The 7 worst fad diets

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Tried the tapeworm diet yet? What about the cotton wool diet? Post Script looks at seven of the worst fad diets…

The liver detox diet:

Some involve sensible instructions to cut out alcohol, caffeine and artificial sweeteners, or advice to take certain “liver cleansing” supplements.

But mostly, when referring to liver detoxes, many people mean a fasting diet which can involve cutting out entire food groups, or food altogether in favour of fasting.

Why it’s dodgy: “The liver detox diet is one of those typical fad diets that are extremely restrictive,” says Emily Burgess, a spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia and founder of the Art of Balance health coaching.

“Because these diets are extremely restrictive, it makes it impossible to get the vitamins and minerals that you need, or the energy to keep you healthy and sustain the diet long term.

“What generally happens is that you lose a lot of fluid to begin with. Your metabolic rate will take a dive, so you lose what looks like weight on the scales in the short term, but as soon as you start eating again you put on weight again quite quickly.”

The lemon juice diet:

There’s nothing wrong with a little lemon juice in water to kickstart your day. But the lemon juice diet, also known as the lemon detox diet or the Master Cleanse, is a “juice fast” that consists of nothing but a drink containing lemon juice.

The lemon detox drink can be bought pre-mixed, or there have been versions where you mix your own. Either way, the drink is the centrepiece of a diet which contains no solid food.

Why it’s dodgy: “This is the worst of the lot,” says Emily. “It’s the most restrictive. You’re not having any food at all, and you’re getting almost no nutrients whatsoever.

“It can be quite dangerous if you manage to stay on it for more than a couple of days, because it can be hard to reintroduce food again. When you’re starving, you no longer have the right vitamins and minerals to metabolise that food.”

The cabbage soup diet:

It was big in the 90s, and it’s still around today; it consists as of much fat-free, veggie-only cabbage soup as you like, plus a specific food every day for a week.

This means only fruit (no bananas) on day one, only starch-free vegetables on day two, fruit and veg on day three, bananas and skim milk on day four, beef and tomatoes on day five, beef and veg on day six, and brown rice, veg and unsweetened fruit juice on day seven.

Why it’s dodgy: “At least you’re getting some food in there,” says Emily. “But still, it’s extremely restrictive.

“It’s not sustainable long-term, so you’re going to be slowing your metabolic rate, losing muscle mass, and losing water, which in the long run tends to see people put on weight when they eat normally again.

“Therefore, it’s most definitely not recommended by any dietician. If you’re not going to stay on it long term, there’s no point in doing it.”

The cotton wool diet:

This one’s quite new – media reports have only emerged over the last year or so of teen girls in particular using this fad diet – but people have been using foreign, indigestible objects for weight control for centuries, Emily says.

The cotton wool diet involves swallowing cotton balls soaked in orange juice, in the hope they will fill you up and reduce the craving for food.

Why it’s dodgy: “Putting any foreign item into your digestive tract is extremely dangerous,” Emily told Post Script.

“It can lead to nutritional deficiency but also major damage to your digestive tract, which can cause long-term health issues worse than having a couple of extra kilos on you.”

The tapeworm diet:

It’s the grandmother of all fad diets: swallow a tapeworm (or its eggs, possibly including via pills) and let the worm do all the work.

The tapeworm attaches to the inside of your digestive tract and siphons off a significant amount of the food you ingest, reducing the amount of calories you consume. The associated diarrhoea from infestation can also help the user lose weight.

Why it’s dodgy: If it wasn’t obvious already, swallowing a live tapeworm isn’t exactly going to do your health any favours.

“I saw this on Doctor Oz! They weren’t promoting it, but talking about the fact that some people were doing it, and that some seemed surprised when Doctor Oz said you shouldn’t,” Emily says. “I don’t know about Australia, but it’s certainly happened in America recently.

“It’s similar to the cotton ball diet in that putting any foreign object or organism in your digestive tract can make you extremely ill. You’re losing weight because you’re very ill, you’re not getting enough energy and you’re messing up your digestive system.

“Of course you’re going to lose weight if you’re sick.”

The blood type diet:

Your dietary needs are worked out according to your blood type. For example, if you’re blood type O, you’ll be told to eat a lot of protein (from lean meat, fish, poultry and vegetables) and little grain, beans or dairy food.

Why it’s dodgy: “This diet has confused a lot of people, because it sounds like it has some backing behind it,” says Emily. “It’s not scientifically based, though. There’s no evidence published in journals about the blood type diet, nothing that shows it is effective for weight loss or that shows it leads to any health benefit or weight loss long term.

“We don’t recommend you cut out any major food groups from your diet. If you do, you’re going to cut out major sources of nutrition, whether that’s fibre or folate from cutting out wholegrains, or dairy. Every different food group has a role to play in diet, whether for satiety, making you feel full, or a certain nutrient, or fibre.”

The gluten free diet… unless you’re actually coeliac!

Emily says it’s become a trend for people to claim they are gluten intolerant or have coeliac disease, without going through the process of diagnosis. They then drop gluten-containing foods, such as bread and pasta, from their diet.

Why it’s dodgy: “These are a huge problem, not for the person doing it, so much, but for coeliacs,” says Emily.

“It’s the latest craze, everyone thinking they’re gluten intolerant. It’s made it so much more dangerous for coeliacs to eat out, because a lot of cafes will offer gluten-free food but not abide by the strict standards a coeliac really needs. That means coeliacs can’t trust the café: they need to probe a whole lot deeper to ensure their food won’t be contaminated.

“It can also be a problem for people who are cutting out gluten unnecessarily, because again, they’re cutting out important food groups. They may be cutting out grains altogether, or choosing a lot of gluten-free alternatives which are often higher in salt or sugar than the gluten-containing variety.

“So a gluten-free diet can actually result in weight gain.”

What are the worst fad diets you’ve seen… or tried? Tell us below or on our Facebook page!

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