There are plenty of diets out there that you may be contemplating. You may recognize the names of certain diets and know a little bit about them, but do you know which ones are safe and effective and which ones are completely bogus?
Of course, when most people hear the word "diet" they think of a quick fix or something temporary. Really, the term diet is just what you eat. Some diets are more intense than others, and many of the most extreme diets are downright dangerous. Let's take a look at the most unhealthy diets out there that you should avoid.
1. The Cabbage Soup Diet
On this diet, you're only allowed to eat vegetables, fruits and lots of cabbage soup. While fruits and vegetables are certainly good for you (and we should all be eating more of them), you can't get all of the nutrients your body needs on produce alone. Plus, do you really want to eat cabbage soup all day, every day? Most likely you'll grow tired of cabbage soup and veggies and you'll start craving your old favorites, reverting back to your previous eating habits.
2. Baby Food Diet
Although this diet of only pureed foods (mainly vegetables and fruits) isn't terrible, it's not meant for adults and isn't sustainable. You don't get to chew or enjoy different textures of food, and you can forget about ever dining out or going to parties with friends or family.
This pairs a dangerously-low-calorie diet (500 calories/day) with human choriogonadotropin hormone shots, which aren't FDA-approved for weight-loss.
4. The Paleo Diet
This focuses on eating how many people envision cavemen once ate, with lots of red meat and no "post-agriculture" foods. Studies have shown it doesn't lead to weight loss, isn't good for your heart and is difficult to follow. However, eating truly Paleo--mainly wild plants and lean sources of meat--could be a healthy weight-loss strategy.
5. The Grapefruit Diet
This is centered on a bogus belief that grapefruit has some miracle "fat-burning" compound. Any weight loss experienced on this diet is caused by its low-calorie level.
6. Cleansing and "Detox" Diets
There is no scientific research to back up these diets. Your body is perfectly-equipped to rid itself of so-called toxins and other metabolic by-products because you have kidneys and a liver.
7. The Dukan Diet
This plan allows 100 specific foods eaten in four stages. The problem is that there is no evidence proving it works and it's extremely restrictive with needless, puzzling rules.
8. The Blood-Type Diet
You can only eat foods based on your blood type. There is absolutely no scientific data showing this eating pattern is effective.
9. Very-Low-Calorie Diet or Fasting
When you cut calories to extremely low levels, your body feels like it's being starved (technically, it is) and your metabolism slows down to conserve energy. When you return to your previous caloric intake level, your metabolism doesn't fully recover, causing weight gain because you then need fewer maintenance calories (yo-yo dieting). Plus, during fasts or very-low-calorie diets, you're losing a lot of water and muscle in addition to fat, but will gain back mostly fat.
The Bottom Line
A healthy diet is one that includes a variety of foods eaten slowly and in moderation. A healthy diet doesn't forbid certain foods, even those high-calorie foods people crave. No food should be off-limits completely, but it's important to remember there are "always" foods, "sometimes" foods and "special occasion" foods, and all can be included in your healthy eating plan.
Any diets that completely eliminate or prohibit certain foods or entire food groups altogether generally aren't healthy (or even safe) and aren't effective for long-term weight loss or health. Restricting foods, especially those that are very tempting to begin with, leads people to binge-eat those foods later because they feel deprived.
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children.