When it comes to losing weight, we’ve tried quite a few strategies over the years. Lemon-cayenne or grapefruit cleanses. South Beach. Wheat Belly. Atkins. Low-cal, low-fat, fat-free and low-carb. If an expert has touted the benefits, odds are we’ve bought the books, stocked the fridge and in the end, we’ve failed… miserably.
Fad diets are usually labelled as such for a reason — they tend to surface at some unforeseen moment because they work… for a while. Then reality kicks in and we gain more weight than we were carrying in the first place, making us more miserable in the long run. Now we know why yo-yo dieting went out of style.
“Diets that advocate for severe calorie restriction, the ones that take you down to under 800 calories a day, are the most dangerous,” Dr. Mehmet Oz, from The Dr. Oz Show, tells us. “They lead to protein deficiency in your body. You lose weight, but it’s not fat you’re losing after a while — it’s muscle weight. So then you rebound really heavy and hard because you don’t have muscles to burn calories anymore. Essentially, you trade muscle weight for fat weight.”
Sure, eating a balanced diet, exercising portion control and hitting the gym three to five times a week is a great alternative to some of these diets in theory, except it’s sometimes hard to get there. Especially when you’ve got to contend with special events like birthdays or weddings, where booze and cake are shoved in your face. Or even worse, when you do eat really healthy and see zero results for weeks.
So what’s the alternative? Well according to the good doc, some fad diets actually have merit to them — if you follow them properly and give yourself some realistic expectations. That can mean losing seven or eight pounds quickly in the first month as you adjust your lifestyle, but then tapering it out so that you lose half a pound a week after that.
“That’s the right way to lose weight for a long time and not gain it back,” he explains. “You have to find a diet that actually agrees with your lifestyle. The most important thing is to find a diet you love, that just happens to be good for you.”
Here are just a few of the examples he gave:
1. The Atkins Diet
We’re all familiar with this popular meal plan where we swap comfy carbs for high-protein. According to Dr. Oz, this diet makes a lot of sense in theory, if you can sustain the lifestyle. That means assessing whether or not you can truly give up carbs in the long run.
“People who eat no carbs get whiney and bitchy and unpleasant to be around – everyone has been there,” he says. “A little bit of carbs gets you over the edge.”
He also explains that the danger of giving in to carbs when you’ve already allowed yourself to gorge on fatty proteins is that it causes an extra surge of insulin to be released into your body. In turn, that elevates your blood sugar and potentially causes longer-term health problems like diabetes or heart disease.
The good news is that a low-carb diet does work if you’re able to stick to it. That means lean, healthy proteins and some carbs on a daily basis. And most importantly, if you do fall off the wagon, be sure to get back on it immediately.
2. The Paleo Diet
“I like the paleo diet because it’s easy to understand, but you have to do it the correct way,” says Dr. Oz. “In Paleolithic times, humans did not eat processed food, it’s clear, but they also wouldn’t eat meat every day because they couldn’t catch meat every day. They’re primarily vegetarians with berries and the like.”
For this reason, the doctor feels that Paleo actually works best when it’s modified for modern times. That means not going overboard on the meat, but also incorporating other “restricted” foods that are good for you, like some legumes, whole grains or squash.
“People wouldn’t eat other foods that we know are good for you. So people on the diet give up some healthy foods and create artificial lines that make your diet a little harder to comply with,” he adds.
We suppose it doesn’t take a doctor to tell us that if it’s harder to do, we may not keep up with it.
3. A Cabbage “Cleanse”
Feel like gorging on some cabbage soup, do you? Well according to Dr. Oz, it’s actually okay to follow this diet — to a certain extent. In fact, he refuses to even call it a diet and refers to it as a cleanse instead. One that he’s done himself and with his audience by adding a cayenne component to the soup, for a maximum of three days to “jump start” a new program.
“The good thing about the cabbage soup cleanse is that it’s filling. You get fibre, you get nutrients that come from the vegetables you add to it, and adding cayenne pepper satiates you,” he says. “Peppers in general do that: they increase your metabolism and decrease your appetite at the next meal.”
The other key to pulling off a three-day cabbage soup cleanse? Be sure to eat really, really well before you start it.
“With a diet that restricts your calorie intake, you have to eat really well before the diet starts. Otherwise you not only become malnourished, but you’re also low on nutrients,” he adds.
4. The Shrink Your Belly Diet
Looking to get a flat tummy for the summer? Dr. Oz has the perfect 28-day plan — available for free on his site. Basically you eliminate processed foods, alcohol and dairy while upping your veggies and fibre intake. Swap coffee for lemon water in the morning, focus on filling whole grains, and drink a special “veggie flush” drink throughout the day whenever you feel hungry.
So what’s the catch? No eating between 9 p.m. at night and 9 a.m. in the morning.
“You know what the rules are with this diet. You have to take 12 hours and not eat anything,” he says. “It’s based on data looking at how hormones shift in 12 hours of fasting. But for the other 12 hours, you can eat a ton of calories; we’re not trying to starve you. As it turns out, you don’t even need as many calories. Plus, some of the things you would have eaten you don’t, because you can’t. That makes a big difference.”
5. Going Vegan
This one’s a hard one for most — especially for the meat lovers among us. That includes Dr. Oz, who’s the first to admit that while his wife is a vegetarian, he can’t make the move full-time, because meat or fish every other day makes him feel better.
It’s also good for the planet, he notes, and following a vegan diet tends to be one of the healthiest ways to live. If you can do it. But if you’re like him and you need that hit of steak or bacon every once in a while, even trying to follow this diet part-time is a good idea.
“It’s often a bit more expensive and a tiny bit more challenging because you have to plan ahead to do it. But it is an incredibly healthy way to live,” he says. Vegans on average live a little bit longer than non-vegans. They’re healthier in other ways as well.”
Whether you’re up for going vegan or testing out the Paleo diet, make sure you stick to something you’re happy doing. It’ll be so much easier to follow through with a diet you actually feel good about.
WATCH: Here are some tasty vegan recipes that almost seem too good to be true.