It is pretty typical to feel pressure to lose weight. Whether you’re looking forward to a big day, like your wedding or next beach vacation, or you’ve just welcomed a new baby and want to “bounce back,” you’re certainly not alone if you want to drop some pounds. In fact, over half of the American population—53 percent to be exact—has dreams of losing weight, according to a 2016 Gallup poll.
Of course, it’s one thing to want to lose weight and another thing to make it happen. Weight loss is simple in theory, requiring burning more calories than you take in each day. In practice, it is much more difficult.
Between finding the time for exercise, sticking with strict nutrition plans and preparation of unprocessed foods, it makes sense that so many people are looking for an easy fix to their weight loss woes.
It isn’t all that uncommon for both men and women to turn to a diet that promises quick weight loss, but these fad diets seem to be specifically targeted at women. There are so many out there that make big promises of quick weight loss, but can they deliver on those promises? And exactly how healthy is it to embark on intense weight loss plans?
We put some of the most bizarre modern diets under the microscope, taking a close look at what they promise, what they deliver, and any side effects that may come along with the diet. Here’s what we found out.
1. The HCG Diet
The Promise: This approach has been around for half a century but has recently regained popularity as a fast way to shed pounds. The HCG diet promises rapid weight loss through calorie restriction and supplementation with a synthetic version of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone that is naturally produced by pregnant women. This diet is based on research that linked the presence of high HCG levels with loss of belly fat.
Users are encouraged to follow a very specific protocol, beginning with a “fat-loading” phase of a few days that is followed by up to 40 days of eating less than 500 calories a day, all while taking HCG drops three times daily.
The Results: You might be surprised to hear it, but this diet actually does work in the sense that those who follow the extreme protocol will lose weight. The truth is, any time you cut your calorie intake, you are going to experience weight loss.
Still, there isn’t any research to support the idea that taking an HCG supplement contributes to weight loss success, according to the Journal of The Academy of American Nutrition and Dietetics. The journal also raises other concerns, pointing out the nutritional inadequacy of an extreme, low-calorie diet and just how difficult it is to maintain for the long term.
2. The Master Cleanse
The Promise: Cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and maple syrup, oh my! These three foods are the bedrock of the Master Cleanse, also known as the lemonade diet. Over the course of 10 days, dieters are instructed to drink a tonic made from these three ingredients, combined with water, and then take a specific laxative before bed.
The creators of the cleanse promise that anyone who commits to this diet plan will see quick weight loss due to the metabolism-boosting effects of the ingredients along with healing of the digestive tract.
The Results: Any success experienced on the Master Cleanse can be attributed to extreme calorie restriction. The reality of this diet is that it is what Dr. Ed Zimney, columnist at Everyday Health, calls a “starvation diet.”
He insists there is nothing special about the suggested ingredients, except that the maple syrup provides just enough sugar to keep your body going for 10 days. Zimney didn’t have anything positive to say about the diet, noting that he believes any weight loss experienced would be reversed as soon as the user reintroduces typical foods and that long-term maintenance of this diet could be deadly.
3. The Baby Food Diet
The Promise: If you’ve ever snuck a taste while feeding your baby, you know that jarred baby food isn’t the most flavorful meal. The blandness of baby food isn’t enough to scare off committed dieters, apparently, since an entire weight loss plan exists that encourages women to eat tons of jarred food for days on end.
The baby food diet is an unofficial program that suggests substituting breakfast, snacks, and lunch with jarred baby food as a means of cutting calories and controlling portion sizes.
The Results: Similar to many other fad diets, the baby food diet works in the sense that it allows dieters to restrict their calorie intake.
However, jarred baby food simply can’t meet the complex nutritional needs of an adult, according to WebMd. Following this diet for an extended period will likely result in nutritional deficiencies.
4. The Cabbage Soup Cleanse
The Promise: Losing 10 pounds or more in a single week is the enticing promise made by the cabbage soup cleanse. This is a low-calorie, high-fiber diet characterized by a very methodical day-by-day nutritional guide.
Dieters are discouraged by the diet’s creators from following this weight loss method for any longer than seven days, as they don’t believe it is a sustainable long-term plan.
The Results: One positive attribute of this diet is that the creators are fairly up front about the limitations of the diet. They admit on their homepage that the cabbage soup cleanse can’t be maintained for the long term and should be discontinued at day seven.
Unfortunately, even though this diet does result in weight loss, it probably won’t deliver a long-term change. Dieters are encouraged to eat under 1,000 calories a day and will lose weight very quickly but will also gain it back as soon as they return to a typical diet, according to Dr. Melinda Ratini of WebMd.
5. The Prayer Diet
The Promise: This weight loss plan is less of a diet and more a plan to pray for help to lose weight. The prayer diet promise originates with a website called Prayers for Special Help.
Readers are encouraged to use pre-written prayers—such as a prayer to resist cravings—to aid them in their weight loss goals. These prayers are intended to provide dieters with the extra strength they need, through connection with God, to commit to making changes to their lifestyle.
The Results: Of course, prayer alone won’t help you lose weight, but connecting to a higher power as a means of making lifestyle changes actually isn’t a bad idea.
Research has shown that meditation is helpful for those who want to lose weight because it helps individuals to set their intention on their goals each day. One could argue that prayer has the same effect and that by engaging in daily prayer about weight loss, individuals may become more motivated to achieve their goals.
6. The Cookie Diet
The Promise: Finally, a diet exists that promises lots of my favorite food and weight loss at the same time! The cookie diet is a low-calorie diet that is both high in protein and fiber. Dieters can’t eat any cookie they want, of course.
Instead they must purchase cookies created specifically for this program. Instead of meals for breakfast and lunch, dieters eat these cookies, which promise to keep hunger under control and achieve weight loss results. For dinner, a typical, balanced meal is encouraged.
The Results: Even though you will lose weight if you follow the cookie diet guidelines, you shouldn’t expect to be able to maintain the weight loss for the long term.
The real problem with diets that require purchasing pre-packaged foods, according to WebMd, is that dieters don’t learn how to make real lifestyle changes. Because of this, as soon as you are through with the diet, you won’t have tools for maintaining a healthy lifestyle moving forward and will likely gain any weight back.
Simply because these fad diets aren’t the right choice for sustainable weight loss that doesn’t mean you should give up your goals for a healthier lifestyle. The truth is, research has proven time and time again that a slow and steady approach leads to the most maintainable weight loss plan.
By honoring your body’s hunger by eating plenty of healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables you can lose weight through a healthy lifestyle you can maintain for the rest of your life.