Dieting trends are all the rage these days, but the truth is, they’re nothing new. One of the earliest dieting fads on record goes back nearly 200 years. In 1820, Lord Byron gave birth to the celebrity diet icon with his Vinegar and Water Diet. Despite its ill effects, his popularity fueled the frenzy until it eventually fizzled out in favor of the next big thing.
Look up fad diets today, and you’ll find a list of more than 100. There’s the Eat-Clean diet, the Cabbage soup diet, the Mediterranean diet, the Slow-carb diet and everything in between. Nutrition expert Jessica Fishman Levinson, a registered dietitian nutritionist, says these get-thin-quick diets rarely, if ever, achieve sustained weight loss.
“If you’re looking to lose or maintain your weight, it’s not about eliminating certain foods, beverages or ingredients from your diet,” Levinson says. “Weight management is a numbers game of calories in versus calories out. It’s key to look at how much you’re taking in and balance that with how much energy your body is using, which is where exercise is of key importance.” Levinson is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, as well as a consultant for food and beverage companies, including The Coca-Cola Company.
Levinson offers her thoughts on some of the most common dieting myths:
Myth: It’s healthier to be gluten-free.
Truth: Eliminating an entire category of food that you’ve previously eaten can put you at risk for nutritional deficiencies, so unless you have celiac disease or a confirmed gluten sensitivity, you shouldn’t be going gluten-free to become “healthier” or to lose weight. Although gluten itself does not offer any particular nutritional benefits, many of the whole grains that contain gluten are good sources of vitamin B, iron and fiber. It’s best to speak with your doctor if you think you have a gluten allergy.
Myth: Avoid sweets to lose weight.
Truth: Losing weight isn’t about depriving yourself. It’s about finding the right balance of calories in versus out. If you love the taste of something sweet, look for smaller portion sizes like single-serving snack packs or soda mini cans to help reduce your calorie intake, or opt for a low- or no-calorie version. Low- and no-calorie sweeteners can be found in more than 6,000 products ranging from beverages to yogurts, pastries, chewing gum and more. Health groups that include the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Heart Association recognize these as great tools for managing your weight.
Myth: A 10-day cleanse is a great way to jumpstart long-term weight loss.
Truth: While a diet such as the Master Cleanse (lemonade diet) will probably lead to initial weight loss, it’s not likely to be long-lasting. This temporary weight loss stems from a loss of water weight and lean muscle mass rather than fat. But these types of diets can slow down your metabolism, which often leads to weight gain once a normal diet is resumed. Not to mention that your body has “detox” organs that do this work for you. People who jump from cleanse to cleanse could be losing out on key nutrients and may be weakening their immune systems. Plus, the potential side effects range from nausea to fatigue, pain and more.
Myth: Losing weight is expensive and requires a lot of extra time.
Truth: Think you need a fancy gym membership, personal trainer and shopping cart filled with only organic foods to lose weight? Think again! Many simple, no-cost ways can help burn calories everywhere you already spend most of your time. Sites like eatright.org offer fun ways to incorporate exercise anywhere, even with short amounts of time. Now that the cold weather’s over, it’s a perfect time to take a bike ride with the kids, jog around the local park or throw the Frisbee with your dog. These sites also share delicious lower-calorie recipes that won’t require a special trip to the store.
People can learn a lot from history. Lord Byron pioneered the fad diet movement, and for the 194 years that have followed, thousands have reinvented it. But the approach that sticks is the one that was always there – everything in moderation.