From the 5:2 diet, to detox or eating nothing but vegetables, there's every chance you will have read about a diet plan that promises to help you lose weight in record time. The important questions to ask then are do they work, and are they good for us.
The reality is that most of these diets do lead to fast weight loss in the short term, and some of them can be dramatically quick, but they almost inevitably lead to weight being put back on when you finish them. What is perhaps more concerning however is the effect on the body as many have no scientific research at all, or are based on questionable science. This can lead to unhealthy eating habits which can make you ill.
The British Dietetic Association has even warned people away from some popular diets, such as the Dukan diet in 2011. It said the diet was complicated, did not lead to long-term weight loss and was not based on scientific research.
There are several reasons to avoid fad diets. These include:
- Some can make you unwell, especially crash diets which dramatically reduce the number of calories you consume
- Missing out certain foods can be dangerous as your body may not get the vitamins and nutrients it requires to function normally
- Low-carb diets often mean eating high levels of fat instead, which can increase cholesterol and the risk of heart disease and stroke
- There is no evidence that our bodies contain toxins that can be removed by eating certain foods. If these toxins did exist in the amounts claimed, we would probably feel very unwell
- The supposed impact of cabbage soup, the 5:2 diet and others is often dubious, and without conclusive scientific evidence to back up their claims.
Losing weight the healthy way
The best way for most adults to lose weight is the traditional way, by being more physically active and eating less. We gain weight by eating more calories than our body burns off by normal everyday activity and through exercise, so reversing this should have the opposite effect.
The only effective way to both lose weight and ensure it stays off is to make healthy lifestyle changes in both your food and exercise routine, and to maintain these changes permanently. Even small changes, such as choosing drinks lower in fat, sugar and alcohol, and eating smaller portions can help you lose weight. The same applies with exercise, where small changes can make a big difference.
People who are overweight should aim to lose between 5-10% of their bodyweight by losing 1-2lbs or 0.5-1kg a week. This can be achieved by eating 500 to 600 fewer calories than you need each day. That means consuming around 2,000 calories a day if you're male and 1,500 if you're female.
Six easy tips
If you want to give your weight loss efforts a shot in the arm, there are six easy things you can do to help you on your way:
1. You can cut the amount of fat you consume by trimming fat off meat, replacing full-fat dairy products with reduced-fat options and selecting a low-fat spread for bread
2. To ensure you stay full for longer, increase the number of wholegrain foods you consume. Foods such as wholemeal bread, brown rice and pasta are all digested more slowly, and this should reduce the temptation to snack. The same principle applies with eating your five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
3. You should also ensure you eat a healthy breakfast every day. This provides a burst of energy to help you get going, and there is also plenty of scientific evidence that eating breakfast reduces the chances of becoming overweight
4. If you get the urge to have a snack, having a non-alcoholic drink first can help as when we think we're hungry we're sometimes in fact thirsty. When you do have a drink, ensure that it is low in sugar and fat - water is ideal
5. It is worth remembering that alcohol contains a high number of calories, so cutting down can be great for your weight
6. Keeping physically active is a crucial part of effective, sustainable weight loss. You should keep as active as possible on a daily basis and accumulate at least half an hour a day of moderate intensity exercise, even if it's in small chunks - brisk walking is a great choice.