5 Fad Diets & the Scary Truth About What They Are Doing to Your Body

Diets have always been trendy -- as far back as the 1820, Lord Byron was getting people everywhere to drink vinegar and water for weight loss. Chances are, you've tried at least one (was it SlimFast? Atkins? Master Cleanse?), but there's also a pretty good chance that the diet you chose wasn't very good for your body in the long run. 


We talked to Rene Ficek, RDN, CDE, and lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating, to find out which popular diets she'll never recommend -- and why, exactly, they're dangerous. What we learned is pretty scary ... and will have us sticking pretty tightly to our non-diet diets for a while, thanks.

1. Very Low-Calorie Diets (VLCD)

Any diet that only requires between 400 and 800 calories a day falls into this category, and that makes it inherently dangerous. Ficek explains that at that point, you're sending your body into starvation mode, which is not only unhealthy, but will also actually slow your metabolism and make you gain weight in the long run.

"During early starvation, your body will use up all stored energy, like glycogen -- aka stored carbohydrates," Ficek explains. "But once glycogen is depleted, your body will transition into using both its fat and muscle stores."

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That's bad news for your metabolism, because the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest. 

"So prior to a VLCD, your body may have been able to burn 2,300 calories at rest," she notes. "But after a VLCD, it is likely you lost muscle mass and lowered metabolism, thus only burning 1,900 calories at rest. This is what makes it very easy for the pounds to come back on after a drastic diet."

2. Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Like low-cal diets, low-carb diets are just going to ruin your metabolism long-term. "As dieters reintroduce carbs, the body rebounds and holds onto lost water weight and carbohydrates, causing a weight regain," Ficek says. "Most of the time, original weight is regained, and now dieters are stuck with a lower metabolism due to the loss of muscle mass, making long-term weight control an even more difficult battle."

On top of this, low-carb diets can be even more dangerous because of the focus on protein. Ficek says that diets high in animal proteins are unhealthy for the heart, and usually result in higher cholesterol levels.

3. The Blood Type Diet

"The blood type diet was developed by a naturopathic doctor and is not based in sound science," Ficek notes. "This diet is based on the notion that the foods you eat react chemically with your blood type. For example, on the diet, those with type O blood are to eat lean meats, vegetables, and fruits, and avoid wheat and dairy."

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Since the diet keeps everyone away from processed foods and simple carbs, there's usually some weight loss involved. But Ficek emphasizes that there's no scientific proof that your blood type affects weight loss, and there's no reason to think this diet can help digestion or up energy levels.

4. Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting can label anything from periodic, multi-day fasts to skipping a meal or two a few times a week, but no matter how you handle it, not fueling your body for long stretches of time can be potentially harmful to your overall health.

"Intermittent fasting could be problematic for individuals with bingeing issues, or anyone who might have trouble controlling how much they’re eating on the non-fasting days," Ficek says. "Also, people practicing this diet may feel light-headed, dizzy, tired, and nauseated, and their workouts may suffer."

Fasting diets are hard to self-regulate, and the stakes are higher. Missing too many meals could make it difficult to do daily tasks, and getting light-headed while driving to work or fainting in the supermarket pose big and serious health risks.

5. "Cleanse" Diets

"Believe it or not, our bodies naturally detoxify every day," Ficek says. "It is a natural and normal body process that neutralizes toxins via the colon, liver, and spleen. To this day, there has yet to be a scientific article published showing how some foods make this process better or faster."

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While cleanses may help clear the digestive track for a short period of time, that doesn't add up to long-term weight loss -- you can't live on juice forever, and once your reintroduce a normal diet into your life, you'll regain whatever weight you lost.

Ficek adds that while cleanses also shoot to eliminate toxins from the body, they're probably not a great long-term solution.

"The most important thing anyone can do to lessen a toxin load is to eat healthy, whole foods most of the time," she says. "This lessens the load on those detoxifying organs like the liver, kidneys, colon, and spleen, which can help them work more efficiently."

At the end of the day, Ficek says the healthiest diet you can choose is one that you can stick with long-term. 1,200 calories a day is a healthy amount. Before you can think about losing weight, it's important to fuel your body's physical needs, keep energy levels high, and prioritize your mental well-being.


Image via Syda Productions/Shutterstock

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