The new year often brings a desire for change, and for many people that change is health-related. Thousands of diets promise to help you shed weight, but if Google’s top annual searches are any indication, people in the United States are interested in a few trendy methods.
The Mercury pulled the most-searched diets of 2019 and asked local dietitians for their take. Jordan Chen, a consulting dietitian with Manhattan Medical Group, and Kristi Sanders, a dietitian at Hy-Vee, share what works, what’s bogus and how to maintain a more healthy lifestyle.
Intermittent fasting diet
This diet comes in different forms, but the idea is to avoid eating for a certain period of time each day and then eat only during a particular window, which gives the digestive system a break and for most people limits the number of calories they ingest. For example, someone may fast for 16 hours and eat within the next eight. Sanders and Chen said there is merit to this weight-loss method, but more research is still being done.
“When we are not constantly bombarded with having to digest food, we can focus on other healing priorities of the body, such as cell regeneration and ‘cleaning house,’” Sanders said in an email. “Fasting can potentially help tap into the body’s ability to burn fat stores due to a depletion of glucose, making it helpful for anyone struggling with stubborn weight loss plateaus. Sometimes it can be that extra edge for someone who is already eating a healthful diet.”
Dr. Sebi diet
This diet is controversial for a number of reasons. For one, the man behind it, a self-educated herbalist, the late Alfredo Darrington Brown, was not a medical doctor nor held a doctorate.
He claimed that disease comes from mucus build-up in the body, which occurs when the body becomes acidic. Brown said eating certain types of foods, along with his supplements, can help your body detoxify and become more alkaline.
The guide includes a limited list of fruits, vegetables, grains and other plant-based foods to eat from, and users are not supposed to stray from it.
Chen said she thinks the diet seems too restrictive, lacking in certain nutrients and makes “bogus” claims.
“You can’t make yourself alkaline by only eating certain foods,” Chen said. “Your body is in a natural pH anyway, so you can’t eat certain foods and change that, otherwise your body’s not in homeostasis. That’s kind of a bogus thing to promote.”
Chen said the general premise of a plant-based and whole-food diet is OK, but wouldn’t recommend it as a cure-all.
The “Noom diet” isn’t so much a diet as it is a paid health app. It helps users track meals, access workout guides, set goals and more. While it does provide eating plans, Noom essentially encourages eating nutrient-dense food and breaks down food in three categories: green, yellow and red.
Green includes conventionally healthy foods like fresh produce, egg whites and nut milk; yellow involves foods, mostly proteins and starches, that you should moderate, including beans and poultry; and red includes foods you should limit like pizza and processed junk food.
Chen said the food category breakdown seems like a reasonable plan but recommended people not get too caught up in all the features and guidelines of health tracking apps.
“I wouldn’t get overly obsessed, but apps can be a good tool for weight loss tracking,” she said. “If you’re just trying to watch what you eat, you can try an app and see if it works for you.”
This diet is exactly what it sounds like — users are supposed to consume about 1,200 calories a day to lose weight. An average adult should typically eat 1,500 to 2,500 calories a day, Chen said, and people’s calorie needs can vary greatly, so she wouldn’t blanket recommend this diet to anyone.
“For some people, like a teenager, an athlete, or if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, I would definitely not recommend 1,200 calories a day,” she said. “(Calorie intake) depends on your age, weight, activity level and all these different things. I would say ask your doctor or registered dietitian or plug in your information (in an online calculator) to at least get a good idea of how much you should be eating. I wouldn’t follow 1,200 calories off the bat without at least researching first.”
The GOLO diet (nothing on its website explains its name) focuses on balancing hormones as it says an imbalance can trigger stress and anxiety, which leads to fatigue, hunger and poor sleep, which leads to overeating. The details of the diet plan aren’t accessible without purchasing a membership, but users say the diet recommends typical healthy foods like produce and lean protein in conjunction with exercise.
GOLO also encourages users to try its accompanying “Release” supplement, which it claims optimizes blood sugar and insulin regulation, balances hormones, extends hunger and controls cravings.
“Anything where they’re trying to sell a product, especially for weight loss, kind of raises red flags because you don’t need supplements to lose weight in any situation,” Chen said. “The concept (of the meal plan) itself seems like it would work, but you don’t necessarily have to pay money for that. You can do that on your own.”
Chen said the average person doesn’t really need to control their hormones that much, so she would not recommend the GOLO plan in lieu of a general healthy and balanced diet.
This intermittent fasting plan was developed by “Real Housewives of Orange County” star Heather Dubrow and her husband Dr. Terry Dubrow, a plastic surgeon who stars on “Botched.”
It has three phases that focus on whole foods, featured in sample meal plans, and restricting calories.
The first phase is a “metabolic boot camp” of 16-hour fasting and an 8-hour window of eating. The second phase’s fasting time is tailored to however long it takes you to get to your goal and the third phase is maintenance.
Chen said the Dubrow diet raised red flags based on the amount of restrictiveness, though she is a proponent of whole foods over processed foods.
“If someone is looking into these diets, take it with a grain of salt and tailor it to your lifestyle,” Chen said. “Keep it as a vague guideline, but do your research and tailor it to your life. Keep in mind that it’s never black and white. You don't have to follow something 100%.”
Created by celebrity nutritionists, this diet is famous for not just allowing red wine and chocolate but actively encouraging it.
It incorporates foods that supposedly increase your body’s level of sirtuins (SIRTs), which are a set of proteins that help regulate functions in your body like metabolism and inflammation, as well as calorie restriction.
Chen said some of the recommended sirtfoods have good-for-you antioxidants and phytochemicals, but that inclusion won’t necessarily be a cure-all for any ailments.
“Again, this kind of set off red flags for me because I don't think foods that you eat are going to have that big of an impact for all of the expression of the proteins in your body,” Chen said.
As attractive as some weight loss plans may appear, dietitians warn about trying the latest fad without doing research and consulting a qualified health practitioner.
“People are drawn to diets because we want the ‘quick fix,’ typically because we’ve waited until a health issue has gotten too far out of control and need to move quickly to turn things around,” Sanders said. “An important concept to really think about is how much easier it is to prevent something than it is to reverse it. Prevention comes from consistently making healthful choices most of the time, over time.”
Chen said people should focus on changing health habits that can easily be changed before taking on more. For example, you can start taking regular walks or drinking more water daily.
“It’s easier to change your behavior if you start small and add to it,” she said.
Ultimately, Sanders and Chen said weight loss is not something that can be achieved overnight, and diet and exercise plans should be customized for each person. Sanders said generally labeling something as a diet does not mean it is a sustainable or a long-term fix.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to eating whole foods and moving your body in a healthful way,” Sanders said.