This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Canada, which closed in 2021.
The Blog

This Nutritionist's Picks for the 5 Worst Diets of All Time

These popular diets can be dangerous, they are low in calories, which is why you will probably lose weight while you follow them. But many pose serious health risks and limited long-term results.

It doesn't take much for me to get a bee in my bonnet about wacky diets, because there are so many of them floating around out there and I encounter them and the people who believe in them every day.

Most of them are ridiculous if not dangerous, and like all diets, they are low in calories which is why you will probably lose weight while you follow them.

Some of these are common, and some of them are so crazy they take dieting to a whole new level, or should I say stratosphere. Here are my picks for top five worst diets of all time.

Fat burning foods

Let's get one thing straight right now. There are no foods that burn fat. Not hot peppers, not celery, not cherries or green tea or coconut oil or pineapple. None. Nada.

I want to absolutely scream when I see even the most reputable magazines and other media outlets promoting "fat burning foods" with statements such as:

These are foods that start winnowing your waistline the moment they leave your fork and enter your mouth. They build muscle, promote fat burning, or simply use energy (i.e. burn calories) just to digest them! Stock up today!

From a reputable magazine that people actually listen to, this is shameful. There are even entire websites dedicated to fat burning foods! My professional judgement tells me not to list them here, but you've got Google if you want to check them out. As long as you don't take them seriously, that is.

Listen to me. There is no such thing as a food that burns fat or calories. Or has negative calories for that matter. Burning your mouth and other body parts off by adding a bushel of chili peppers to your food is only going to hurt you. Let's stop being silly about fat burning foods, okay?

The clay or charcoal diet

This one has been in the news quite a bit lately, and it's not only disgusting, it's also dangerous. My mother used to give us the clay-based Kaopectate when we got diarrhea as kids, but to lose weight? Clay supposedly fills you up and "binds toxins and metals in your body," which sounds like mumbo jumbo to me, especially because clay can contain toxic metals, so how is this supposed to work exactly?

Sorry, I can't stop laughing as I write this, because "losing 20 pounds by eating clay" sounds so ridiculous.

Some people justify this diet by saying that the clay is made from extra special volcanic ash, which for some reason in their minds makes it okay to eat dirt, but no justification is necessary or acceptable! Clay is clay, and even though reputed clay-eaters Victoria Beckham or Shailene Woodley are still alive and well, it can cause lead poisoning, intestinal obstructions, and constipation. Pregnant women who have a compulsion to eat clay likely have a condition called pica, and should be seen by a physician immediately.

Activated charcoal is much the same thing. Used mostly in hospital emergency rooms to treat accidental poisonings, people are now eating activated charcoal because like clay, it's supposed to bind toxins and bring them *ahem* out of your body. Like eating clay, activated charcoal can cause electrolyte imbalances, which can actually kill you, and it can also cause constipation, vomiting, and intestinal obstructions. Starting a diet of clay or charcoal and ending up with a bowel resection doesn't sound too fun from start to finish, does it? That would definitely not be the kind of weight loss you're looking for.

The NG tube diet

This is just deranged. Who in the world would stick a nasogastric tube into their nose and down their throat just to lose weight? Some people do, to fit into that all-important wedding dress or whatever other reason they could possibly have. There are doctors who actually offer this "service" although it seems like more of a "disservice" to me. Aside from choosing to walk around with a tube dangling from your nose and feeding yourself cans of formula through that tube, I can't imagine being desperate enough to do this. And thankfully, most people can't either.

The Master Cleanse or detox diets

Why, just why.

I repeat myself until I'm blue in the face, but people continue to believe that you can cleanse and detox your way into losing weight. Put less crap into your body and you will feel good enough to not want to cleanse anything out. Not that you have anything to cleanse or detox out anyway, since your liver and kidneys are doing it for you as you sit and read this! Isn't nature amazing?

If you're metabolically unstable in any way, you can actually die from electrolyte imbalances from the diarrhea caused by the Master Cleanse. You can also kiss some of your hard-earned muscle mass goodbye as your body breaks it down for fuel. Why punish yourself? Eat well most of the time, and when you hear someone talk about the toxins in your body, just start walking the other way, interrupt them, or close your ears. Not worth it.

The meal plan

I know people will probably have something to say about this, but I get asked for meal plans all the time. I don't routinely do meal plans for people, and neither do most dietitians who I know. The reason for this is that they don't work. Okay, maybe they work in the short term, but why would you want to eat the same thing over and over again for the long term?

This practice doesn't teach you how to make good decisions about what to eat and when. What about when you go to Mexico on vacation, how are you supposed to follow your meal plan then? It's just unrealistic. Meal delivery diets are the same way. I'm sure it's easy to make good choices when the choices you're making are materializing on your doorstep as meals delivered to you, but what happens when you run out of money and have to make your own food?

A registered dietitian will help you learn how to make the best decisions about which foods to choose when. Skip the fads and the meal plans, and if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don't harm yourself, starve yourself, or listen to people who don't have any credible nutrition training. Achieving a healthy weight takes time, and can be done with small changes that become habits.


Worst Fad Diets
Suggest a correction
This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Canada. Certain site features have been disabled. If you have questions or concerns, please check our FAQ or contact