You probably already know that a balanced diet and exercise is the best way to shed pounds, but it’s safe to say we’d all like to take a few shortcuts when it comes to losing weight. You might think that skipping a run and simply trying one of these dangerous diets is the way to do it, but you’ll want to be careful before going to too many extremes to lose those 10, 20, or 30 pounds. You know the variation of the saying, “If it’s crazy enough, it just might work!”? In the case of most diets, “crazy” is what you want to avoid at all costs.
A general rule of thumb is to avoid any diet crazes that become mini themes in comedies — like the detox cleanse and tapeworm methods Kelly Kapoor tries on The Office. And yet, plenty of people have tried both of those methods, and others that not only put you through mild torture, but can be dangerous to your health.
“People get so focused on weight loss they are willing to do unproven and potentially dangerous things that can backfire and cause serious health problems,” Dr. Michelle May, who teaches mindful eating, told WebMD. What’s more, these “diets” often cut out important nutrients your body needs, while not being all that effective over the long term. “Fad diets often do not include exercise, and they do not teach healthy lifestyle behaviors and therefore do not cause sustainable weight loss,” Nina Eng, chief clinical dietitian at Plainview Hospital in New York, told U.S. News & World Report.
In general, you shouldn’t cut calories to fewer than 1,200 per day, and you should be eating foods from all food groups in their appropriate portions. Cutting out one too many vices, like desserts, will help you reach your goals much faster than the “miracle” diet your aunt was telling you about at your most recent family gathering. Common sense should kick in and warn you these fad diets might not be a good idea, but in case you’re tempted to try them anyway, here are the risks of some of the most dangerous diet plans out there.
1. The fasting diet
Fewer calories in, more weight loss out, right? That might be true in the short term, but all forms of fasting diets are bad news. Depriving your body of food and the nutrients in it for prolonged periods of time can increase stress, and have the reverse effect you actually want by slowing down your metabolism. You’ll also lose muscle mass you’ve worked to attain, and you’re at a greater risk for health problems including dehydration, dizziness, and anemia, among a long list of other possibilities.
Not convinced yet? When you do end your fast and begin eating food again, your body will kick into overdrive to eat as much as it can — meaning you’ll be fighting increased hunger that will likely convince you to put the pounds back on.
2. Juice diets and detoxes
These diets are sometimes considered fasting diets as well, but we’ll spell it out for you to be clear — that witch’s brew of lemon juice, water, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper will not help you look slimmer on your vacation three months from now. Like straight-up fasts, you’ll lose muscle mass and your metabolism will slow down. Plus, you’re basically just getting rid of water, not fat. If you go back to the same eating habits you had before the detox, you’ll gain every single pound back. Plus, you’ll be torturing yourself with likely consequences of fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and dehydration.
3. Cotton ball diet
Believe it or not, ingesting a handful of cotton balls soaked in orange juice, lemonade, or a smoothie is a terrible way to lose weight. In theory, the cotton balls fill you up and suppress your appetite. But aside from the worrisome lengths it takes to substitute food for puff balls in your bathroom, it’s also dangerous.
In most cases, the “cotton” balls you buy aren’t cotton, but instead are bleached polyester fibers filled with tons of other chemicals. On top of that, eating too many of the fibers can cause buildup and blockages in your intestines called bezoars, which could end up being life-threatening if left unnoticed.
4. Sleeping beauty diet
The sleeping beauty diet was founded on the idea that you don’t need to eat while you’re asleep, so if you take a strict regimen of chemical sleep aids, you’ll be able to sleep off the pounds — from the comfort of your pillow. It was made famous by Elvis Presley and was popular in the 1960s and 1970s, but this oldie isn’t a goodie. For one, most sleep aids carry the risk of becoming addictive. But if you stay asleep or sedated for multiple days, you risk muscle deterioration from a lack of movement.
5. The tapeworm diet
Suffice it to say, if your doctor prescribes medicine to ward off a parasite when you travel to other countries, you shouldn’t be welcoming that parasite into your body for the sake of losing a few pounds. Still, that hasn’t stopped people from ingesting tapeworm eggs, allowing the parasite to feed off their extra calories, and asking a doctor for an anti-worm medication when they’ve lost the desired amount of weight.
Aside from the huge ick factor of having a worm in your intestines (and really, that should be enough), having tapeworms in your system is a recipe for disaster. “Tapeworms can also cause unpleasant side effects, including abdominal cramps, diarrhea and fatigue, and if they stay in your system, all those calories they’re eating make them grow – sometimes into an intestinal blockage,” Keith Ayoob, an associate clinical professor of pediatrics who specializes in weight loss at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, told U.S. News & World Report.
6. The cabbage/grapefruit diets
No, eating a constant diet of cabbage or grapefruit won’t kill you. But consuming just one kind of food and forsaking all others can lead to major nutrient deficiencies, and often aren’t that effective for losing weight long-term.
Both of these diets, which focus either on cabbage soup or small meals based around grapefruit and grapefruit juice, are age-old fad diets. You’ll lose weight initially, since all low-calorie plans will make that happen. But you should be mixing in lean proteins and carbohydrates, among other elements, several nutritionists recommend.
So, if you can’t swallow cotton balls, host worms, and stomach cabbage for a week straight, what should you do instead? If you need more structure than simply watching your portion sizes and following dietary guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, try some of the top-ranking diets out there, which have earned stamps of approval by a variety of health experts.