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Fad Diets: Are They Healthy?

Chrissy DeBartolo
By Chrissy DeBartolo - June 28, 2017

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Did your New Year's Resolution include wanting to lose weight or eat healthier? How is that going so far?

Have you quit trying yet? Have you decided it's too hard and want to find a quick fix to drop extra pounds this year?

Well, you may be tempted to purchase popular diet shakes like SlimFast or buy into processed meal plans as a last resort.

After all, the claims and testimonials that these companies advertise sure do sound great. Convenience, a healthy alternative to your main meals, curb cravings and weight loss within days or weeks of beginning the program.

Knowing what I know about living a healthy lifestyle, I wanted to research these so-called fad-diets and see what they are made of and what they involve. 

After all, you can't depend solely on what you see in advertisements and on their website. You have to be knowledgeable about ingredient lists and what it takes to properly fuel your body each and every day.

I researched some of the most popular commercial diets and uncovered some pretty interesting facts. 

Read on for more!

THE SLIM-FAST DIET

WHAT IS SLIMFAST?

SlimFast came about in the late 1970s, designed as a powder that was mixed with low-fat milk. The idea was to replace breakfast and lunch with these powdered meal replacement shakes and then enjoy a “sensible dinner” of 600 calories.

Nearly 40 years later, the basic premise is still the same. How SlimFast “works” is that you replace two meals a day with shakes or smoothies or bars. You “indulge” in three 100-calorie snacks throughout the day (made by SlimFast, of course) and then wrap up the day with a 500-calorie meal of your choice, hopefully made from real food.

As long as you’re enjoying this calorie-reduced diet (borderline starvation mode for some folks), exercising regularly, drinking plenty of fluids, aren’t nursing, pregnant, under 18 or following a doctor-prescribed diet, you’ll see results! (But individual results may vary, of course.)

WHAT'S IN SLIMFAST?

The ingredients in the SlimFast diet should give anyone pause. Let’s dissect the SlimFast Advanced Nutrition Creamy Chocolate Shake as an example.

It doesn’t start off so badly, as water is the first ingredient in this shake. Because ingredients are listed in the order of how frequently they appear (essentially how much of the ingredient is in the product), this means that water is the most active ingredient. So what else is it mixed with?

Canola oil. Is canola oil bad for you? You bet. Canola oil is chock-full of GMOs, since over 90 percent of it is made from GMO corn. The dangers of GMO foods range from an increase in antibiotic resistance, problems with the endocrine system, reproductive issues, increases in allergies — and that’s just what we know about.

Canola oil is also a partially hydrogenated oil, meaning it’s made from a triple processing technique requiring deodorization, high heat and the toxic solvent hexane. It’s this process that causes a serious amount of trans fat to be produced, which raises bad cholesterol and lowers the good type. I recommend olive oil, coconut oil or ghee instead.

But enough about canola oil! What else is in these shakes?

Maltodextrin. Maltodextrin is a highly processed white powder used to thicken foods or liquids — that shake has to feel hefty somehow! It’s also used as a preservative to help processed foods last longer. Because it’s cheap to produce, you can find it in products ranging from salad dressing to body lotion.

Maltodextrin has a similar calorie count to table sugar, but its glycemic index is much higher. That means it’ll cause your blood sugar to spike quickly then crash. This isn’t just dangerous for anyone who has diabetes or doesn’t want their energy to plummet mid-day. One study found that maltodextrin can keep healthy gut bacteria from growing while increasing bacteria like E. coli, raising the risk of autoimmune diseases.

Natural and artificial flavors. Why? I’d rather eat food and enjoy their actual flavors then inject artificial flavors into my drinks.

Carrageenan. SlimFast shakes are full of carrageenan. What is carrageenan? It’s an ingredient that’s extracted from edible seaweed and used to thicken and stabilize foods and drinks.

While the scientific community often debates on exactly what side effects carrageenan can have on people — it’s been linked to everything from fetal toxicity to liver cancer — one that’s fairly agreed upon is that carrageenan is super inflammatory. Because inflammation is at the root of most diseases, I say it’s not worth taking your chances, and it’s best to avoid carrageenan.

Other icky ingredients. And of course, there are more unfortunate ingredients in SlimFast. I counted six different types of sweeteners in the ingredients list — don’t let names like tapioca syrup and brown rice syrup fool you. There’s also more water, powdered milk, salt and a “vitamin and mineral blend.”

“But I’m desperate,” you say. I just want to lose those last five pounds. If you’re trying to do that on the SlimFast diet, good luck.

WHY SLIMFAST DOESN'T WORK

It’s unsustainable. For starters, diets like this one are not sustainable over the long run. While you might lose a few pounds while you’re on it, SlimFast does not set you up for success. It sets you up to become a slave to a billion dollar multinational corporation.

You are wasting your hard-earned dollars on processed shakes and snacks that won't fill you up or provide you the proper nutrition and calorie intake you need. 

Let's take a closer look at how much this stuff costs. One 4-pack of meal-replacement shakes is roughly $7. That totals about $3.50 a day for 2 "meals", but don't forget about all of the snacks they want you to eat throughout the day.

A 5 count pack of 100 calorie processed snacks comes in around $5.00 a box. According to their plan, you should be eating 3 of these a day. That's an extra $3.00 a day in snacks, so you are now up to $6.50 for your breakfast, lunch and snacks. Not too bad, but this is on top of your total grocery bill because after all, you have to prepare a healthy meal for dinner and your family members probably want to maintain their usual diet, as well. 

The point is, that $6.50/day adds up to an extra $45.50 a week, $182 a month and an extra $2,184 a year. This is if only one person in your household is on this diet. It doesn't seem like a lot on a daily basis, but that extra money could be spent on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole foods, and nutrient rich foods from area farmers markets. 

Plus, who wants to live off of 2 milkshakes a day and only eat real food once a day? I know I wouldn't. I like food too much.

The ingredients are not good for you. Essentially, you could take a big glass of water, dump some sugar in it, add a crushed up multi-vitamin, add a few drops of milk, chuck in some cocoa powder and oil and have a drink very similar to SlimFast — and hey, it’d be cheaper!

Sugar can make you fat. Because SlimFast foods are so full of sugar, you might be running a hamster wheel when it comes to keeping the weight off. Sugar affects leptin, the “starvation hormone.” Leptin is secreted by fat cells. As our fat cells increase, they secrete leptin, which tells the brain that we’re full and don’t need more food.

But if you’re consuming so much sugar that your brain becomes resistant to leptin, it never receives the signal that you’re full. It’ll keep seeking out more food, hoping to finally get that “I’m full” memo from leptin. Oops.

You’re not eating enough calories. SlimFast shakes are about 180 calories a pop. If you drink two a day, add in the three 100-calorie snacks and the 500-calorie dinner, you’re consuming only 1,160 calories a day. This is far fewer calories than the USDA recommends men and women eat daily.

Remember, according to SlimFast, you should also be exercising regularly.  The average person isn’t going to have very much energy to exercise when they’re eating fewer than 1,200 calories a day. Actually, they probably won’t have too much energy in general.

As you can see, the SlimFast diet is not the best solution to your weight loss woes. There are definitely better ways to lose weight that don't leave you hungry with little to no energy and an empty wallet.

 

 

THE NUTRISYSTEM MEAL PLAN

WHAT IS NUTRISYSTEM?

Nutrisystem Diet is a weight loss plan offering portion and calorie controlled prepackaged foods, as well as, food suggestions.  It claims to be backed by 40 years of customer approved weight loss results.

The diet also claims that customers will lose up to 5 pounds within the first week.

The company delivers their own meals and provides select portion sizes.  Suggestions are offered as to what foods to prepare, but the majority of what’s eaten will be Nutrisystem meals. 

The company provides you with basics for your diet, but you are responsible for adding in fresh produce and other foods on top of what you buy from them.

WHAT'S IN NUTRISYSTEM FOODS?

Many common processed ingredients are added to Nutrisystem’s prepackaged foods. Since the majority of foods eaten will be their meals, this makes for a very limited diet. These ingredients are dangerous and they may actually make it more difficult to lose weight.

The diet also calls for a 1,000 calorie limit to start with, which can be extremely difficult. This is the reason why many users of Nutrisystem Diet have found it to not satisfy appetite.

There is the convenience of delivered food, but the kinds of foods offered are low calorie, processed and full of potentially harmful ingredients.

Here are some common ingredients found in most Nutrisystem meals:

  • Sugar
  • Fructose
  • Carrageenan
  • Calcium Propionate
  • Guar Gum
  • Salt
  • Modified Food Starch
  • Maltodextrin
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Corn Syrup
  • Xanthan Gum
  • Sodium Caseinate
  • Sorbate
  • Potassium Phosphate
  • Tocopherols

Calcium Propionate: A food preservative often added to processed meats, dairy products and bread.  It’s considered slightly toxic by a pesticides group.

A study published in ScienceDirect found that when it was given to mice there was an increase in oxidative stress markers, hyperactivity and development of limbic kindled seizures.

That's too many potentially damaging effects in one ingredient for me.

Fructose: Simple fruit sugar that is sweeter than standard sucrose and glucose. It’s often added to things like soda and other processed foods. A study by the Louisiana State University System found that it did not suppress ghrelin, a major appetite-stimulating hormone.

Therefore, when using this ingredient it has not been shown to satiate appetite.  The same study also adds, fructose is poorly absorbed and is also entirely cleared by the liver.

This can be of issue to diabetics and it’s the reason why fructose is associated with cardiovascular diseases.

Xanthan Gum: Thickener and binder added to processed foods.  It can be extracted from common allergens that include dairy, soy, corn and wheat.

It may also potentially lead to gas and bloating.

Just take a look at the ingredients in one of their lunch options, The Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar:

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Soy nuggets??? No thank you! I can think of MANY other healthy options for a lunch on the go than this sugar-laden "high protein" "high fiber" chocolate bar. I couldn't live off of just that for lunch, nor would I want to.

In fact, take a look at a screenshot of their MENU page to see what dieters get to choose from on a daily basis:

 

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All I see are processed, fake foods full of sugar (or sugar look-a-likes) that don't resemble real food at all.

Knowing what I know about a healthy lifestyle - this is far from it!

Diet plans like these want to lure you in and make you think you are still indulging in all of your favorite foods so that you won't feel deprived by buying into their program.

Sure these foods may look good and sound delicious, but they offer no REAL nutritional value - the kind you can get from REAL FOOD.

 

WHY NUTRISYSTEM DOESN'T WORK

Again, it's unsustainable. Like I mentioned before, Nutrisystem encourages it's customers to stick to a 1,000 calorie a day diet, which is completely depriving your body of the energy it needs to just fulfill daily tasks, not to mention, the added exercise you are supposed to work in.

So, not only is this meal plan depleting your energy sources, it's also depleting your wallet.

If you thought the SlimFast diet was a lot, check this out:

Currently, Nutrisystem offers 3 different plan options leaving you to spend about $300-$360 a month for their smaller-portioned processed foods. This is not all though. They want you to also spend money at the grocery store and purchase your fresh produce to eat along with their meals.

So, that leaves you with spending an extra $3,600-$4,320 a year on their foods ON TOP of your usual grocery bill.

Seems like that money could be better spent elsewhere and on real foods to nourish your body.

Sure, you may see some results within a few weeks of being on this diet, but who wouldn't only eating 1,000 calories a day? Depriving your body is NOT the way to go when trying to lose weight and keep it off for good.

Yes, it is convenient to have your food delivered right to your door, but nowadays you can order your groceries online and go pick them up at the store when they are ready. 

If money is no object, you don't mind eating processed, sugar-filled foods, and you absolutely need the added convenience of free delivery, then this diet plan is for you. 

Believe me, you are worth WAY more than the ingredients in these meals and Nutrisystem is absolutely nothing that you can't do on your own - just commit yourself to a healthier diet and stick with it!

 

 

THE WEIGHT WATCHERS PLAN

WHAT IS WEIGHT WATCHERS?

Pasta, steak, cheese, ice cream... You can eat what you want on Weight Watchers. While the popular weight-loss plan has been revamped, the basic principle of eating what you love remains -- though the program steers you toward healthier foods with its points system.

In its new program, called Beyond the Scale, fitness also takes a bigger role. You'll be encouraged to move more every day.

Weight Watchers isn’t so much a diet as a lifestyle-change program. It can help you learn how to eat healthier and get more physical activity, so you lose the weight for good.

You can follow the plan online on your own. You'll track your food choices and exercise, chart progress, and find recipes and workouts. There’s a coaching option if you prefer one-on-one consultations by phone, email, and text. Or you can go to in-person group meetings, where you’ll weigh in.

A Consumer Reports survey found that people who went to meetings were more satisfied with the program and lost more weight than people who used only the online tools.

 

HOW WEIGHT WATCHERS WORKS

No food is forbidden when you follow this plan, which doesn’t make you buy any prepackaged meals (although they do exist in the freezer and snack sections of your local grocery store).

Weight Watchers assigns different foods a SmartPoints value, which replaces its long-standing PointsPlus plan. The concept is the same, though. Nutritious foods that fill you up have fewer points than junk with empty calories. But the eating plan now factors sugar, fat and protein into its points calculations to steer you toward fruits, veggies and lean protein, and away from stuff that's high in sugar and saturated fat.

You’ll have a SmartPoints target that's set up based on your body and goals. As long as you stay within your daily target, you can spend those SmartPoints however you’d like, even on alcohol or dessert.

But healthier, lower-calorie foods cost fewer points.

However, this service doesn't come for free. 

Weight Watchers offers three plans: Online only, online with meetings, or online with coaching and each has a $20 starter fee.

 
So, for some coaching and access to their menus, you can expect to pay around $18-$43 a month, that's $216-$516 a year. While you aren't required to buy any of their meals, you can also drop some money on those each month, as well. On top of your usual grocery bill, this can really add up.

 

DOES WEIGHT WATCHERS WORK?

For a lot of customers, Weight Watchers works and helps to keep the weight off. For others, however, counting up points and paying a monthly fee to monitor your weight and go to meetings is inconvenient. 

The one thing Weight Watchers does well is teach consumers about healthy eating, portion control and meal prep that will help their customers sustain a healthy lifestyle longterm. 

Of course, this is all doable on your own, but if you are someone who absolutely needs accountability, a friend in the same shoes, or a coach to motivate you to keep going, then this is a good program for that.

But, don't just take Oprah's word for it. Yes, you can eat what you want, but a healthy lifestyle and longterm health doesn't come with indulging in pastas, breads, desserts, alcohol, or processed foods on a daily basis.

IS WEIGHT WATCHERS SAFE FOR CERTAIN MEDICAL CONDITIONS?

Weight Watchers is good for anyone. But its focus on nutritious, low-calorie foods makes it great for people with high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes and even heart disease.

If you choose any premade meals, check the labels, as some may be high in sodium and could contain some harmful ingredients like the ones listed above.

Work with your doctor so he can check your progress, too. This is especially important for people with diabetes, as you may need to adjust your medicine as you lose weight.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

This time of year, advertisements for these programs or shakes are EVERYWHERE! 

They sound too good to be true and usually they are. 

Bottom line: losing weight is not easy. If it were easy then everyone would be doing it and our obesity rate wouldn't be skyrocketing.

A lot of these companies use ingredients to keep you fat so, in turn, you spend more money with them because somehow it's all your fault.

Don't fall prey to these tactics. Educate yourself. Know what is healthy. Fuel your body with real foods. Remain active as much as possible. Take time for yourself.

One tried and true food you can absolutely benefit from year-round with minimal expense is Oolong Tea.

This is not a fad-diet. 100% Pure, Premium Oolong Tea offers many health benefits such as:


And a month's supply of Oolong tea costs FAR LESS than these fad diets - just see how it compares:

Just remember, weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint. The weight didn't creep up on you overnight and it's not going to just disappear overnight either.

It takes a lot of hard work and dedication and motivation to really want it. The healthy way to lose weight is to go at a slow and steady pace. This way, the weight will stay off for good - that's what you want anyway, right?

What are some changes you are making to your lifestyle to reach your New Year's goals? Let me know in the comments below!

Yours in Health & Happiness,

Chrissy

 

P.S. You can pick up a box of our Pure, Premium Oolong Tea right here.

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