13 Fad diets that are total nonsense
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If any fad diet works, it’s because it follows the basic formula of eating less and exercising more. More likely, though, it involves a counter-productive focus on one specific type of food, extended periods of starvation and losing a whole lot of water-weight you’ll immediately put back on afterwards.
All fad diets are nonsense, but some take it to such meteoric levels of idiocy that the ideas and their purveyors should be submitted to regular mockery so we never forget how our desire to be thin can make us throw all our money at glorified snake-oil salesman.
\#1 – The lemonade diet
From 2007 to 2008, Beyonce demonstrated to everybody why she became a singer instead of a dietician when she decided to try the “lemonade diet,” otherwise known as the “starvation while drinking something that isn’t lemonade” diet. Devised by alternative medicine peddler Stanley Burroughs in the early 1940s, the diet involves drinking a mix of water, lemon (or lime) juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper instead of eating for ten days, and throws in some salt water and herbal laxative teas for good measure. Burroughs claimed the maple syrup provided all the nutrients you need, which it most obviously doesn’t, and the whole thing is filled with vague and highly unscientific statements about “toxins.” You’ll lose weight because you’re starving yourself, and then you’ll put it back on because you were starving yourself and your body doesn’t like that.
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\#2 – The paleo diet
The paleo(lithic) diet is based on the notion that we’d be healthier if we were eating the same things as our stone age ancestors, advocating cutting out processed foods, grains, sugars and dairy. The result can be weight loss, but this is due to lower calorie consumption overall, lots of vegetables and an ordinarily low fat consumption. The idiotic part is the entire idea behind it, which is based on the notion that we haven’t evolved to deal with an agricultural diet. Evidence suggests we actually have evolved to cope with it, and we’re generally doing just fine apart from the fact we eat too much. Bigger problems with the paleo diet come in the form of the uncertainty about what paleolithic humans ate, the existing evidence that they did eat insects, lizards, brains and many other things that paleo dieters don’t incorporate, and the simple question of whether vague assumptions about early humans are really where we should getting our diet and health advice.
- If any fad diet works, it’s because it follows the basic formula of eating less and exercising more.
- Bigger problems with the paleo diet come in the form of the uncertainty about what paleolithic humans ate, the existing evidence that they did eat insects, lizards, brains and many other things that paleo dieters don’t incorporate, and the simple question of whether vague assumptions about early humans are really where we should getting our diet and health advice.
Related: Rational Wiki: Paleo diet
Photo: Flickr: dollen, via Compfight
\#3 – The cabbage soup diet
This is another specific-food-and-starvation combination, a diet consisting of fruits, vegetables and, as the name suggests, a lot of cabbage soup. Along with arbitrary fruit and vegetable restrictions (eating fruit one day – but no bananas – and vegetables the next, for example), you submit yourself to this miserable diet consisting of the worst soup you can probably think of every day, for seven days. You don’t consume enough calories, so you lose weight, but yet again it’ll come straight back after your week of pointless dietary torture.
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\#4 –The Acai berry diet
Acai berries are a fad food-stuff touted for a variety of problems because of their reportedly high levels of anti-oxidants. There is no real reason this would make them a good food to create a diet around, but it happened anyway. Faked “success” stories filled the internet despite a complete absence of reasons to believe Acai berries helped with weight loss at all, accompanied by typical “eat hardly any food” advice. Their anti-oxidant content is also lower than that found in blueberries, blackberries, grapes and many other common food items anyway. And on top of that, there is no evidence for any benefit of anti-oxidant consumption in greater quantities than you’d obtain from a balanced diet either. The Acai berry diet is flawed on just about every possible level.
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\#5 – The grapefruit diet
Continuing the trend of choosing one food-stuff reported to have some magical benefit and building a whole diet around it, the grapefruit diet can be simply described as malnutrition with grapefruits. It’s been giving dieters false hope since the 1930s, offering nothing more than a heavily restricted menu featuring things like grapefruit juice, coffee, some meat and fish and non-starchy vegetables. As usual, also, the “magic” property – in this case, grapefruit’s claimed ability to “burn fat” – is completely unsupported, and the weight almost always goes straight back on.
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\#6 – The alkaline diet
This is an example of colossal pseudo-scientific nonsense that translates into an actually reasonably healthy diet. It’s based on the theory that agriculture has led to an increased consumption of acidic foods (such as processed food, fats, meats and refined sugar) and a decrease in alkaline-producing vegetables, leading to “low grade acidosis.” It has the same naturalistic appeal to our hunter-gatherer past as the paleo diet, and fails to realise that hunter-gathers ate all sorts of foods depending on what was available, so our bodies are pretty good at maintaining pH regardless of what we eat. Then some go to a whole new level with claims that it can reverse ageing and cure disease, just in case anybody needed another clue that these people are insane. However, the resulting advice is just to eat less fat and sugar and more vegetables and whole grains, as well as other similarly obvious healthy eating tips.
- Continuing the trend of choosing one food-stuff reported to have some magical benefit and building a whole diet around it, the grapefruit diet can be simply described as malnutrition with grapefruits.
- It has the same naturalistic appeal to our hunter-gatherer past as the paleo diet, and fails to realise that hunter-gathers ate all sorts of foods depending on what was available, so our bodies are pretty good at maintaining pH regardless of what we eat.
Photo: Flickr: Mariagrazia pH, via Compfight
\#7 – HCG diet
To make a fad diet you take a real weight loss method, but usually the most dangerous one – starvation – and add a gimmick. The HCG diet does this with a gimmick of expensive hormone injections that do absolutely nothing for you. Advocating eating under half as much as the minimum recommended calorie intake when losing weight, the diet is so restricted that it poses a genuine health concern, particularly if combined with exercise.
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\#8 – Dukan diet
At this stage, all you need to know is that the fourth “phase” of the Dukan diet is “stabilisation,” consisting of eating a balanced diet and exercising every day, for the rest of your life. You’ll recognise this as the only actual diet you should have and the way you should lose weight. To make this a fad diet, they decided to schedule everything into phases, the length of which depends on how much you want to lose, and put the real advice at the end. The preceding three stages include a baffling protein-only period, a phase of alternating protein days and protein-plus-vegetables days and even more complex rules of that sort. Oh yeah, and you have to eat oat bran every day in the “stabilisation” phase. Assumedly until you die. Why? Because please-oh-please-buy-our-books-and-visit-our-shop, that’s why!
- To make a fad diet you take a real weight loss method, but usually the most dangerous one – starvation – and add a gimmick.
- To make this a fad diet, they decided to schedule everything into phases, the length of which depends on how much you want to lose, and put the real advice at the end.
Related: Dukan Diet: Dukan diet phases
Photo: Flickr: Maria Martinez Dukan, via Compfight
\#9 – The blood group diet
Cheryl Cole and Cliff Richard were rumoured to have used this diet, which is built upon the idea that people with specific blood groups can only have specific types of food. Is that a basic biology book? Get that filth away from here! We don’t need any of your “food is digested in your stomach and the process doesn’t depend on the specific antibodies and antigens in your blood” mumbo-jumbo! Some of the most excessive limitations are that type As have to be vegetarians, type Bs can’t have tomato or chicken and type ABs have to miss out on alcohol, smoked meats and caffeine.
Related: WebMD: Blood type diet
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\#10 – The Sleeping Beauty diet
This diet says that by sleeping – possibly with the aid of sedatives – you will magically lose weight. The appeal is immediately obvious, because we all really like sleeping. The problem is also immediately obvious – dosing yourself up on sedatives and sleeping all the time accomplishes nothing other than (surprise surprise) maybe starving yourself. But Elvis Presley is reported to have done it (which turned out excellently...) and you should have learned by now that celebrity endorsements are more important for fad diets than probable risks or a complete lack of common sense.
\#11 – Kimkins diet
This is a high-protein, super-low-fat and low carbohydrate diet (a standard crash diet framework) mixed with a lot of laxatives, apparently intended as a long term strategy for weight loss. The woman behind it (“Kimmer” or Heidi Diaz) used “before” photos of herself and “after” photos she stole from the Internet, fabricating her story to sell the idea to loads of gullible dieters. She hadn’t lost the weight, and ran into legal trouble as a result, with some of her followers also alleging that the diet caused hair loss and skin problems.
- This diet says that by sleeping – possibly with the aid of sedatives – you will magically lose weight.
- She hadn’t lost the weight, and ran into legal trouble as a result, with some of her followers also alleging that the diet caused hair loss and skin problems.
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\#12 – The chewing diet
This diet is built around the idea that if you chew food extensively but don’t swallow it, you get the pleasure of eating and the nutrients but not the “bulk” of the food, thus meaning you’d lose weight but still get what your body needs. The man who created this diet, Horace Fletcher, also thought that the practice made you more intelligent, faster and more sophisticated. He was an art dealer at around the turn of the 20th century, who was most likely actually insane. However, he didn’t advocate complete starvation himself (people took the idea further after he died), instead just believing in the magical powers of chewing.
\#13 – The air diet/breatharian diet
Both of these take fad dieting to its logical conclusion. The air diet is more like the chewing diet but with pretend “air-eating” in place of chewing (i.e. wasting good food), whereas breatharians believe they can survive on only air and sunlight. It’s not a diet; it’s just slowly killing yourself by having no real diet whatsoever. Apparently, Michelle Pfeiffer was in a cult that used the “diet,” and the "human Barbie" Valeria Lukynova is planning on taking the step to complete starvation – sorry, breatharainism – although she also believes she can talk to aliens through the language of light. Perhaps the aliens should warn her that she’s going to die if she doesn’t actually eat something.
Lee Johnson has written for various publications and websites since 2005, covering science, music and a wide range of topics. He studies physics at the Open University, with a particular interest in quantum physics and cosmology. He's based in the UK and drinks too much tea.