How to Tell a Good Diet from a Bad One
There are so many diets out there that it is hard for the average consumer to tell a good one from a bad one. It seems like all of them promise weight loss if you do it their way. It is important to be able to tell the difference because a bad diet will not only be ineffective in the end but it can also damage your health. Here are questions you should ask to evaluate a diet (from Theodore Berland, a diet reviewer with Consumer Reports and IDEA Personal Trainer magazine).
- Is the diet based on some "secret" that no one has discovered or published? If the answer is yes, move on. There are no diet secrets or conspiracies to keep good weight-loss information from anyone.
- Is the person promoting the diet well known, respected in professional circles and knowledgeable in nutrition? In the answer is no, the author is probably a fast-buck artist who has no regard for your health and safety. Keep in mind that physicians are not necessarily nutrition experts.
- Has the author tried the diet on hundreds or thousands of overweight people for a year or so, compared the results against other diets and published them in respected scientific journals or at professional conferences? If the answer is no, consider the diet experimental at best.
- Does the author challenge recommendations of the best nutrition authorities? A classic case is the Pritikin Diet, which claimed that the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein was too high, but which failed to back up its premise.
- Is the diet based on principles of some other well-known expert who is not the author? A good example is "The Last Chance Diet", who author, Robert Linn, claims to have based his diet on George Blackburn's (associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School) findings. In fact, Blackburn was not consulted and would not have approved of the diet, which often perverted his original principles.
- Is the diet nutritionally adequate and well balanced? Avoid diets that omit any one kind of food or that promote consuming fewer than 1,200 calories if you are a woman and 1,400 if you are a man.
- Longevity is not necessarily proof that a diet is safe or successful. Bad old diets have a way of being resurrected now and then when they should be better off resting for eternity.
- Does the diet allow for individual preferences, tastes and practices? Rigid diets are successful only for short periods, and are doomed to fail in the end.
- Can you live on this diet for the rest of your life? Weight control is a full-time, lifelong effort, so find a diet that you can live with.
- Are supplements recommended or required? Be skeptical of programs that push supplements. A balanced vitamin-mineral supplement is appropriate for most people. However, if a plan will not work without the purchase of supplements, the underlying agenda may be to make money. There is no reason why you cannot lose weight without using supplements.
- Is exercise recommended? It should be. If the program does not provide details on aerobic training, strength training and/or flexibility, references and resources should be included.
- Is behavior modification included? It should be. If the program does not go into detail about changing behavior patterns, it should at least give references and resources.
- Is the program research-based? If there isn't any research, there is no reason to believe the program will work - it's a theory. It's possible to take a couple of facts and build a plan based on assumption, but unless that assumption is tested, the results may not live up to the predictions. Look for double blind, controlled trials to support the efficacy of the program. Be sure the recommended program is directly related to the eating plan that is tested. Also, look at who funded the research.
- Has the research been published? If so, where? A peer-reviewed, scientific, creditable journal is where good data would be published.
- Is marketing for the program based on individual testimonials? Keep in mind that individuals may be paid for their endorsements or that variation in response may be based on genetics rather than the eating plan.
Be a skeptic.
The United States Federal Trade Commission recommends a "healthy portion of skepticism" when evaluating weight loss claims.
- "Lose 30 Pounds in Just 30 Days." As a rule, the faster you lose weight, the more likely you are to gain it back. Additionally, fast weight loss could harm your health. Unless your doctor advises it, don't look for programs that promise quick weight loss.
- "Lose All the Weight You Can for Just $39.99." Some weight loss programs have hidden costs. For example, some don't advertise the fact that you must buy their prepackaged meals that cost more than the program fees. Before you sign up for any weight loss program, ask for all the costs. Get them in writing.
- "Lose Weight While You Sleep." Claims for diet products and programs that promise weight loss without effort are phony.
- "Lose Weight And Keep It Off For Good." Be suspicious about products promising long-term or permanent weight loss. To lose weight and keep it off, you must change how you eat and how much you exercise.
- "John Doe Lost 84 Pounds in Six Weeks." Don't be misled by someone else's weight loss claims. Even if the claims are true, someone else's success may have little relation to your own chances of success.
- "Scientific Breakthrough...Medical Miracle." There are no miracle weight loss products. To lose weight, you have to reduce your intake of calories and increase your physical activity. Be skeptical about exaggerated claims.
What those "incredible" claims really mean.
According to Glenn Cardwell, nutritionist and author of the book "Diet Addiction", diets and weight loss products use phrases similar to those in selling real estate or used cars. For example, he says that the phrase "house with an ocean view" can mean "only seen by standing on the roof" or "house that is a handyman's dream" can mean the house is a dump and needs many repairs. When it comes to cars, we all know that the phrase "slightly used" isn't always what it seems. Here is his interpretation of common phrases used in the marketing of weight loss products.
- "Amazing new discovery!" means "Old idea repackaged!"
- "Lose 12 pounds in a week!" means "Lose a lot of muscle and water."
- "Inexpensive" means "Expensive for what you get".
- "Weight loss made easy" means "If we say it is hard work, you won't buy our product."
- "Feel wonderful!" means "Feel tired, irritable, and constipated."
- "No exercise necessary!" means "We're telling lies."
- "Results guaranteed or your money back" means "Results guaranteed for the first week only. After that, it's your problem!"
- "Keep the weight off!" means "By the time you realize it doesn't work, you'll probably blame yourself for the failure".
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