Do fad diets work? Should you really be pinning your hopes on the latest-celebrity-endorsed diet in the hope of slimming down? Here’s the truth about the fad diet.

Fad diets do not work. Whether it is for the New Year, pre-Christmas, pre-holiday or in fact at almost any time of year, the focus on weight loss and dieting has become such a global obsession that almost every week a celebrity-endorsed ‘amazing new diet’ hits the media.

Fad diets promise a svelte figure virtually overnight; the merry-go-round of weight loss strategies continues unabated and the diet industry grows fatter by selling dreams of thinness but delivering only failure. If any one of these methods truly worked, all the others would be put out of business overnight — but the lucrative diet industry shows no sign of slowing down.

There is a huge and continual interest in weight loss and dieting, but if fad diets don’t work, then what actually is the solution to maintaining a healthy weight and, more importantly, a healthy lifestyle? In this feature we provide some of the answers and look at:  

  • Why fad diets don’t work
  • Weight management — the easy way
  • Hints and tips to keep trim  

The typical diet

As with most things these days, everyone wants rapid results and when looking to lose weight, we’re no different. The problem is that rapid weight loss is unsustainable, as illustrated in the typical regimen below:  

1. Begin diet. Calorie intake cut from 3,000 to 1,000 calories per day or even less.

2. Rapid weight loss occurs. After two weeks, weight loss is approximately 3.5kg (8lb).

3. Weight loss slows. After three weeks, total weight loss is either approaching or static at 3.5kg (over 7 lbs).

4. Metabolic rate slows. To conserve body resources and because the rapid weight loss has included metabolic rate boosting muscle, the body elicits the ‘starvation response’. (Metabolic rate is the body’s calorie burner; the more muscle you have, the faster you burn calories).

5. Weight loss stagnates. Weight loss halts, motivation plummets.

6. Previous eating patterns resumed. Having achieved some weight loss, original eating plan is resumed.

7. Weight increases. To guard against future ‘famine’, the body stores more food as body fat, effectively laying down more reserves as a self-protection mechanism. This is compounded by a lower metabolic rate due to loss of muscle during the diet phase.

8. Significant weight gain occurs. After a few weeks, not only has the lost weight been put back on, but more weight has also been gained overall, resulting in the dieter ending up heavier than before the diet began.  

The weight loss solution

If the scenario outlined sounds all too familiar, what is the way forward? The golden rule is to lose weight at a slow rate i.e. not more than about 0.5kg (approx. 1 lb) per week. Rapid losses are great motivators and desirable but never work in the long term. By losing weight slowly, you will avoid stripping out valuable calorie burning muscle, your losses will be maintained long-term and, most important of all, you won’t suffer the misery that serial dieters endure from continually denying themselves the necessary and correct quantities of food to sustain good health.  

Weight loss hints and tips

There are a multitude of strategies that will help and support your weight loss, ensuring that it is consistent and, most importantly, ensuring that what comes off, stays off. Simply follow the tips below, which will support your new nutrition plan:

Embrace exercise . Any exercise is beneficial. Cardiovascular (CV) training will burn calories at a rate of approximately 100 calories per mile walked, jogged or run. Resistance training will tone and maintain muscle mass which will keep your metabolic rate elevated 24 hours a day, further adding to your overall calorie burn.

Eat breakfast . After fasting all night, kick-start your metabolism with a low-fat breakfast such as porridge. The key benefit is that you will avoid the ‘mid-morning munchies’ — which usually involves consuming high-calorie foods such as chocolate and salty snacks because your body is desperate for a quick energy hit.  

Eat small, frequent meals . Your metabolic rate may be raised by up to 15 per cent just by eating a meal. This effectively gives you a metabolic burst to further support your calorie burning strategy.  

Don’t neglect protein . Protein further supports the metabolic burst that occurs at meal times and also slows down the digestion process, helping to even out your energy release, thereby avoiding peaks and troughs of energy throughout the day.  

Avoid missing meals . A missed meal will tempt you into eating high-calorie foods later, for example; missing lunch because you’re too busy will result in a 3pm dash to the canteen for chocolate because you crave some instant energy. Keep snacking regularly to avoid energy lows.  

Ditch the packets . Processed foods (which typically come in packets) are frequently high in calories with hidden fats and sugars — all extremely calorific. Additionally, they are also full of additives and preservatives that your body simply doesn’t need. Try to stick to fresh, unrefined and natural foods wherever possible for a healthy nutrition plan and also fewer unnecessary calories.  

Target 500 . When looking at weight loss, your target should be a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day, which will equate to 0.5kg ( approx 1lb) of fat per week. That loss can be in the form of calories burned (exercise) or calories not eaten (healthy food choices), or ideally a combination of the two. A much greater loss than 500 calories each day is not sustainable, but the figure 500 is a target that is easy to work with and achievable. If you aren’t noticing results, then experiment with 600, if that doesn’t work after a week try 700. Around 800 would be pushing it but possibly acceptable if your situation would allow you to do that - as in you are not very slim and at risk by cutting that much.  

Diet? Never diet

It’s a cliché but very true — it doesn’t have to be hell to be healthy. Jumping on and off the ‘diet bus’ is neither good for your health nor your waistline, yet simple solutions are available. By focusing on sensible, whole-food eating, in combination with regular exercise, you will achieve the results you desire, at a sustainable rate, without allowing food to unhealthily dominate your life. Your diet should actually be your nutrition plan for life and built into your life with exercise, which is the optimum way to manage your weight effectively.