bottled elixirs you find in grocery stores is they’re “nothing more than overpriced sugar water, devoid of protein, healthy fats, fiber, and sufficient nutrients,” says Virgin. You’re going to be zapped of all energy during the cleanse, and even if you do lose weight, odds are you’re going to gain back the weight (maybe even more) when you end it.
6. Steady-State Cardio Overload
You know the key to shedding excess body fat is being active every day. “What most people don’t know, however, is that logging hours at the gym every day doesn’t automatically translate into a slimmer physique,” says Axe. Hours of traditional cardio exercise (which many people believe to be the best exercise weight loss strategy) can actually cause your body to store fat instead of burn it.
That’s not all. Steady state, long-distance cardiovascular exercise in excess can raise stress hormone levels (like cortisol), which triggers your appetite, increases fat storage, and slows down exercise recovery, he adds.
The better fat-blasting alternative? Interval training. By combining short, high-intensity bursts of exercise (done at 85-100% maximum heart rate) with slow recovery phases, repeated over and over, you stimulate a unique metabolic response in your body. Essentially, you may not burn as much fat during the workout (say if you were doing a moderate endurance activity at 50-70% maximum heart rate), but you’ll torch way more calories afterward. You’re revving your metabolism, so it stays elevated and continues to burn fat for 24-48 hours after you leave the gym.
7. Forbidding Favorite Foods
“When people put themselves on a diet, they often forbid themselves of the foods they love, but dieting is not the same as healthy eating, and this leads to a sense of deprivation, which can derail your healthy intentions,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, founder of Capitol Nutrition Group, registered dietitian/nutritionist, and health fitness specialist. The main problem with under-eating and over-exercising is you see weight loss in the form of water loss and dehydration. You’re not truly losing weight, but you are damaging your metabolism. When you starve yourself, or work yourself too hard, your body begins to conserve fat as a survival tactic. “Over time this creates the effect of yo-yo weight cycling, which can take a toll on your emotional and physical well-being,” Scritchfield says.
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