Diets… at-a-glance explainer to what’s on offer
Relax – modern diets offer more to eat than cabbage smoothies and veg
There was a time when dieting merely involved a simple case of mathematics where subtracting cakes and adding lettuce would equal less abuse for your bathroom scales. Luckily, shifting the pounds is a lot more scientific and a whole lot less tedious nowadays. Here we look at some of the most popular diets on offer to men and women who might choose to drop a few pounds ahead of their hols …
Use the following information as a rough guide to what’s involved in some of the UK’s most popular diets. Please speak to you GP before embarking on a weight loss diet.
5:2 diet: Fasting and eating
What is it: This diet employs a principle known as intermittent fasting where you can eat normally for five days of the week, then fast for the remaining two. It’s also claimed the 5:2 diet can make you live longer, improve brain function and help protect against dementia and Alzheimer’s. Research also suggests the 5:2 regime can cut the risk of certain obesity-related cancers, such as breast cancer, while also defending against diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Make sure you talk to your doc before starting this diet.
For: It’ll be a lot easier to stay true to a diet that allows you to eat ‘normally’ for five out of seven days. This will make it more likely to succeed and help you attain and maintain a healthy weight. The additional protection it can offer against serious illness is another benefit that goes way beyond the cosmetic.
Against: Some interpret eating ‘normally’ as chomping whatever they want. This is not the case and it’s important that dieters continue to make healthy choices on non-fasting days. Fasting can also make you feel dizzy, tired, irritable and give you headaches. Dehydration and bad breath have also be cited as unwanted side effects.
Verdict: It’s a simple way to cut calories that should be feasible for most to follow. There are many versions of this diet and some are safer than others – so make sure you speak to your doctor or get advice from a qualified specialist before starting – and never attempt to skip meals if you’re pregnant or have suffered from eating disorders or diabetes.
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Dukan diet: Eat and eat... just not carbs
What is it: This diet plan involves a low-carb, high-protein regime. You’ll be glad to hear there’s no limit to how much food you can eat during the plan’s four phases – but you must stick to certain food types in each of these segments. The plan revolves around 72 low-fat, protein-rich foods, including chicken, eggs, fish and turkey. Carbs are more or less banned, with just a handful of oat bran allowed. The different phases introduce new foods with the aim of achieving a gradual weight loss of up to 2lb a week. The final phase can be continuous and involves a weekly protein-only day and indulging in regular exercise.
For: Reports suggest that this weight loss can be achieved quickly, with up to 2-6lb shed in just a week. It is also a diet with a plan that isn’t just aimed at short-term, rapid weight loss, the final phase is designed to help ensure the weight stays off. The strict nature of the diet is also beneficial to some who like the rigid mealtime structure it brings. It’s also relatively simple to follow and does not involve weighing food or counting calories. Additionally, aside from keeping to low-fat, low-salt and high-protein grub, you can eat as much as you like in the first two weeks.
Against: Starting most diets will result in various unwanted side effects and the Dukan might give you bad breath, a dry mouth, dizziness, insomnia, nausea and tiredness. Other bodily hiccups you might want to prepare for include problems such as constipation caused by cutting wholegrains and fruit and veg in the early ‘phase’ of the diet.
Verdict: Experts at the BDA warn that while rapid weight loss is motivating, it is also ‘unsustainable and unhealthy’. The BDA also points out that the diet is not nutritionally balanced and needs vitamin and fibre supplements. BDA experts also warn that failing to stick to the rules could cause long-term health problems. Please follow the rules and get medical advice before embarking on any diet that involves the potential of rapid weight loss.
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Paleo diet: Eat like a caveman
What is it: Dubbed the ‘cavemen diet’, the ‘Paleo’ is made up of foods that can be hunted, fished and gathered. As a result, only those with a penchant for meat, fish, eggs, nuts, fruit and vegetables should take this route to a paunch-free appearance. As its name hints, the diet aims to reproduce feeding habits of our ancestors during the paleolithic period prior to the development of agriculture. As a result, foods such as grains, dairy, refined sugar and potatoes must remain firmly off the menu. The diet is more of a lifestyle choice in many ways, with the low-carb, high-protein regime helping to shed weight while also protecting against the occurrence of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems associated with the modern diet.
For: Dodging processed food is always a good thing, so the Paleo succeeds on this level by swapping salty slop for vegetables and fruit. Removing processed, high-calorie foods will help you lose weight while not having to starve yourself. It’s also a simple diet to follow, without the need for calorie counting to complicate matters. The diet offers flexibility, too, with plans going by the 80/20 rule that claims users will get 99% of the Paleo benefits by sticking to it 80% of the time.
Against: Sadly, our Stone Age ancestors hadn’t developed the ability to document their diet. This means the diet is based on guesswork rather than hard science. The diet encourages users to eat large amounts of meat – which is contrary to contemporary health advice – while some versions ban dairy and wholegrains that help form a balanced diet. The Paleo is impossible to follow without eating meat, fish and eggs, so vegetarians should move along now.
Verdict: The BDA says many versions of the Paleo diet ban key food groups, which could cause nutritional deficiencies unless suitable substitutions or supplements are added. The food included in the plan can lack variety, so be prepared for possible boredom pangs. The BDA says an even more successful take on the plan would be to mimic the activity levels of our ancestors.
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New Atkins diet: Like the original, but easier and nicer
New Atkins diet
What is it: This diet uses the theory that starving your carb-hungry bod of its daily bread will turn it into a fat-mulching machine that’ll eat your flabby bits from within as it snuffles for energy. This ‘new’ version of the diet is similar to the original plan, but brings a wider variety of food and makes it more nutritionally balanced. The initial two-week phase of the diet is designed to promote rapid weight loss as you munch to your heart’s content on a protein-rich diet, but with a daily carb limit of just 20g – roughly equivalent to a single burger bun. After this initial phase, the following three segments see weight loss become more gradual and the introduction of regular exercise is encouraged. More carbs are also gradually parachuted in as you work out your ideal level to maintain a healthy long-term weight. Weight loss targets are up to 15lb in the first two weeks, reducing to 2-3lb weekly in the second phase.
For: Fast weight loss will be motivating for dieters, while its ‘okay’ list of red meat, butter, cheese and cream make it a diet that appeals to men.
Against: Once again, side effects such as bad breath, dry mouth, tiredness, insomnia, constipation and nausea are all associated with cutting carbs and slashing fibre intake. The increase of saturated fat could also make you more likely to suffer from heart disease.
Verdict: This version of the diet is close to the original, but offers more advice on how to make it less boring – increasing the chance of its success. Anyone with a family history of heart disease and related conditions should consult their doctor before starting a diet that contradicts current health advice on processed meat, red meat and saturated fat. The diet is more complicated than many, but the lure of fast, initial weight loss is sure to attract.
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Alkaline diet: Celeb favourite
What is it: The alkaline diet – with celeb followers such as Jennifer Aniston and Victoria Beckham – operates on the theory that modern foods cause our bods to produce too much acid that gets turned into fat. With this in mind, the alkaline diet cuts back on foods such as meat, wheat and other grains, refined sugar, dairy products, caffeine and alcohol. It then suggests you replace these with alkaline foods such as fruit and vegetables. The diet was originally designed to help prevent the formation of kidney stones. There’s little scientific evidence to back up the diet and weight loss is more likely to be attributed to the obvious benefits of cutting back on booze and fatty processed food in favour of veg and fruit – all pretty standard weight loss advice.
For: Plenty of good advice on what to cut down on and what healthy alternatives you should be chomping. Weight loss is sure to follow for those who can successfully bin the bad stuff and embark on a fruit and veg-based diet.
Against: If losing weight by swapping bad but fun food and drink for super-healthy fruit and veg was that simple, then we’d all be giving Vic Beckham a run for her money… sadly, this isn’t the case. Additionally, your body regulates acidity levels regardless of what you eat.
Verdict: The BDA suggests the science behind this diet lacks credibility from serious research. Also, it says that cutting out whole food groups – as recommended by some plans – is to be avoided. BDA experts suggest those tempted to try this diet should go for a version that includes all food groups, stick closely to it and avoid supplements and other diet-related gimmicks.
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South Beach Diet: Food and exercise
South Beach Diet
What is it: This diet was originally created to help heart patients in the US. It dodges calorie counting and small portions by encouraging dieters to eat three meals and two snacks a day, while also following an exercise plan. If you want to lose more than 10lb then start with phase one; a two-week regime where you’ll munch lean protein, such as meat fish and poultry, as well as selected vegetable and unsaturated fats. Low-GI carbs are returned during phases two and three, which encourage gradual and sustainable weight loss.
For: If you have less than 10lb to lose you can swerve phase one and head straight to part two where the food police are less brutal than in many other diet regimes. No key food groups are banned and plenty of fruit, veg and low-GI carbs are on the daily menu.
Against: If you have to dive in at phase one, the dietary restrictions might leave you feeling weak and missing out on some vitamins, minerals and fibre. Side effects can be experienced at this stage, too; with bad breath, a dry mouth, tiredness, dizziness, insomnia, nausea and constipation all possible.
Verdict: Get through the first fortnight and things will get a lot easier for anyone following the South Beach Diet. The BDA is concerned about the claims that this diet promises weight loss of up to 13lb during this initial phase, but notes much of this will be from water and carbs – which will be replaced when you return to a more normal diet. Get past phase one and the diet should provide all the nutrients needed to keep healthy as you lose weight.Also, we signed up for information and have been inundated with emails ever since.
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WeightWatchers diet: Points and motivation
What is it: Based on a points system that gives values to food and drink based protein, carbs, fat and fibre content. Strip the points system away and it’s essentially a calorie-controlled diet where you follow your personal daily allowance. How you ‘spend’ it is up to you. The diet gives you a free pass to unlimited fruit and most veg, so there’s no need to starve. The plan also involves a weekly meeting and confidential weigh-ins that give dieters some real, physical support. Expectations are kept realistic, with a 2lb weekly weight loss the optimum goal.
For: No foods are banned – just make sure you don’t exceed your daily allowance of points. WeightWatchers’ ‘ProPoints’ system cuts thought the complicated business of calorie counting, too. You can also give yourself a treat by saving up points and using them on a special occasion, such as a night out and few glasses of cheer.
Against: The points system can be time-consuming as you get to grips with the diet. It’s been reported that some people feel they’re pressured into buying WeightWatchers-branded foods.
Verdict: One the whole, experts laud the WeightWatchers diet plan for providing a well-balanced foundation for building long-term weight loss. The support group helps to keep dieters motivated, too – and helps educate about healthy eating.
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Rosemary Conley diet: Diet and exercise
Rosemary Conley diet
What is it: Rosemary Conley combines a low-fat, low-GI diet with a decent portion of exercise. Follow her recipes or buy her specially produced range of ready meals and snacks. The diet pushes punters to eat food with 5% or less fat, but with the exception of lean meat, oily fish and porridge oats. The plan is backed up with a network of Rosemary Conley clubs offering exercise and support sessions. Dieters will learn how to count calories and reduce the size of portions to help sustain weight loss once they move on. This diet is specifically designed to help shed a stone in seven weeks.
For: Prepare to embrace calorie counting, which should help ensure your weight loss can be sustained on a long-term basis. Exercise also plays a big part in the plan, with supervised classes suitable for people of all ages, ability and size.
Against: Portion pots that are central to this plan make it difficult for those on the move, so sticking to the diet is tricky when travelling.
Verdict: The plan offers a balanced approach to weight loss that educates users about portion size. It also impresses the need for regular exercise and choosing healthy food. This educational side of the plan is likely to help ensure that weight loss is long-term and damaging yo-yo dieting becomes less likely.
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Please note: You should speak to your doctor before starting any of these diets. The reviews here give a general overview of what’s involved in common diets and are not to be considered medical advice.