The Truth About Fad Diets

The polarizing reaction to fad diets—utterly ridiculous or tantalizingly feasible—is the result of their formula. They preach a specific well-established, albeit over-simplified, dietary principle as gospel. A ticket to nutritional salvation if you just adopt a simple mantra. No Carbs! No Sugar! Low-Fat! To some, this is absurd. But for many, it’s a viable option. Regardless of whether you’re a believer or not, most fad diets fail, either in due time or before they get off the ground. The point of examining these popular plans is not to suggest trying them—although that is totally up to you—but to learn from them. What they have right and how that is ultimately corrupted by taking it to the trendy extreme.

Duration: Used as a crash diet but is intended to be a lifestyle change.
Philosophy: Carbs, especially refined ones, are the enemy.
Goals: Weight loss. Health benefits are highly controversial, but it may be an effective treatment for Type-2 Diabetes.
Foods: Eat meats, seafood, eggs, cheese. Avoid foods made from grains, foods with added sugar, fruits and juices, starchy vegetables, legumes, nuts, alcohol.
Meal Ticket: With the absence of carbs your body has no choice but to burn fat for energy.

The Atkins Diet is the most notorious of all the fad diets and it boils down to two simple reasons. We’ve all seen it work for somebody and it can be explained in two words: No carbs.

Of course the diet founded by Dr. Robert Atkins, a man that has authored 17 books on the topic, is a bit more involved than two words. Hence, the problem for the majority of Atkins dieters, what we’ll refer to here as the Marathon/Sprint Corollary.

By greatly or completely reducing carbohydrate intake, the immediate result is weight loss. But by depriving the body of its fuel (carbs) and doubling down on meats, the Cliffs Notes version of this diet becomes impossible for the long haul, or the marathon that is your dieting life. Too few carbs, no energy. Too much meat, bad cholesterol and an unhealthy heart. It’s probably best to borrow some basic tenets from the program or read the book(s) and go about it the right, granted still highly controversial, way.


Caveman Power
Duration: A few months or a lifetime.
Philosophy: Live modern, eat old.
Goals: Weight loss, increased energy, detoxification, mental clarity, connection with your animal instincts.
Foods: Eat meat, poultry, eggs, fruit, vegetables, nuts, berries, roots. Avoid grains, beans, potatoes, dairy, sugar, salt.
Meal Ticket: You get to trust your gut instead of micromanaging your eating habits.

Cavemen had functioning appendixes and rarely lived to see thirty. Yet some believe their eating habits are worth emulating. This 3-stage diet retrains our bodies to crave healthy foods, which serve to boost energy and promote mental clarity—faculties that are a bonus today but were essential for the survival of the hunter-gatherer.

Stage 1 (2-4 weeks): Wake up, chug some water and adorn yourself in heavily insulated animal-skinned attire to induce perspiration. Disregard the latter and eat nothing but small servings of fruit and unsalted nuts throughout the day. Every night, treat yourself to ONE mega meal of anything you want (except the “avoid” foods listed above) and as much as you want. Rub two sticks together to heat (burns extra calories) or use more contemporary forms of food preparation.

Stage 2 (Min. 2 weeks): Identical to Stage 1 except that you fast throughout the entire day until the evening’s carte blanche. The body should now be craving healthy foods.

Stage 3 (Endless): Wake up, get some water in you. Every day, sate your cravings with natural, unprocessed foods like nuts, vegetables and lean meat. At night, satisfy your appetite with a healthy meal. By this stage you should feel well enough to slay a wooly mammoth.


Grapefruit (aka The Hollywood Diet)
Duration: Around 2 weeks.
Philosophy: Don’t ask how, but the grapefruits burn fat.
Goals: Rapid weight loss.
Foods: A ½ grapefruit accompanies small portioned, low carb meals. Black coffee and water are encouraged. Avoid starchy vegetables.
Meal Ticket: This might be your best bet to shed quick pounds for a vacation or wedding.

Despite years of speculation, science shows that the grapefruit does not have magical fat burning qualities. They’re just a healthy fruit that helps reduce the body’s insulin levels; their presence in the “12-day, lose 10 pounds” diets they lend their name to, is mostly inconsequential.

Citrus-oriented crash diets, usually geared towards channeling our outer Matthew McConaughey, are successful because they’re super low-calorie, low-carb diets that cause the body to immediately shed storages of fat and glycogen. Eating a half grapefruit with every meal is just a ritualized distraction from the fact you’re eating a mere 1,200 calories a day. Kind of like the way a cigarette was once a key component of the 1950’s Coffee-only Diet. To each his own.


Duration: 28-day increments
Philosophy: Leave everything to us (and keep the checks coming).
Goals: Gradual weight loss, weight management.
Foods: Portion controlled versions of all your favorite foods.
Meal Ticket: It worked for Dan Marino.

The key tenets of most diets, whether a fad or a full-scale lifestyle change, is portion control. Out of pure ignorance of what a healthy portion of food actually is, but more commonly because most would rather sedate themselves with giant servings and plead naivety, this hallmark of dieting gets lost in the shuffle.

NutriSystem takes the guesswork (and excuses) out of dieting, sending every single meal you need, in monthly installments, directly to your doorstep. If you’re in good enough shape to walk that far, results are sure to follow. Maintaining those results however, is, again, tricky. Assuming you will grow sick of the NutriSystem menu, a time will come where you need to fend for yourself and make actual food-related decisions. Ignorance may be bliss, but only if you’re content being overweight.


Isagenix Cleanse®
Duration: 9 Days (There is also a 30-day option).
Philosophy: Rid yourself of toxins and the fat will follow.
Goals: Fat burning, intestinal upkeep, energy boost.
Foods: Isagenix engineered shakes, bars, soups, desserts, supplements.
Meal Ticket: A more sensible approach to the all-the-rage cleansing trend.

The Isagenix Cleanse is certainly a lifestyle change, as periodic sprints to the bathroom become part of your daily regimen. These short anaerobic bursts are great for cardiovascular health and essential for maintaining a clean, dry wardrobe. The 9-day cleanse is bookended by a 48-hour liquid-only periods, with the middle five days allowing for meal-replacement shakes, chewable snacks, a bunch of supplements and one well-balanced meal. In addition to weight loss, the digestive tract is said to be balanced and energy levels are to be boosted. As an added bonus, each Isagenix order comes with a free pocket-sized manual of excuses for your frequent restroom entry.


Raw Foods
Duration: Generally a lifestyle change.
Philosophy: There’s no heat in this kitchen.
Goals: Digestive and cardiovascular health, weight loss, boost of energy.
Foods: Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, grains, legumes, seaweed.
Meal Ticket: Raw foods contain enzymes that aid in nutrient absorption and digestion.

What separates the Raw diet from mere common sense (“vegetables are good”) is the belief in a nutritional “life force” existing in uncooked food. By sustaining oneself on unprocessed whole foods, 75% or more of which should be raw, Raw Foods eludes the pitfalls associated with most Western diets (i.e. saturated fats, chemicals, complex carbohydrates). The results are said to transcend weight loss by also reducing the risk of certain diseases, improving digestion, boosting energy, and even clearing your skin.

If you believe in “the force” go to your local health food store, befriend the hippie working in produce, pick up a juicer, a blender, a dehydrator and a cutting board. Throw in two ounces of Patchouli oil for good measure and you’re well on your way to getting it on raw (er, uncooked). Note of caution: Some early adopters died of malnutrition.