“Eat cookies! Lose weight!” proclaimed an advertisement in a magazine I was recently flipping through. In spite of myself, I hesitated. I didn’t care about losing weight, but the eating cookies part? That sounded pretty good…
No denying it, I have a weak spot for cookies. I sometimes wish I could eat them for every meal. So then, a diet explicitly encouraging me to do just that was quite alluring. I soon snapped out of my fantasy and reminded myself that there is a reason cookie gluttony should remain distinct from reality: The only healthy and sustainable diets are those composed of a variety of real, healthy foods.
A Quick History of Fad Diets
The “Cookie Diet” is not the first of its kind. Throughout the years, many diets have risen to popularity. Each claims to have a magic fix for weight-woes.
- Vinegar Diet, circa 1820s: Popularized by British poet Lord Byron, dieters would supposedly shed pounds by drenching food in vinegar.
- The Great Masticator Diet, circa 1903: Participants chewed food 32 times before spitting it out. John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of corn flakes, was a devoted follower.
- The Cigarette Diet, circa 1925: Spin-off from a Lucky Strikes marketing campaign, dieters reached for a cigarette whenever they craved a sweet.
There was also the more recent Scarsdale Diet, which my mom attempted in college. This plan consisted of eating grapefruit, lean meat, vegetables and two slices of toast a day for two weeks of fast weight loss. Because of the extreme calorie restriction, the diet seemed to work and my mom quickly shed pounds.
However, after returning to a normal, nutritionally healthier way of eating she soon gained back the weight. After this experience, my mom realized something many others fail to grasp: Fad diets don’t work.
Scientists have worked for decades to come up with vitamin and mineral replacements. They have isolated individual nutrients from healthy foods, believing they can replicate the natural benefits. However, there has been a baffling lack of success. Only now are many scientists admitting there are truly no substitutes for whole foods.
This revelation explains the major problem with fad diets: Dieters’ bodies crave natural nutrients. No amount of pills or vitamins will ever be able to replace the benefits of the real foods that dieters are often deprived.
Whereas the greatest consequence of most diets is disappointment and weight regain, some of the more extreme fad diets actually have health risks. The only fortunate thing about fad diets is that most of the negative side effects don’t have time to set in — most dieters quit the unbalanced programs before serious damage is done.
Is There a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
There are healthy and effective ways to approach losing weight. Eating well is about combining a lot of common sense and a little nutritional education. This doesn’t have to be difficult. It simply comes down to energizing and rewarding the body through well-balanced meals rather than denying it essential nutrients.
Any diet that severely restricts or eliminates food groups is cause for concern. The best way to ensure long-term weight loss is to pursue a diet that fits naturally with a healthy lifestyle.
A good rule of thumb in detecting fad diets is to consider what it permits eating on special occasions. I find it hard to imagine anyone saying on Thanksgiving, “No, I’ll pass on the turkey. I’ve got a package of cookies waiting for me … ”