Fad diets: dangers to avoid

There are certain characteristics of slimming diets and weight loss regimens that you need to be on the lookout for. Find out what they are before you take things too far.

There are characteristics of slimming diets and weight-loss regimens which you need to be on the look out for, namely insistence that you must take certain pills or powders to make the diet work and warnings that the diet should only be used for short periods and/or that you need to stop if you develop certain symptoms.

Use of pills and potions

Many of the ‘Wonder Diets’ which are flooding the South African market are sold in conjunction with slimming aids such as pills, powders, herbal teas, and ‘fat-burners’. The producers of these slimming aids insist that you must use their products together with the diet they prescribe to achieve the desired weight loss. If you stop to think a moment then you will realise that this is just a ploy to get you to fork out money for the pills, etc. The diets associated with this sort of marketing strategy are usually unbalanced, highly restrictive and/or bordering on starvation.

The slimming products associated with these diets usually contain one of the following ingredients:

a) Epinephrine or an epinephrine-derivative

Any slimming pill or liquid which contains epinephrine can cause a whole host of side-effects such as insomnia, restlessness, anxiety, tremor and palpitations. One of the most unfortunate side-effects is that the appetite-suppressant effect tends to wear off over time, so you either get no result or start taking higher and higher doses to achieve the same effect. This is not a desirable scenario and should be avoided.

b) Diuretics

It is sometimes difficult to work out if a slimming pill contains a diuretic, but you will notice that you need to urinate much more frequently when using such products. The uncontrolled use of diuretics can also have harmful side-effects such as dehydration, and loss of valuable water-soluble vitamins and minerals resulting in problems such as potassium and magnesium deficiencies. You can imagine that in the long-run the indiscriminate use of diuretics will harm your health.

c) Laxatives

If the pills you are taking make you run to the toilet all day long and cause diarrhoea, then you know that one of the ingredients is a laxative. Once again such laxatives can have negative side-effects such as loss of vital vitamins and minerals, and also of normal bowel function. This is a no-no and should be avoided.

Cautions and restrictions

The moment you read the instructions for a Fad Diet and see that there are any cautions or restrictions associated with its use, the danger signals should start flashing. An ideal slimming diet should not be harmful and also provide you will all the nutrients you require so that you can basically eat the prescribed foods for the rest of your life. In addition, all the members of your family, including children, should be able to eat the same diet as you are eating to lose weight, but just use larger portions. This is the acid test of any slimming diet.

There has recently been an advertisement for a slimming diet, which cautioned users not to continue for more than two weeks at a time and not to repeat the diet within a six month period. Statements like that are all danger signals. Ask yourself why these cautions should be included. Could it be that by using such a slimming diet you will be endangering your health and the authors are trying to cover themselves against comebacks? If you use their diet and it causes harm, then they can always turn round and say, “Well we warned you not to use our diet for longer than 14 days. It’s your fault that you did not follow our instructions”.

Even more scary are diets which tell you to stop using them if you experience symptoms like fainting, headaches and nausea. This kind of instruction should make you stop and consider just what you are letting yourself in for.

So be on the look out for the many dangers that are associated with Fad Slimming Diets. By using them you could be endangering your health and there is no guarantee that they will help you to lose weight in the long-term.

- (Dr IV van Heerden, registered dietician/DietDoc)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc

(Health24, updated December 2010)

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
28% - 9937 votes
72% - 25974 votes