The holiday season is right around the corner, and that means one thing for millions of consumers: weight gain. According to multiple studies, the average person gains one to two pounds of hard-to-lose fat during the holiday period, and those who are already overweight can add as much as five additional pounds.
While most people never lose those extra holiday pounds, that doesn't stop them from trying. A slew of gimmicky, pseudo-scientific diets and weight-loss products will be heavily marketed to consumers throughout the November-January timeframe, and the post-holiday period is generally considered to be the biggest sales event of the year for the $20 billion weight-loss industry. Some companies even refer to it as the diet industry's "Super Bowl."
But with all the diets, weight-loss books, gadgets and gimmicks flooding the market, how many of these actually work? As a doctor specializing in women's health and weight-loss for the last three decades, I've run across almost every diet fad there is. Some of these bogus treatments are downright laughable -- but others aren't funny at all, as they can put a person's health at risk.
Here are eight trendy diets and weight-loss cures that you may be hearing more about in the coming months, and why you should avoid them:
The No-Carb Diet: The no-carb rule is sort of a sacred cow in the diet industry these days, with a wide range of popular diets that incorporate it into their plans in one way or another -- from the South Beach Diet to the Dukan Diet of France. The gist of this rule is that as long as you don't eat carbs, you can eat as much protein as you like, or as much fat as you'd like. The Problem: Regardless of what type of calories you eat, they're still calories. 3,500 calories equals one pound no matter what form it's in. It's not a bad idea to cut back a little on your carbohydrate intake, but this isn't going to facilitate dramatic weight loss.
The Baby Food Diet: The baby food diet, also known as the "pureed diet," first gained attention in 2011 when notable celebrities like Jennifer Aniston were rumoured to use it as a way to lose weight. This diet advocates eating small pureed food portions up to 14 times a day. Proponents claim that it helps you lose weight because the food is pre-digested so you don't absorb the calories. They also claim it helps to cleanse the body. The Problem: Calories are calories; it doesn't matter how you take them in. They're all absorbed the same way, as chunks or puree. That said, a pureed diet is helpful for patients recovering from certain types of surgeries or those who have difficulting chewing because of health problems.
Human Chorionic Gonadatropin Diets: Injections or serum drops of human chorionic gonadatropin (hCG) are promoted in some diet plans as a way to stimulate rapid weight loss -- and they claim that hCG, a hormone found in the blood of pregnant women, suppresses hunger and triggers the metabolization of fat in the body. The Problem: There is no medical or scientific evidence that hCG helps to lower weight. In fact, the FDA and FTC have issued warning letters to seven companies marketing over-the-counter hCG products as weight loss cures.
High-Fat Diets: It sounds counterintuitive, but a new diet fad called the high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet (also known as LCHF or the ketogenic diet) has gained popularity recently with extensive media coverage. According to this diet, carbohydrates pose a greater health risk than fat, so consumers should reduce their carb intake and increase the fat they consume. The Problem: LCHF is not the best way to trim your waist. High fat is high in calories - nine calories per gram, as opposed to 4.5 calories per gram for carbohydrates and protein. A recent study out of UCLA also found that high-fat diets may lead to pancreatic cancer. There are a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to LCHF, so consult with your doctor before making this type of drastic dietary change.
The Eight-Hour Diet: Is it possible to eat as much as you want and not get fat, by limiting all your eating to an eight-hour period? That's the gist behind the "Eight-Hour Diet." According to the diet's proponents, the primary cause of weight gain -- and even diabetes -- is due to after-hours eating when the body is less able to process food. The Problem: Limiting your food intake to a single eight-hour period is the wrong way to eat. It will create an overload of sugar that will actually raise your insulin level, thereby blocking fat breakdown. During the 16 hours of non-eating, your body will think it's in starvation and slow down your metabolism.
The Pumpkin Diet: Ever heard of the pumpkin-only diet? It may sound silly, but pumpkins have long been cited for their health and weight-loss benefits -- and now some diets recommend replacing all other food with pumpkins in the hopes of stimulating dramatic weight gain. The Problem: Pumpkins don't contain any special properties that will help you lose weight, beyond the normal benefits you get from eating vegetables, and refraining from sugary and fatty foods. Not to mention, pumpkin seeds actually have fat in them and are caloric. The pumpkin-diet is a lot of hocus pocus.
Herbal Body Wraps: Slimming wraps are advertised almost everywhere these days, and numerous spas offer them.These herbal body wraps are promoted as a natural weight loss and cellulite treatment. The Problem: There's no scientific evidence that body wraps help you lose weight or reduce cellulite. Any perceived benefits are just an optical illusion, because wraps temporarily dehydrate the body. Basically, they move water in the midsection aside for about 24 hours, so you lose inches from the waistline but only for a brief, temporary period.
Electrical-Stimulation Abdominal Belts:Electrical stimulation is used by some physical therapists to rehabilitate muscles after injury, as it does cause some muscle contraction. But it's misleading for marketers to claim that a person can trim their waist or build rock-hard abs by using one of these belts a few times per day. The Problem: The amount of electrical stimulation that is used is very low -- otherwise you'd get electrocuted. This isn't enough to sufficiently work the muscle. The only way to build abs is to manually contract the abs with rigorous exercise. And even that doesn't cause one to lose fat in the belly anyway. Additionally, the FTC has filed false advertising complaints against four companies selling these products, with $12 million in settlements already.
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