The Hottest (Wackiest) Diets: What Works?

Looking for a magic weight-loss bullet, our testers report from the trend trenches.

By various writers
trendy hot popular wacky crash celebrity diets baby food photo pictures plate
Photograph: Yasu + Junko

The Baby Food Diet
By Beth Levine

Whose bright idea was this? Media reports point to celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson, whose reps once sent out a press release touting the “TA Baby Food Cleanse” but now distance Anderson from the plan. Regardless of its provenance, the Baby Food Diet is exactly what it sounds like: You eat nothing but jars of baby food, possibly with one real meal at the end of the day, for a total daily intake of about 1,000 calories. The extremely limited menu is supposed to help you drop pounds by providing portion control while still giving you valuable nutrients. A number of svelte celebs such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Lady Gaga have been rumored to use this diet for quickie weight loss, though Jennifer Aniston, for one, has denied the reports. “I’ve been on solids for about 40 years now,” she joked to People.com.

I decide to see how I’d fare with this fad, making one adjustment: Since 1,000 calories a day is not a healthy number, especially if you exercise regularly, I aim for 1,200 to 1,500. But before I make my first trip to the baby food aisle, I consult Liz Neporent, a fitness expert and the author of a dozen books on fitness and health, including The Fat-Free Truth. Liz tells me she tried this diet for her blog on AOL’s thatsfit.com—and lasted 10 hours.

This does not bode well.

Day One
In a vaguely healthy move, I buy an organic brand of baby food. For breakfast I have Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal (6 ounces, 110 calories, 8 grams sugar, no sodium). It’s surprisingly tasty. And why not? It’s filled with sugar. Then I am off to my part-time job in a clothing store, where I dash about and climb ladders for four to eight hours at a stretch. At my 10 am break, I eat Sweet Potatoes (4 ounces, 70 calories, 7 grams sugar, 65 milligrams sodium). By 1 pm, I am hungry, cranky and headachy. When my boss says I haven’t dressed a mannequin correctly, I come thisclose to telling her to do it her own expletive-deleted self.

I am back home at 2 pm for lunch, which is Tender Chicken and Stars (6 ounces, 110 calories, 4 grams sugar, 55 milligrams sodium). It tastes like thick chicken soup that’s been sitting out too long. Mmmm, mmmm, eewwwwww. Dinner is more baby food: fruit, strained peas (memo to self: never again) and a meat thing that tastes vaguely of something that might once have lived.

 

Day Two
I am hitting the wall. Yes, I am allowed to eat quite a bit of the jarred stuff, but the problem is, I don’t want to. Food is boring when you can’t chew or smell it. I have decided I am going to allow myself a healthy, regular dinner every day (fish, vegetables, no dessert). Otherwise I am not going to last another 24 hours. And from the way I am snapping at my husband, neither will my marriage.

Day Three
Blech! Make it go away! Once again I begin my day with Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal, but this time I start gagging; the texture is grossing me out. Later on I discover that the fruits—jarred pears, bananas and apples—are too sweet to eat regularly. Neporent nails it when she says eating them is like downing an entire package of Life Savers in every spoonful. Discovery: No matter how much baby food I choke down, I never feel full or satisfied. I am lie-down-on-the-floor-and-weep kind of hungry. And did I mention the constipation? I am not consuming enough fiber, so my system is now stopped up. Babies don’t have that problem because they drink tons of milk, which helps things move along.

By late afternoon, my brain is acting as if someone poured coffee on my motherboard. I e-mail Neporent for support, and she gives me sage advice: “Go eat a turkey sandwich!” I do, savoring every chew. I’m done, that’s it—I’m throwing in the spoon.

The Verdict
After three days of torture, I did not lose weight. In fact, the scale shows I’m up a little, probably the result of water retention after consuming too much sodium and not enough fiber.

Even if I had lost, this is still a lousy diet. Baby food alone does not provide enough nutrition for an adult. “Plus, all that sodium and sugar adds up. The sugar in some of these jars may equal the amount in an eight-ounce can of soda,” says Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD, adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University and author of The Portion Teller Plan.

IMHO: Stick with solid foods. Fresh fruits, vegetables and unprocessed lean meats are better for you, more satisfying and way cheaper.

Beth Levine is a freelance writer who lives in Stamford, Connecticut.

The Hillary Diet
By Marcia Davis

Politicians may have a hard time trimming the fat in Washington—but then, they’re not Dr. Roy Heron.

Heron is the man behind what’s come to be known as the Hillary Diet. Yes, that Hillary. Though the secretary of state (and former first lady) has not followed the diet herself, Politico reported last year that she has sent others to Heron.

As the story goes, Clinton was impressed when she learned that Heron, an internist, had helped one of her staffers lose 125 pounds. She mentioned his name to her brother, Tony, and to a good friend, John Coale, the husband of Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren; each eventually lost about 60 pounds under Heron’s tutelage.

Now, says Heron, his Doctor’s Weight Loss Center is a favorite of Beltway belt busters—some of them boldface names, some of them Capitol Hill staffers—as well as pols and celebrities from outside the D.C. area.

There’s only one respectable way I can respond to such buzz. I need to check out this program for myself.

Though Heron faced his own struggles with obesity as a child, he’s now a fit, middle-aged man of medium build, and he’s made fighting fat his life’s work. I felt I was a good candidate for the center: Without getting into the meaty details, let’s say I could stand to lose more than just a few pounds.

I wasn’t looking for a miracle. Still, during the two-week trial More proposed, I was hoping to drop four or five pounds. And if my total turned out to be six or eight instead—great! (OK, maybe I was hoping for just a little bit of a miracle. But what dieter isn’t?)

Heron has two offices in Virginia, and on a cold Saturday afternoon in February, I paid my first visit to one of them: his place in Alexandria, just across the Potomac River from Washington.

As I sat opposite him at a conference table, Heron explained why two weeks on his plan wasn’t ideal and why he was participating in this experiment reluctantly. Each person, he said, has her own unique eating habits; his method includes tailoring the diet to the person. “In two weeks, I’m just getting started with my patients. I’m adjusting their diet and getting to know them, what they like to eat, their lifestyles,” he told me.

To customize the diets, Heron requires a medical history, a physical exam and lab tests. And then there’s the 40-minute interview.

Do I live alone? Yes. Do I mostly cook at home or eat out? Mixed, I said. Do I eat breakfast? Sometimes. My favorite foods? That list was long, but I absolutely love Asian cooking: Chinese, Indian, Thai—you name it, I love it. And I am deeply committed to dessert.

A day after our interview, I found a diet plan from Heron sitting in my e-mail inbox. For each meal, he noted several categories of food (for example, the breakfast categories included protein, fruit and toast) and said that at each meal I should eat from some or all of the categories; to help me do that, a wide range of foods was listed. Skimming down, I noted the diet staples we all are aware of but don’t always eat: lots of fruits and vegetables (including one of my favorites, sweet potato fries), fish, skinless chicken and quite a bit of water (16 ounces with each meal, which is supposed to help flush fat out of your body). And then there were the no’s: no sugar (because Heron feels that it increases your appetite) and no red meat or pork. Since I take cholesterol medicine, the doctor prescribed egg whites rather than whole eggs. And no Asian food: Heron had already warned me that it was problematic because of the high calorie count in curry sauces. Dessert was obviously going to be another challenge; he proposed a very limited list, with offerings such as Jell-O—definitely not my first choice.

According to Heather R. Mangieri, RD, an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman and the owner of Nutrition Checkup, the plan Heron formulated is low in total fat and saturated fat and high in stomach-filling fiber (40 grams, about twice the average American woman’s typical daily dose). The category choices offered were so numerous that I could have eaten anywhere from 1,600 to 2,150 calories a day, she calculated.

Starting an eating regimen is pretty much like starting a relationship. You’re a little nervous but giddy and hopeful. Those first few days with this new partner were good. I didn’t mind not eating red meat, and it was easy to bring fruits and veggies to work.

Then I spent five days at my mother’s house in St. Louis—a virtual booby trap of temptations, since she loves to serve treats such as German chocolate cake and lemon cookies.

I held out for two days. Then, on a Friday night, while I was babysitting my young nieces, nephews and cousins, we had pizza delivered. I was fine until the kids had all gone to bed and it was just me and the leftover pizza sitting together in the kitchen. Alone, in the dark, I ate three small slices. Worse yet, this adventure opened the floodgates of longing, and the next day I started downing sweets like German chocolate cake, which isn’t even one of my favorites, and lemon cookies, which are.

But on Sunday my sister did something wonderful. She prepared a healthy and delicious family dinner that would have made Heron proud: salad, with dressing on the side; salmon; Cajun sweet potato spears; broccoli; and for dessert, two-bite pieces of cheesecake. I appreciated her support, which helped strengthen my resolve to get back on track.

Eating healthfully became easier again once I was back in D.C. I kept my home junk food free and resumed my exercise routine. I was able to manage my work lunches and dinners with my diet in mind, too.

Two weeks was enough for me to become convinced that a Heron-
customized weight-loss plan could really work. Although I tried it for just 14 days—with no time for the doctor to personalize the diet and lots of Midwestern cheating along the way—I ended up two and a half pounds lighter. Not a miracle, but I’ll take it.

Marcia Davis is a deputy editor on the national politics and government desk of the Washington Post.

The Twitter Diet
By Pamela Redmond Satran

I should have started worrying when I saw that the guy who’d lost 75 pounds on the so-called Twitter Diet was only 25 years old. In his New York Times article, reporter Brian Stelter made the plan sound so easy: (1) Commit to tweeting what you stuff into your mouth, (2) feel too embarrassed to tell your followers that you ate jelly doughnuts for breakfast and (3) therefore lose weight.

I should have known that what’s easy for a 25-year-old guy would not necessarily be easy for me.

Let’s start with the embarrassment part. I was too embarrassed to tweet my starting weight, so I just called it F (for Fat—the truth being I was close to my highest weight ever). And while I was honest about tweeting everything I ate, the public aspect of Twitter motivated me not to eat less or differently but to focus on entertaining my 1,300 followers with my dieting mishaps.

Rather than issue a snore-inducing update like “Snuck two Doritos—oops,” I kept dreaming up more interesting tweets:

Walked to deli for roast-beef sandwich. Felt like Jared.

Succumbed to bowl of crack, uh, I mean Phish Food. Ben & Jerry belong in jail.

Like keeping any food journal, writing my tweets made me aware of certain patterns; one was named Ben & Jerry’s. Yes, I was downing too much ice cream, as well as stuff like grilled cheese and french fries. Problem was, tweeting about them wasn’t enough to make me stop eating them.

On Twitter I adopted the persona of the jolly fat girl who thumbs her nose at the world. This may have reduced any chance I had of attracting earnest but possibly effective support or weight-loss advice from my followers. According to Stelter (@brianstelter25, now with 1,900 followers), he greatly benefited from the responses to his tweets, but I knew it wouldn’t work that way for me. I was too skeptical. Why should I care what tips I received from @hotchick41? She could have been a 370-pound guy.

Defensive much? Well, yeah. Underneath my bravado, I’d hoped—just a little—that the Twitter Diet would magically transform my eating habits, but that didn’t happen. Did this diet method help at all? Well, Twitter shame may have prevented me from eating 14 cookies instead of three, but to lose weight, I should have been eating twigs and berries. Couldn’t I have turned twigs and berries into Twitter fodder? No. I can’t be funny when I’m in pain. And why suffer when Twitter was supposed to do all the work?

What Stelter’s piece didn’t mention was that if you’re going to lose weight via Twitter, you need to follow an actual diet plan such as Weight Watchers or Atkins, says Rebecca Regnier, a TV anchorwoman in Toledo, Ohio, who two years ago lost 20 pounds via Twitter (handle: @laughitoff).

“Twitter is a way to take the plan that you have and amp it up,” says Regnier, whose Twitter Diet guidance is now available on her website, Does This Blog Make Us Look Fat?. Unlike me, Regnier made the most of having online followers. “They are there at 2 am when you’re in danger of eating something that you shouldn’t,” she says, “and they provide 24/7 feedback and support—more than you can get from a weekly meeting.”

Unlike Stelter and Regnier, I was turned off rather than motivated by encouragement from strangers, and public humiliation was less effective for me than a long look in the mirror. And so, at the one-month mark, just when Stelter says he was getting the hang of dropping pounds via Twitter, I quit. Not only hadn’t I lost any weight, but I had gained: I was now clocking in at F + 2.

But my Twitter Diet wasn’t a total, uh, loss. It made me conscious of how badly I was eating and helped me resolve to find a weight-loss method better suited to my personality. Know thyself is always good advice, and in this case here’s what I know: Unlike Brian Stelter, I am not going to outfit my bathroom with a scale that will automatically tweet my weight to the world (Withings Wifi Body Scale, $159 on amazon.com). Frankly, I’d rather live-stream my sex life. But I did sign on for a sixth round of Weight Watchers, headed back to the gym and for good measure asked my doctor for weight-loss help. My current thinking is, the more tactics at my disposal, the better. But you’re not going to catch me tweeting about any of them.

Pamela Redmond Satran is the author of the New York Times best-selling humor book How Not to Act Old, based on her blog of the same name.

The Gambling Gal's Diet
By Melinda Dodd

What was I thinking? A few months ago, I bet $500 of my own money that I would drop 20 pounds in 10 weeks. I had signed up with a website called LoseItorLoseIt.com, run by two computer-programmer buddies who keep users’ money if they fail to achieve their goal of losing a given amount of weight per week. There are no donations to charity, no higher purpose—the owners just take the loot.

Would the threat of giving two strangers my hard-earned cash be enough motivation for me to shed 20 unwanted pounds? Certainly -vanity alone wouldn’t work. At five foot eight and 163 pounds, I really didn’t mind my rounded belly and bum. But I did want to boost my running performance. I’d entered my first 5Ks a few months before, and as a competitor I yearned for a more athletic, aerodynamic silhouette.

And so the bet was on.

The first day, I snapped a photo of my feet on the scale (weight clearly visible) and uploaded it to the site. If you miss a weigh-in or fail to make weight, you pay one twentieth of the money you invested—in my case, $25 for each infraction. The website doesn’t offer diet or fitness advice. Instead, it tells you to find two “accountability friends” who will monitor your progress by e‑mail and provide encouragement.

As a longtime health writer, I already know all the best ways to lose weight. So I went into the plan with every intention of following a healthful diet, one focused on whole foods like brown rice and grilled vegetables. But I struggled with making it all work on a busy schedule and on a budget. Rather than spend time cooking food and spend money buying expensive out-of-season fruit, I downed calorie-controlled microwavable meals, highly processed low-fat snacks and diet soda, all of which made me feel awful and frankly didn’t taste very good.

When week three rolled around, my scale-photo revealed that I had gained a few ounces—which meant I had to cough up $25. And so I redoubled my efforts. I signed up for salsa classes, rock climbing and a 30-day trial at a gym; I walked 10,000 to 15,000 steps a day in addition to doing regular runs. Before weigh-ins I drastically cut calories, and once I went an entire day without eating. My life became a blur of endless walks and guilt-filled meals. I was constantly anxious about meeting my two-pounds-a-week requirement.

Sofia Rydin-Gray, PhD, a clinical psychologist with the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina, isn’t surprised that the diet consumed me. “Competitive people may go to great lengths to lose weight. It’s very reinforcing to make those numbers go down on the scale,” she says. “But what happens after 10 weeks, when your external motivation is gone?” Good question. But in the short term, LoseItorLoseIt.com did seem to have the upper hand: As of press time, 62 percent of the site’s users had met their weekly weigh-in goals.

I was impressed—and afraid I would not do as well. I found the program spirit sapping, and by week six, despite losing five pounds, I felt as if I couldn’t keep it up. I’d thought I could reduce calories drastically and skate by, but that, I now realized, wasn’t serving my original goal, which had been to get in better shape. To do that, I needed to eat food that would nourish me on every level. So in week seven, I realigned my diet. I started eating fresh foods (such as skinless chicken breasts, grilled sweet potatoes and asparagus for lunch), with fewer preservatives, and nixed salt, sugar, diet soda and other nutrition-empty foods. I made sure to eat regular meals with an energizing mix of protein and vegetables, sticking to 1,200 calories a day (and faithfully recording my food intake on thedailyplate.com). And I stopped being so cheap. Good food often costs more, and I finally accepted that the expense is worth it. For exercise, I signed a yearlong contract with a gym. Most important, I slept more.

After I made those changes, I was less tired, less cranky and less resentful of the program. I stopped worrying the night before a weigh-in about what would happen on the scale the next day. Once I started to treat my body better, the weight loss started to happen regularly. Soon I was dropping two pounds every week.

By the time I wrapped up in week 10, I weighed 150 pounds—a 13-pound loss. Not the 20 I’d aimed for initially, but the fact was, I’d moved a needle I had long thought was stuck. Overall cost: $75, for three flubbed weight goals.

And here’s the ridiculous part. It took losing money for me to realize that the expert advice I’ve known all these years actually works.

Melinda Dodd is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Next: Celebrity Detox Diets

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First Published Wed, 2011-05-11 08:52

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