By Katie Lewin
Losing weight isn’t rocket science. In order to peel off the pounds, you have to burn more calories than you consume. Sure, the equation sounds simple — but finding a way to carry it out for the long-term and in a healthy way is where things get tricky. Even before Victorian poet and fashionista Lord Byron slimmed down on potatoes dipped in vinegar, fad diets, have existed. And while some are a little bizarre, nothing — short of the world collectively realizing that no amount of lost weight is worth subsisting on lemon juice and cayenne pepper alone — will put a stop to their popularity. The truth is, all diets work — if you can stick to them. Here’s the scoop (or rather, the skinny!) on the most popular diets of the year so you can decide which if any is right for you.
The Skinny: If you’re the type of dieter that lives for cheat days, the 5:2 Fast Diet (often called intermittent fasting), may be for you. Five days of the week, you eat normal, balanced meals (with the occasional treat), then the other two days you are limited to 500-600 calories.
Pros: Restricting calories only twice a week allows for minimal commitment, while the other five days you’re getting balanced meals that provide adequate nutrition.
Cons: Many 5:2 dieters complain of irritability, bad breath, weakness, nausea and difficulty sleeping on days they abstain. Fasting at social gatherings may be difficult and isolating.
Bottom Line: The 5:2 diet may work in the very short term, but don’t expect staying power. It’s unlikely that dieters will be able to incorporate fasting into their eating habits long-term. This diet is not recommended for pregnant women, people with diabetes, children, or people recovering from surgery or eating disorders.
The Skinny: Borrowed from the nutritional wisdom of the 16 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, this diet emphasizes the consumption of veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans, olives, fish, lean meats and red wine.
Pros: This diet’s inclusion of foods low in sugar and rich in heart-healthy fats make it a smart choice. And its emphasis on fruits, vegetables and the occasional glass of vino make for some serious antioxidant consumption!
Cons: This diet limits dairy, so calcium deficiency is a concern. And while it encourages the consumption of red wine, be careful not to overindulge. Wine does contain antioxidants, but moderation is key. Women should drink no more than one glass a day, and men no more two glasses per day.
Bottom Line: This way of eating is best for people who are more committed to lowering their risk of weight-related conditions like heart disease and diabetes, rather than shedding piles of pounds in a short period of time. What's more, you get to ciao down on a host of meals that are as tasty and filling as they are healthy.
The Skinny: The Acid Alkaline Diet is built around the premise that meat, wheat, dairy, and refined sugars produce acid, which is bad for your body, whereas fruits and vegetables stimulate alkaline and help regulate the blood’s pH.
Pros: Fruits and vegetables are this diet’s cornerstone, which are essential components of vitamin consumption and disease prevention.
Cons: The strict, broad-stroke slashing of multiple food groups could lead to an unhealthy calcium and protein deficiency. Most experts believe the body regulates its own pH regardless of nutritional intake.
Bottom Line: Keep this diet’s modified principles — eat more vegetables and fruit, and less refined sugars — in mind, rather than focusing on the acid/alkaline your body naturally maintains.
The Skinny: The idea is to avoid anything that’s been cooked over 115 degrees, as the diet’s theory is that cooking above this temperature breaks down essential enzymes in foods. Any item not found in the produce aisle or stamped with a “raw” label is pretty much off-limits.
Pros: Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake is never a bad idea. And those who follow this diet claim to feel closer to the earth and their natural bodily rhythms.
Cons: The Raw Food Diet's omission of dairy, meat, and fish runs the risk of iron, calcium and omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies.
Bottom Line: Similarly to the Alkaline Acid diet, the Raw Food method contains some solid principles that are safer when modified as part of an overall healthy eating plan.
The Skinny: This diet focuses on calorie reduction through healthy homemade meals called “smart swaps.” Additional emphasis is placed on daily exercise and the mental aspects of dieting.
Pros: The swaps are a sensible balance of carbohydrates (57% of calories), fats (18% of calories) and proteins (28% of calories), designed to keep dieters full and satisfied.
Cons: The “smart swaps” are very precise, which might strike those who resent detailed guidelines and rigorous rules as needlessly fussy.
Bottom Line: A modified menu is just the tip of this diet’s iceberg. Its inclusion of fitness, attitude adjustment and the “Spark People” online community might seem like a lot to juggle if you’re just trying to casually cut back calories. However, if you’re looking for a healthy, optimistic support system this method might just have a certain, well, spark.
Published January 5, 2015.
Katie Lewin is a Bay Area-based health and lifestyle writer.