Know how to tell if a diet is right for you? You don’t hate doing it. “The one diet to avoid is one that is not sustainable,” explains Amy Helms, LMSW, MS, CEDRD-S, RD, LD. These can include diets that cut too many calories or plans that are not “compatible” with your lifestyle. “A plan that is too calorically restrictive will work against you in the long run,” she explains. “Our bodies adapt to function on fewer calories, making weight regain just about inevitable.”
Additionally, a big cut in calories is a primer for overeating or even binge eating. “For some this may lead to one more failed diet while for others it can lead to disordered eating,” she points out. And, while low carbohydrate, high protein, and intermittent fasting methods may be effective in the short-term, they simply aren’t sustainable for most people.
Here are 12 diets you should never try, according to health experts—and some you should.
The Atkins Diet
While a meat-fueled, no-carb diet may help you lose weight, it can negatively impact your overall health, according to Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales, PA. “The Atkins Diet was an idea to include high fat and red meats as a primary component of your meals, and the concept was that you would lose weight this way. The problem with diets like this is that high concentrations of red meat and unsaturated fats can cause many health problems, including heart disease and high cholesterol,” he explains. Studies have shown that diets high in red meat and trans fats should be avoided due to their long lasting health concerns.
The Ketogenic Diet
Keto was the most highly-hyped diet in 2019, but Dr. Conrad isn’t a fan. “The concept involves eating low carbohydrate meals with the goal of losing weight. By putting the body into a state of ketosis, the idea is that your body will store less body fat, and you can drop a few pounds,” he explains. However, the problem with the ketogenic diet is that this puts additional stress on your internal organs, which need carbs to work, he explains. Additionally, he points to studies that have shown that prolonged low carbohydrate diets were dangerous and could lead to premature death.
The Snake Diet
The Snake Diet—a fad diet comprised of prolonged fasting periods (the initial two fasting periods are 48 hours and 72 hours) with low carbohydrate, high fat meals consumed in between the fasting periods—slithered around social media in 2019, with followers claiming dramatic weight loss results. However, experts hope the diet will shed in popularity in the upcoming year. “The safety and long-term effects are not known as is the case with most fad diets, which are, after all, a fad—short-lived and without scientific basis,” says Ania Jastreboff, MD, Ph.D., Yale Medicine endocrinologist and director of the Weight Management & Obesity Prevention.
Juicing supporters boast that it helps cleanse your body of toxins and “build up” from unhealthy food in your body. “What it really is: fruits and veggies that have been stripped of their fiber and packed into a very expensive compostable bottle,” explains certified personal trainer and sports nutritionist Holly Roser. “Our bodies are great at cleansing, through our liver and kidneys so the idea of juice removing toxins, is void of scientific backing.” If you want to up your fruit and veggie intake, she suggests adding them to your diet in food form. However, if you prefer drinking them, she suggests blending them in a shake or smoothie, “so you’re not missing the skin of the fruit or full fiber of the greens.”
The Whole30 is meant to help you identify foods that cause you digestive or inflammation issues. Using it to lose weight isn’t ideal. For instance, the plan bans legumes—something Roser finds questionable. “Legumes are packed with protein and have zero cholesterol, an amazing alternative to meat. They are an ideal choice to lose weight and live a healthy life with such an impressive nutrition profile,” she explains.
And when the diet is over—in this case, in just 30 days—you will likely go back to your old habits. Despite the drawbacks, she does appreciate how the diet encourages people to cook real food instead of consuming processed food. And giving up alcohol is always a good idea. But, “in the end, it’s impossible to keep up, like all diets, and people gain weight once they’re off it.”
“Detox” Diets And “Detox” Products
Detox is one of those “health” buzzwords that are everywhere these days—from detox diets to detox shakes and detox waters. The idea behind “detoxification” is that by following these diets or consuming these products, your body will be cleansed of “toxins,” and that in turn will help improve health and promote weight loss, but it’s a little more complicated, explains Nieves.”The concept of detoxification by external means such as diets and detox products is misleading,” she explains. “The body itself is detoxifying, every day, at all times. That’s what the kidneys and liver are for! In fact, if we were really so full of toxins, we would be hospitalized, not walking around drinking detox shakes!” While the body does detoxify itself, she explains we can help the process by staying hydrated and eating a high fiber diet.
The HCG Diet
Run, don’t walk, away from the HCG diet, a meal plan that consists of just 500 calories a day and supplements or injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)—the hormone that is produced by women during pregnancy—several times a week. “People do lose weight on this diet, but it’s really because they’re eating such a small amount of calories a day,” points out Nieves. “This type of diet is not sustainable, because who’s going to be able to eat such a small amount of food for long periods of time?” Additionally, it’s dangerous! Eating so little will lower your metabolism, making it harder to reach a healthy weight in the long-run. It also puts you at risk for malnutrition, can trigger eating disorders, and lead to muscle and tissue loss, “especially in vital organs such as the heart, since the body starts using its protein as energy under starvation conditions.” Also, she points out, that the hCG hormone has only been approved as part of fertility treatments—not weight loss. “Only small studies have been done so far on the efficacy of using hCG for weight loss, using small sample sizes,” she explains. “We don’t have enough evidence of the potential health risks of using this hormone, nor whether it really works for weight loss.”
The Baby Food Diet
Nieves hopes people will grow up when it comes to the Baby Food Diet! “This fad diet is supposed to help you lose weight by cutting calories and controlling portions. It involves replacing one or two meals or snacks a day with baby food. Each jar can range from 20-100 calories,” she explains. Again, the reason people lose weight on this diet is due to the small amount of calories consumed each day. But like any other fad diet, it has its drawbacks. These include putting you at risk for malnutrition, “since the nutrient requirements in these foods are specifically set for babies.” It is also incredibly difficult to sustain, “since their taste, and the fact that you’re not “chewing” your food, is difficult for an adult to get used to,” and won’t keep you full and satisfied due to their low fiber and protein content. “Also, diets should be pleasurable and practical. It should also help you make and sustain healthy eating habits,” she adds. “The Baby Food Diet just doesn’t cut it here!”
The Boiled Egg Diet
You could lose up to 24 pounds in two weeks by eating boiled eggs—all day long—claim followers of this restrictive diet. “This is another diet that cuts out a lot of food groups and restricts your food choices to, well, mostly eggs,” points out Nieves. While following this diet, which is very low in carbohydrates and high in protein, can help you shed excess pounds, the results are basically short term. “Many people have trouble sticking with this diet, mostly due to taste boredom,” she explains. She also points out that it is not a dietary plan to be followed by individuals with diabetes, cholesterol problems, or heart issues.
Eating like a caveman is so B.C.—or at least it should be, according to Heather Campbell, MS, RDN, LD, consultant dietitian. “Any diet that requires complete omission or serious restriction of entire food groups like carbohydrates or dairy can be problematic and create opportunities for nutrition deficiencies,” she explains. “When your body isn’t properly fueled with a balance of all of the needed nutrients, then it will be impossible to create sustainable changes you’re looking for.” While Keto may lead to initial results, she points out that it’s not creating a lifestyle you can continue into the future, “then you’re less likely to see permanent positive change in your health.”
What do you get when you take the trendy caveman-style Paleo diet and remove almost everything that involves animal products? One of the worst diets of the year, according to health experts. This super restrictive diet only allows things like fruit, nuts, vegetables, seeds, and limited legumes. While it bands all dairy products, you are allowed to eat a tad of meat, so there’s that at least. But in general, the super restrictive eating method is difficult to sustain.
The Alkaline Diet
If a diet seems too good to be true, it probably is! “Many fad diets don’t have peer-reviewed science to back them up at all, like avoiding acidic foods for the Alkaline Diet, or using supplements or drinks to remove toxins from the body,” explains Campbell, who points out that people with healthy and functioning organ systems, have an adequate detoxification system already built in. “One way to support your body’s natural ability to remove toxins is to focus on healthy habits like drinking enough water, making half of every plate fruits and vegetables, and eating adequate sources of lean protein.”
So Which Diet Should You Try?
The best diet is one that emphasizes lean proteins, healthy fats and belly-filling fibers. The best new titles on the market that promote just that are: Sugar Free 3, during which you can eat all you want while giving up added sugars for just three weeks; The Goodful Cookbook, featuring simple and balanced recipes; and How Not to Diet, which speaks for itself. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these Worst Things For Your Health—According to Doctors.