The Low-Down on Trendy Weight Loss Diets: Can Anything Good Come from Them?

A diabetes nutrition expert looks at 4 fad diets and explains how to adapt them to jump start weight loss and improve blood sugar levels but proceed with caution. There's a lot wrong with today's popular eating plans.

detox timeSome people will try anything to lose weight, including some crazy fad diets. For most though, following a fad diet for a short time probably won’t hurt, and might even help shake off those first few pounds. In turn, losing a few pounds might help provide the motivation to follow a more sensible, gimmick-free diet for the long term.

When you have diabetes, you can pretty much eat any food you like, but you have to be careful about how and when you eat it. Your best bet is to choose a diet style that incorporates a wide variety of foods and has been proven to help keep you as healthy as possible while also maintaining a healthy weight. Some examples include a Mediterranean-style diet, the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet, the MIND diet (a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diets with an emphasis on preventing Alzheimer’s disease), and the TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) diet. Just like every fad diet, there’s plenty of information online about these that can help you get started.

But while it’s always best to follow a proven and expert-approved diet plan, you don’t necessarily have to avoid a fad diet that appeals to you and that might help you lose some initial weight. If you see something you like, go over the diet thoroughly, and adapt it to work for you by taking what’s good from the plan and discarding what isn’t. Here are some examples of how you can take a trendy diet and make it your own.

Smoothie Diet

smoothie dietThere are many variations on the smoothie diet, from all-liquid mixtures replacing solid food at every meal, to drinking a smoothie in place of just one meal a day. A full liquid diet, without medical supervision, isn’t a good idea for anyone. For one thing, your body is not designed to receive all of its nourishment in liquid form. Also, smoothies and other liquid foods are often less satisfying than solid food, so it may be even more tempting to overeat than it is on other types of diet plans.

For people with diabetes, substituting a smoothie for a solid meal just once a day is the safest bet. What’s most important about a smoothie, besides portion control, is that your drink is nutritionally balanced to include foods from the three major food groups: complex or high-fiber carbs, proteins and unsaturated fats.

There is no magic formula; instead, think of the proportion of ingredients you put into your blender the same way you think of the proportion of ingredients you put on your plate. Experiment with combinations of ripe, seasonal fresh fruit and berries, leafy greens such as kale and spinach, avocados, nuts or nut butters, oatmeal flakes or oat bran, plain low-fat yogurt, silken tofu, and nondairy milk-like beverages.

Detox Diet

have you tried a detox diet?Traditional detox diets are very-low-calorie, often all-liquid plans that purport to “cleanse” your body of supposedly toxic substances that not only make you sick but might also make you fat. Some detox diets sound particularly appealing because they promise significant weight loss in just a matter of days.

In addition to the fact that these extreme programs are too restricted, too harsh when it comes to purging, or contain too many fruits and fruit juices for someone with diabetes, most weight loss on a short-term, restrictive detox diet is water loss. At the same time, this type of detox diet isn’t particularly beneficial to anyone else because it is a well-known fact that the human body detoxifies itself on a regular basis. 

Today, detox, or cleansing, diets are more likely to focus on “clean eating.” That means eating mostly whole foods, limiting processed foods, and avoiding any foods or food products that contain artificial ingredients, added sugars, salts or unhealthy fats, preservatives or other chemicals. Essentially, detox means cleaning up your diet so that it includes mostly foods that are rich in fiber, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, in addition to foods that are rich in plant protein, such as beans, lentils and split peas, and healthful fats such as avocados and nuts. A clean eating diet is great for someone with diabetes, as long as your plate is balanced with a variety of foods so that you are getting some high-fiber carbs, some lean protein and a little fat at each meal.

Paleolithic Diet

Paleo diet consists of whole foodsBased on the idea that we should eat the same low-carb, high animal-protein and high-fat diet our prehistoric ancestors ate, a paleolithic-style diet consists mostly of meat and fish, with some vegetables and fruit, since these were the only foods available in prehistoric times. There are no grains, legumes, dairy products or processed foods on this diet. Though it would seem that such a high-protein, low-carb diet would benefit people with diabetes, especially since, in some studies, paleo-style diets have been shown to improve glucose control and promote weight loss, the jury is still out. As researchers delve deeper into the effects of a high-protein, low-carb, high-fat diet on diabetes, some are finding in laboratory (animal) studies that such a diet does not improve insulin response or prevent the progression of hyperglycemia and weight gain over time.

It goes without saying that you can include foods like lean meats, seafood and vegetables in your diet, and you can certainly borrow paleo ideas and recipes from and incorporate them into a diabetes meal plan. It’s also good advice to avoid processed food products that contain added salts, sugars and chemicals and that clearly were not available in ancient times. But a diet that excludes whole food groups is not considered a balanced diet, and is likely to be short on essential nutrients. And this is not a diet for anyone trying to get more plant protein into their meals. It is also unclear how this type of diet affects the long-term risk of other chronic health conditions associated with diabetes, such as kidney and heart diseases.

The Military Diet

military diet also known as the 5:2Intermittent fasting—eating way fewer calories on some days than on others—is a diet style that has been promoted under various names. Found only online, with unknown origins, the so-called Military Diet (which has no connection to the military) is one such plan that has become popular in recent years for its promise of quick weight loss by eating pretty much whatever you want for four days of the week, then cutting back drastically to around 1,000 calories daily for the next three days.

There’s a lot wrong with this type of diet plan, starting with three consecutive days of intentional deprivation, which would lead most people to overeat on their “free” days. On again/off again dieting does not boost your metabolism; it throws it into a tailspin. And much of the food promoted on the military diet—hot dogs and ice cream, to name two—isn’t healthy. Worst of all, this simply isn’t a long-term plan that reinforces any known method of healthful eating.

For someone with diabetes, or anyone else for that matter, this is not a good weight loss plan. But if the idea of a little leeway appeals to you, try this: Figure out how many calories you normally eat in a day and then figure out what you can eliminate, or how you can cut down on portion sizes to reduce your daily intake by up to 200 calories. Try to stick to the lower-calorie plan, being sure to eat nutritionally balanced meals, and knowing that you can always have a little extra food if you need it without worrying about weight gain.

Updated on: March 20, 2019
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