The worst diets that you’ll want to avoid in 2020, according to nutritionists. Losing weight takes a lot of hard work, but it doesn’t require extreme dieting, eliminating entire food groups, or depriving yourself of calories and nutrients. Fad diets, often promoted by celebrities and influencers, are among the worst offenders. They are potentially dangerous to your health, but they’re also ineffective in the long-term (keto, we’re looking at you!).
What is a fad diet, exactly? You know you have a fad diet on your hands when the buzzy plan is unrealistic and limits you to eating certain types of foods. Some fad diets may encourage you to skip eating altogether and stick to drinking juices and teas instead (not safe, by the way). To help you avoid completely sabotaging your weight loss goals and choose the right diet for you, we consulted dietitians to share the top fad diets you need to ditch this year.
1) The HCG Diet
The HCG Diet requires you to consume just 500 calories per day while supplementing with human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). HCG is a pregnancy hormone that is falsely associated with weight loss. “This is an incredibly restrictive, very low calorie diet that will promote rapid weight loss, but at the expense of losing both muscle mass and body fat, which could slow metabolism and make future weight management a challenge,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet. Not only can the diet trigger disordered eating, but taking HCG products is also considered illegal and dangerous by the FDA. “Since sustaining a diet of 500 calories per day is not possible long term, the likelihood of maintaining weight lost on this diet is slim,” Palinski-Wade says.
2) The Keto Diet
With celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian and Halle Berry as fans, this low-carb diet has become quite popular. “You may start losing weight in the beginning, but the diet is extremely restrictive, so many of the junk foods you may have been over-consuming aren’t in your diet any longer but the diet itself is unsustainable,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD. Toby Amidor is an award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best-selling cookbook author. In addition, you might become constipated, due to lack of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
3) Zero-sugar diets
“Many celebs swear by cutting out every last smidge of sugar. They ban even a gram of the sweet stuff in order to achieve their beach bodies. Sherri Shepherd favors this approach,” says Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian with The Mesothelioma Center. This means cutting out fruit and veggies, like berries and sweet potatoes. The worst part: “You’ll miss the vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting phytonutrients,” she says.
4) Juice Cleanses
The majority of weight loss from juicing is due to dehydration and cleaning out your colon, so it’s not sustainable, much less safe. “Dehydration can lead to fainting, weakness and headaches. It can also lead to an increase in hunger. When you flush your colon, you disrupt the bacterial colonization that actually helps you. As a result, your gut microbiome becomes out of balance, leading to digestive abnormalities,” says Michael Jay Nusbaum, MD.
“While I think parts of Whole30 are great, like avoiding refined and highly processed foods, it prohibits all sugar (real or artificial), grains, dairy, beans and peanuts. It’s nearly impossible to follow, and I never recommend diets that eliminate whole food groups, especially when it’s more than one,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. Whole30 sets people up to fail, making them feel that healthy eating is too difficult, she says.
Celebs like Melissa Joan Heart have been fans of this diet plan that involves eating a variety of pre-packaged meals. While Nutrisystem provides a quick fix for those who want to lose weight but don’t want to cook or go grocery shopping, not all of these packaged foods provide a nutritionally balanced meal.
“Consuming a diet of calorie-controlled processed shakes, bars and meals will build up toxins within the body, and those preservatives are chemicals that can actually backfire and slow your metabolism down,” says Keith Kantor, PhD, a leading nutritionist and CEO of the Nutritional Addiction Mitigation Eating and Drinking (NAMED) program.
7) The Atkins Diet
The pioneer of low-carb diets, Atkins promotes weight loss by restricting carbohydrates and sugar and loading up on protein.
“I’ve been a registered dietitian for 23 years, and I’ve yet to meet someone who lost weight on Atkins and permanently kept it off. Carb-phobia is rampant in America, but low-carb diets, like Atkins, are high in unhealthy processed meats and miss nutrient-dense foods like fruit, whole grains and beans,” says Harris-Pincus. The Atkins diet also lacks adequate fiber, which can have negative consequences on gut health and mood, she adds.
8) Meal Replacement Shakes
“Meal replacement shakes can lead to some initial weight loss due to their lower-calorie content, but they lack the nutrition of real food and are highly processed,” Harris-Pincus says. This usually leads to weight gain shortly after someone stops drinking the shakes. If shakes are your thing, Harris-Pincus recommends making your own smoothie with fruit and greens, plain Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, and a source of healthy fat like chia seeds, avocado or nut butter.
9) Paleo Diet
Jessica Biel, among others, are big fans of the paleo diet. But it prohibits numerous food groups including dairy, legumes, grains, potatoes, and refined sugar. “Many people have been successful following this plan, however, cutting out numerous food groups also eliminates many important nutrients,” Amidor says.
10) 22-day Vegan Diet
Beyoncé and Jay-Z tried going on the 22-Day Revolution by Marco Borges to improve their food choices, and while you’ll eat plenty of vegetables, it’s pretty restrictive. “If you eliminate processed foods from your diet and eat only wholesome ones, you will lose weight. Although there is no calorie counting in this diet, the portions are pretty small and calories are low, especially for active people, says Amidor.
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