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Diet Blog: fad diets

Judith Wills / 13 June 2019

The baby food diet, the cabbage soup diet and the grapefruit diet. Our diet expert remembers several decades of diet crazes.

Cabbage soup

So the cabbage soup diet wins at last …

Yes, honestly. Those of you who remember this delicious diet plan – eat only cabbage soup at every meal – and followed it for a day or two only to give up, having frightened away all the other household members who didn’t like living with the smell, before ingestion and afterwards, and having decided that you didn’t really want to lose weight anyway, may be surprised that it can have won anything.

Well – you can relax.  It’s just been voted one of the daftest diet and fitness fads of the last 50 years, according to a nationwide poll* recently released. Also on the list were the baby food diet, the apple cider vinegar diet and the grapefruit diet, all of which I totally agree were ludicrous, but which were also ludicrously popular.  In fact one or two on the list are still popular today and others that appear there are actually increasing in popularity. 

It includes a raw diet, which is gaining followers probably on the back on the increasing trend for vegan eating, the Atkins diet is there too, and that’s basically just a high-protein diet that has always been around (sometimes called a low-carb diet instead). 

And another on the list – the juicing diet – has never gone away despite the fact that most juices are high in sugar and low in fibre.

Is juice good or bad for you?

But the truth is that 90% of crash/fad diets are not worth trying and while they may work short term, hardly ever help anyone keep weight off in the medium and long term.

And I can say, without doubt, that I have never been on a full-on crash or fad diet in my life  except when I tried out several for the purposes of research when compiling my 2003 tome, The Diet Bible, and luckily stayed on each for a day only. 

To be clear – crash/fad diets do not have magic ways of making you slim as some of their inventors claim – by releasing special enzymes, or blocking calories from being absorbed, and so on. They work, if they do, to make you lose pounds, by being very low in calories.

An exception may be high protein low-carb diets, because high protein intake helps increase the metabolic rate as it uses up more energy in being processed by your body, while low carb intake makes you pee more. That said, for health, we need good carbs and many of us eat much more protein than we need.

I can see exactly why fad diets have no chance of working long-term. You come off the plan, having sacrificed your sanity for however long you stuck it out and having lost some pounds. Then, of course, you go straight back to eating as you used to and the weight returns. Yo-yo dieting and crash/fad diets go hand-in-hand and always have.

Yes, sometimes - by no means always - you’ll feel better in certain ways after a week or two of following a crash diet. Few calories and fewer starchy carbs often mean you feel more clear-headed, for example. 

But losing weight and keeping it off is all about eating in a way that you can sustain. And that way is certainly NOT picking one or two random foods or in some cases non-foods and eating nothing else for a period of time. Many would cause serious nutrition shortages if followed for more than a very few days; others can rot your teeth, give you diarrhoea or constipation, flatulence, insomnia, lack of energy and many other negative side effects. 

Many people who are old enough to know better are still gullible enough to try crash and fad diets even today.  To them, I say – be brave, say no. 

*Poll conducted by Ginger Research on behalf of flexible fitness network Hussle 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.