In my years bouncing around from diet to diet I would occasionally find a plan which got results. The problem was that these results were short-term. Within a few weeks of losing the weight I’d put it all back on – and usually a lot more. The cause of this came down to one of two things: either the diet was too difficult to follow, requiring me to eat extremely specific foods each day of the week at intervals that weren’t maintainable with my work schedule. Or, the diet was set-up so that I would lose a ton of water-weight right off the bat, seemingly to trick me into thinking I had found a working weight loss routine.
What I’ve learned since then is that not only are these fad diets unsustainable and unsuccessful they can also be quite dangerous. They promote poor nutrition and spread around modern-wives tales about “magic” foods and “secrets” that “doctors don’t want us to know.”
While these diets always come with some fantastic advertising slogan and great (usually photo-shopped) examples of ‘before’ and ‘after’ but they seem to all come down to pushing one of these dangerous weight loss myths.
A number of fat-loss programs and products focus on specific `problem` areas and attempt to offer solutions based around exercising that specific area. For example, crunches as a means of getting rid of stomach fat. This comes down to a slight misunderstanding of how the human body works.
In short when you train a certain part of your body you are stimulating those muscles, but this has no direct effect on the body-fat stored in that area.
Training your abs does not specifically burn fat from your abdominal area. This is the same for training your thighs, or arms, or any other part of your body. When you exercise you are burning calories and as a result you will lose weight, but it will be gradual fat loss from your entire body, not from a specific area.
This advice becomes dangerous when it leads to people ‘over-training’ specific parts of their body. People have injured themselves by repeatedly training a certain part of their body every single day. Your body needs rest between work-outs, after spending a day exercising a certain body part you should be waiting one to two days before targeting that muscle group again.
People have torn shoulder muscles, not from using weight that was too heavy but simply from repeatedly exercising their arm every day for weeks in an attempt to lose arm fat after being duped into exercise routines that highlight `spot reduction` as the secret to getting rid of unwanted stomach/arm/leg fat.
They would have seen better results with a balanced diet and an exercise routine that respected their bodies need to rest.
Tip: Tightening the muscles in a specific area does have an effect on the overall-shape of your body once you’ve lost the weight that ‘covers’ that area. Doing crunches and planks for example can create stronger definition between the waist and hips, but this is only when at a weight where the muscle shape is noticeable.
Diets that are built and marketed around the concept of a cheat day can be extremely alluring. While they usually require a high level of dedication for the larger part of the week they offer one or sometimes two days where they tell you that you can “eat anything.”
Not to get into the specifics of how some of these diets feature meal plans that lack essential nutrients (such as one I tried where I was expected to spend all of Tuesday eating just fish), cheat days simply don’t work for 90% of people.
For example, if you eat the low-calorie diet for five days then on Saturday and Sunday you go all out and consume 2500 to 3000 extra calories to celebrate being successful following the diet you’ve increased your daily average for the week up three hundred or more calories. If this keeps up you’re going to gain up to twenty pounds by the end of the year despite nearly starving yourself for five days out of every week.
Tip: If you are going to try to work in a cheat day as part of your diet so that you can go out with friends and binge, you need to keep track of what you eat that day and average out the calories against the rest of the week. Understand that just because you only consumed them in a short period of time (one day) doesn’t mean those carbs and fats don’t count.
The truth is they work. If you starve yourself you will lose weight. I don’t recommend it though. The health concerns you’ll potentially face by eating at an extreme calorie deficit are in some cases far worse than what you face by being over-weight. Your body requires a certain amount of nutrients to live.
Now, of-course crash diets are always prefaced with only lasting a certain amount of time. A length of time chosen to not cause any major negative effects. It’s true that fasting for a short-period of time won’t do any damage to you. Fasting is a common practice in certain religious faiths, and is of-course required to be done before certain types of surgery.
The draw-back to these short-term crash diets is that once it is over you are likely to over-consume and within a short period of time, gain back the weight you lost. Another thing to keep in mind is that some of the first weight you’d lose would be water-weight, which comes back quite fast.
If you intend to regularly fast or take part in an extended crash diet you risk losing muscle due to not getting enough nutrients, such as protein, to maintain your strength. The initial loss of muscle will result in you weighing less, since muscle weighs more than fat losing a bit of it can make a noticeable change, but this is not a healthy way to lose weight. If you lose an arm or a leg you’d also weigh less, but again this isn’t a healthy way to lose weight. It’s not all about the numbers on the scale, it is about your health and well-being.
Tip: If you do decide to take part in a fast, be sure to stay hydrated with water if at all possible, and consider speaking with your physician regarding the length of time you plan on doing this. Do not expect weight-loss results of a fast to be permanent. Water-weight comes back and unless you immediately become very careful about your diet you are likely to eat back all the fat you lost.
MAGIC PILLS, POTIONS, & SPELLS
This is a broad one as it encompasses so many products. Sometimes it is a piece of expensive equipment, other times it’s something you wear like a belt or wrap tightened around your stomach, and more commonly it is an expensive supplement or pill or cream.
In terms of special exercise equipment, I’ll put this simply: there isn’t a single piece of “magic” exercise equipment that will beat the effectiveness of properly using free weights and machines at your local gym. Those electric belts they sell on late night television to “zap” your stomach muscles and stimulate them without you having to actually do sit-ups? They don’t work at any reasonable level. A few crunches or simply laying on your back and attempting to lift your legs into the air is significantly more effective.
When it comes to supplements, beyond taking a daily vitamin and possibly an Omega-3 before bed or in the morning, most supplements are pretty useless. Simply reading the nutritional information listed on any given supplement and comparing that to which foods you would need to get the same nutrients in almost every case sees the supplement coming up as over-priced and less-than-helpful.
This is especially true for the supplements that do not specifically list how much of each substance is in each serving, and instead say it’s a “blend”, meaning you don’t even know what you’re taking or how much of it you are taking. When it comes to supplements always make sure you know exactly what you’re taking.
Certain vitamins and minerals can be dangerous to your health when taken in large amounts, most daily vitamins are quite safe but consider if you even need them. Many people are comfortably getting all the nutrients they need from their diet and don’t need to double-down on it by purchasing a daily vitamin. Use your best judgment and when in doubt, consult a licensed medical practitioner.
As for the weight-loss pills and wraps offered, these products can be quite dangerous. Many of the pills are essentially strong laxatives, which of-course will help you lose weight by making you feel sick and spending large portions of your day sitting on the toilet. The wraps are extremely tight and squeeze your insides together which has been shown to lead to internal problems when worn for long periods of time. These products should be avoided.
There’s no magic cure or secret trick to losing weight. To lose weight and become the healthiest version of yourself you need to make lifestyle changes that you can stick to.
If you’re looking for a complete diet and exercise routine in a easy package, check out Good Fun Health’s 6-Week Fat Loss Bootcamp!