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Fad Diets - The Breakdown

Fat loss programs have become increasingly popular over the last several years. The rise of fat loss programs has developed alongside the rise of obesity throughout the world, specifically in the United States. Some of the most popular fat loss programs to arise have been Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and the South Beach diet. All of these programs are based on the goal of losing weight, but often show little hope for sustainability, a healthy nutrient profile or supporting intense training.


            The Jenny Craig diet focuses on “volumetrics.” This is a nutritional approach where clients are encouraged to eat high volume, low calorie foods to increase satiety. Some of the strategies listed under this approach include, eating high water/fiber content foods, consuming appetizer salads or soups as well as large amounts of non-starchy vegetables. All of the meal plans within this program are based on the DRIs (Dietary Reference Intakes) issued by the Institute of Medicine in 2006. Based on these references, each meal plan ranges from 1,200 – 2,300 calories/day, while each meal consists of 45-60% carbohydrates, 20-30% protein and 20-30% fat. Although this program offers a wide variety of pre-made foods, the portion sizes remain small and the nutrient profile is weak.

            Many of these pre-made meals are filled with high glycemic carbohydrates and processed low-fat cheeses. This portioning, along with little guidance on nutrient timing, inability to customize plans and overall low calorie consumption makes the Jenny Craig diet a poor supporter of intense training. Aside from the weak nutrient profile, this program is not sustainable because it requires clients to continuously order these specialty pre-made meals, and offers little help for differentiating between the imitating low calorie foods ordered versus the same foods made at home.


            The Weight Watchers diet focuses on a points based system. In this program, clients are given a maximum point value based on their age, weight, height and weight loss goals. Then, each food is given a representative point value in a chart where clients can freely fill in their points as they wish. Similar to the Jenny Craig diet, this program offers little chance of sustainability. By allowing already overweight clients to freely choose their foods from a chart, it is likely the majority of them will choose small amounts of unhealthy foods. In this situation, the client may lose an initial small amount of weight, but it is likely that the majority of weight will come from lean muscle mass and weight loss will halt shortly after the initial loss.

            During this process, the client will debilitate their metabolism’s ability to process larger amount of calories and become deficient in multiple micronutrients. This makes the Weight Watchers diet a poor choice for supporting intense training. Finally, the nutritional profile of this program is weak due to its favoritism of fruit and lack of guidance for choosing foods in a meal plan. In this program, fruit has a point value of 0. This leaves a client with an unlimited ability to eat fruit. Overeating any macronutrient, especially sugary fruits, can result in fat gain. Also in this program, bread and eggs have the same point value of 2. Therefore, a client may choose to consume high levels of carbohydrates via fruit and breads, without ever consuming the needed protein, fats or micronutrients found in eggs.


            The South Beach diet is different from the other fat loss programs listed above. This program has three phases. In phase one, clients consume an overall low carbohydrate meal plan. This phase limits the consumption of all processed carbohydrates, starchy vegetables and completely removes high glycemic carbohydrates from the diet. After two weeks in phase one, clients begin phase two where small portions of starchy carbohydrates are allowed in the meal plan. Finally, clients are able to enter phase three, which has no restrictions to food consumption. Overall, the South Beach diet is sustainable for dedicated clients. The first phase of this diet is extremely low carbohydrate. This causes clients to go into ketosis, where the body converts protein consumed into glucose for energy. This phase may leave clients feeling nauseated, dizzy and/or cause headaches. The weight loss seen during this timeframe is likely to consist of mostly water and lean muscle mass. However, the fact that there are several following phases, which implement the use of carbohydrates and eventually remove all food restrictions, leads to this program’s sustainability.

            The nutrient profile of the South Beach diet is significantly better than the previous two programs. This diet offers a variety of nutritious foods including a wide range of vegetables and lean proteins that can be purchased anywhere. Finally, besides the initial two weeks of low carbohydrate consumption, this diet generally does support intense training. Throughout the second and third phases of this program, clients do not need to count calories and therefore are able to consume the proper amount of calories and nutrients, specifically carbohydrates, necessary to support intense training.

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