Weight loss diets that can wreck your health and make you gain weight: although there are happy exceptions to nearly every rule, for most people, diets don't work.
Any reduced-calorie diet, whether you dine on cabbage or caviar, will help you lose 3-4 pounds (1.5 to 2 kilos) in as little as 48 hours. When you don't eat enough to provide your body's basic energy needs, the liver releases its emergency reserves of glucose from a form of stored energy called glycogen. The liver makes glycogen by combining one molecule of glucose sugar with four molecules of water. Releasing glucose also releases a few pounds of water that are quickly flushed away.
Just as soon as you consume a few more calories than your body needs right away, however, your liver operates in reverse, adding water weight back just as quickly as you lost it. And your fat cells will probably pack in a few extra energy stores of their own, just for added protection against your next attempt to diet!
"Water weight" goes off fast and comes back faster. Many fad diets can only help you take off water weight for a few days to a week. Some of the five worst diets known to humankind, however, can make you fatter than when you started them, or depend on the action of a parasite.
1. The Mexican Jumping Bean and Tapeworm DietsBack in the 1950's and 1960's, five and dime stores (for those of you who weren't alive during that era, there were actually stores that sold most of their merchandise for US $0.05 to $0.10) all over the United States kept glass display cases filled with Mexican jumping beans. Infected with a tiny parasite, the beans would literally jump when heated or agitated. If you were a preschooler about the time the Russians launched Sputnik into space (that was in 1958), they made great pets.
The problem came in the 1970's when people started eating Mexican jumping beans to lose weight. If they were lucky, the diet did not have any effects at all. Then an entrepreneur had the bright idea of encapsulating tapeworm eggs to be taken as a diet aid. The resulting allergies, anemia, alternating diarrhea and constipation as the intestinal tract was blocked by the worm, and creepy crawlies emerging from "down there" did in fact help people lose weight, along with their health. It's still possible to find these capsules on line—but please don't look for them.
2. The Paleolithic DietOther than Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, no cavemen had problems with weight control. There aren't any cave paintings of Weight Watchers meetings. We envision our distant ancestors as fit and free hunter-gatherers who stood up to the challenges of prehistoric life with grace and ease. Dozens of diet book authors have built on the concept of a "paleolithic" diet as the key to weight loss and freedom from the diseases associated with consumption of highly processed grain-fed meats and highly-processed carbohydrate foods loaded with flour, fat, salt, and sugar.
So what's not to love about the Paleo Diet or the Primal Blueprint? For starters, a paleolithic diet was more appropriate for a paleolithic lifestyle. If you had to go out on the tundra and club your breakfast before you ate it, your body wasn't going to pack on any extra pounds in the first place, and chances are the sabertoothed tiger would get you before diabetes did.
The most prominent proponents of paleolithic diets are in fact in great shape, but it's not just their diet plan. It's also their ambitious exercise plans. If you don't exercise, you can manage to gain weight even on a paleolithic diet. If you are really dedicated to the Primal Blueprint diet and exercise, for example, it will work for you. But just take a look at what all those Brontosaurus Burgers did for Fred Flintstone.
Three More Awful Weight Loss Plans
You don't have to treat yourself to tapeworms or eat like Fred Flintstone to make a major dietary mistake. Three more weight loss plans also have the potential to do real harm.
3. The Sleeping Beauty Diet
Getting enough sleep really makes a difference in weight loss. People who have sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome tend to develop insulin resistance, which forces the pancreas to make more insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal. Cells become resistant to the action of insulin for transporting glucose, but they continue to be responsive to insulin for transporting fat. More insulin, easier weight gain, harder weight loss.
Getting enough sleep also helps the brain "detox" from the effects of a hormone called ghrelin. As American television's Dr. Oz puts it, "when ghrelin's yellin'" the brain sends signals to eat, eat, eat, to replenish fat stores—whether your fat stores are depleted or not. Getting at least six hours of uninterrupted sleep helps your brain keep your appetite in check.
The Sleeping Beauty Diet, however, requires a great deal more than just six hours of uninterrupted sleep. Proponents of this diet recommend taking sedatives for 48 to 96 hours of sleep interrupted only by trips to the bathroom. Assuming you don't sleep eat the way some people sleep walk, you should lose weight.
The fact is you may lose up to 4 pounds (about 2 kilos) of water weight, as described above, plus a pound (500 grams) or so of fat, plus however many pounds you lose to dehydration. However, they will all come back within a day or so of your returning to normal diet and normal activities, and you will have also lowered your set point so that your body burns fewer calories and future weight loss will be even more difficult.
4. The Airtarian DietOne of the latest diet crazes is L'Air Fooding, as it is known in France, or airtarianism, as it is known in the USA, where "eating nothing" has been recommended for a much longer time.
The idea in this diet is to look at food, perhaps holding small servings of food at the mouth without eating them, losing weight by not eating at all. There is a medical term for this practice. It's anorexia. At worst, airtarianism and L'Air Fooding encourage anorexics to cause themselves further harm. At best, deprivation today leads to binging tomorrow.
5. The Cabbage Soup DietEvery American has heard the Campbell's Soup slogan "Soup is good food." And homemade, slowly simmered soups are. Tiny particles of vegetable and protein combine during the process of cooking the soup. These particles are difficult for the stomach to suggest, so you stay full longer and typically eat less without counting calories, about 150 calories per meal less. Over the course of two weeks, simply adding a cup of soup (choosing one that you actually like, even if cabbage) will lead to effortless loss of about a pound (500 grams).
The Cabbage Soup Diet, New Cabbage Soup Diet, and New Cabbage Soup Diet with Acai Berry Plan, however, encourage dieters to eat enormous quantities of cabbage soup, bananas, tomatoes, and beefsteak over a seven-day period to lose mostly water weight. Since cabbage soup has very few calories, the liver uses glycogen and releases water that is urinated away; the cabbage soup diet at least prevents dehydration. Just as soon as you stop the diet, however, the weight comes back—whereas a volumetric diet takes weight off slowly and keeps it off for good.
These five diet plans are only the worst of the worst. The HGH diet under medical supervision may lead to massive weight gain but won't, one hopes, lead to permanent damage to health. The grapefruit diet works on the same principle as the cabbage soup diet, and is followed by the same kind of rapid weight regain. The Five-Bite Diet is a less extreme version of L'Air Fooding, and ear stapling can lead to nasty ear infections. Is it necessary to tell you why the Cotton Ball Diet (eating cotton balls or cotton swabs before meals) is a bad idea?
It's always better to make permanent changes in lifestyle that lead to permanent weight loss. Don't deprive yourself to lose weight fast so you can go right back to your nutritional habits that got you into trouble in the first place. Reward yourself with self-control and self-esteem to eat food you like in amounts your body needs for long-term good health.