Some people will try anything to lose weight, and that includes going on the most drastic of diets. Eating less and eating better are always good ways to lose weight, but if the diet you’re on doesn’t nourish or satisfy you, leaves you famished half the time, or forces you to forego certain foods or food groups, then you have a problem on your hands. Most fad diets check all these boxes; sure, they’ll help you to lose weight but they’re hard to stick to, not to mention, lacking in nutrients – plus the weight you lose often comes back quickly.
With so many different diets out there – and new ones coming out constantly – it can be hard to tell what’s healthy or not. But all dodgy diets have several things in common. If the diet or eating plan you want to follow raises any of the following red flags, it probably means that it’s bad for you and you’d be smart to avoid it.
1. It excludes entire food groups
Your body needs carbohydrates and fat for energy, meat, fish, eggs and/or beans for muscle building and repair, dairy products for strong bones and teeth, and fruit and vegetables, which provide vitamins and minerals to help prevent disease and support your immunity. If you omit even one of these food groups from your diet you risk endangering your health in the long run. Cut out carbohydrates, for instance, and your blood sugar levels take a hit, leaving you lethargic and irritable. On a zero-carb diet, you also miss out on the insoluble fibre that you get from carbohydrate-rich whole-grains.
2. It focuses on only one kind of food or food group
If the diet instructs you to stick to just fruit and raw vegetables, as in the case of the raw vegan diet, for example, then you should be wary. Sure, you will lose weight because you’re consuming very little calories, but you may also become nutritionally deficient: certain nutrients, like vitamins B12 and D and omega-3 fatty acids, for instance, cannot be obtained from raw, plant-based foods, but are important for good health. Eating large quantities of fruit over a long period also promotes tooth decay, no thanks to the destructive effect of fruit acids and sugar on the tooth enamel.
3. It promotes certain food combinations
Some fad diets advise against eating protein and carbs together in a single meal. The (supposed) reason: Both take a long time to digest, creating a “toxic” environment in your intestines and leaving you feeling sluggish and bloated. But such claims are baseless and should not be believed. Food does not “putrefy” or “turn to sludge” in your system. Your body was designed to digest and process all kinds of foods.
4. It’s extremely low in calories
A low-calorie diet is recommended if you’re looking to lose weight. But you should consume enough calories to get you through the day. The average adult woman requires about 1,800 calories a day, however if you want to shed fat, it’s fine to cut this down to 1,200 calories a day, depending on your lifestyle and the state of your health. Don’t fall for diets that have you eating less than 1,000 calories a day – in other words, crash diets – as these can make you extremely sick. Such restrictive eating plans also promote an unhealthy relationship with food and may even trigger an eating disorder.
5. There is no scientific evidence to back it up
Testimonials from celebrities and health “experts”, and “before” and “after” photographs are all impressive, but unless the diet is time-tested and backed by studies or hard scientific facts, it is probably unhealthy or dangerous and not worth following.
6. It promises quick weight loss
If a diet promises to help you lose several kilos in just a couple of weeks, then it’s likely very low in calories. Some diets also cause you to lose a lot of water, but this is not the same as fat loss, and once you get off the diet you’ll just put all the weight back on. Healthy weight loss is gradual; about 1kg a week is ideal, unless you are extremely overweight, in which case you may lose more than that. If you have a lot of weight to lose, ask your physician or a dietician to recommend a healthy and sustainable eating plan.
7. It requires extensive prep work
Your diet should work for you and not the other way around. Nobody wants to be standing in a hot kitchen all day, chopping vegetables into tiny pieces or weighing a hundred different ingredients for just one dish. The more time and effort you have to put into preparing a meal, the harder it will be to stick to the eating plan.
8. It goes against everything that nutrition and health experts believe
If the diet contradicts healthy eating guidelines and recommendations, then it’s probably bad for you in some way – for example, it might be short on nutrients, impossible to sustain, very low-calorie, or restrictive in some other fashion. Food is meant to nourish and fuel your body, and the way you eat should reflect that.
9. You are required to take supplement pills
Beware of diet pills – there is no magic pill that can burn fat or speed up your metabolism, plus you never know how your body will react to the ingredients in these products. Pills are not a quick fix. No matter what anybody says, the best way to lose weight is still a combination of healthy eating and regular exercise.
10. It claims to detoxify your body
It’s not true that certain foods can change your body chemistry or cleanse your system of toxins. The human body was designed to eliminate waste and harmful substances all on its own, through the skin, the digestive system, the circulatory system and the lymphatic system. As long as you’re healthy, all these systems should function effectively.
11. There’s a time limit on it
Steer clear of diets that only last for a few days or weeks. Healthy eating is for life. Short-term or crash diets can be harmful, and any weight you lose during that time will only come back once you resume normal eating.
12. It comes in a package
Meal replacements, weight loss shakes, detox kits…Such “diets” may be convenient, especially for people who have no time to cook, but they’re not designed for long-term use. Many of these quick fix “meals” are also highly processed and lack crucial vitamins, minerals and fibre. Plus, they are usually devoid of flavour and leave you famished after a short while. If you’re in a hurry, your best bet for a healthy meal is a wholemeal sandwich filled with tuna or chicken and veggies, or a protein-rich smoothie made with fruit, yogurt and oats. These take just minutes to put together and provide far more nutrients and flavour than a packaged diet ever could.