How to lose weight fast: The truth about fad diets

Disclaimer: The links to The Venus Factor and The Three-Week Diet below are affiliate links. This isn’t because I recommend them (I don’t), but if you DO decide to check them out and the sales pitch gets to you, you’ll be helping to support this site. And if you DO decide to check them out, I’d suggest checking out the Venus Factor rather than The Three Week diet – it makes less outrageous claims, seems to be more carefully thought-through, and appears generally safer. But it is targeted at women specifically, so if you’re a guy…just go low-carb and don’t check out either.before-and-after

“Lose 21 pounds in 21 days!”

“Burn that stubborn belly fat!”

“Lose weight fast using this one simple trick!”

Sound familiar? These are the types of claims made by diets like The Venus FactorThe 3-Week Diet, the lemon detox diet, or just about any other fad diet you care to think about. The most common thread between such diets are the central claim that they will teach you how to lose weight fast – but can they really do so, or are they just a scam?

low carb weight loss

The claims

If you check out diets like these, it’s pretty (very) easy to be sure that these diets must work – just look at the before and after pics! Surely they’re not fake?! (For more information detailing the truth behind before and after pics, check out this story about the secret tricks behind them). Sometimes they’re even backed up with scientific-sounding sources, along with all those customer testimonials – overall, contributing to the impression that these diets, somehow, will change your life in a way that no diet has before.

Then there’s the promises – lose 12-23lbs in just three weeks, pictures of people who have lost 50-100lbs – even with disclaimers that these results aren’t typical, the presumption is that if it happened to these people, it can happen to you. So – can it?


The evidence

The simple truth is, pretty much any diet that restricts calories is going to make you lose weight. There’s no magic formula, no secret “trick” that only this one fad diet has discovered – they all work on the basic principle that restricting calories is going to make people lose weight. And for the most part, if they’re promising some astonishing level of weight-loss, then the diet probably involves either:

a) A high level of calorie restriction (the higher the calorie deficit, the faster the weight-loss), or

b) Overinflated claims.

Of course, there’s also the third option, which is that rapid initial weight-loss is just the body shedding water weight, as in the induction phase of the Atkins or ketogenic diet approaches. In this case, the claim of rapid weight-loss is accurate, in the sense that you will lose a lot of weight very quickly, but also disingenuous because it doesn’t represent true fat-loss. Still, if you need to drop a bunch of weight quickly, it’s a valid approach.

However, outside the weight lost from water, any diet promising to help you lose around a pound of weight a day (e.g., The Three-Week Diet) is probably lying, or advising a dangerous level of calorie restriction (for the record, a pound per day is equivalent to a caloric deficit of around 3500/day…which is unlikely for the vast majority of non-elite athletes).

General recommendations for safe weight loss are around 0.5-1kg (1-2lbs) per WEEK. Far less than the claims of some fad diets. Any more than that, and you risk burning lean muscle rather than fat, which isn’t the goal.


The verdict

Rapid weight loss is possible, but only via one of two methods:

The safe: Water loss (as in early stages of a low-carb diet, cutting starches and sodium, etc.), followed by slow, sustainable fat loss. Doing something like this will result in an initial spike of weight loss, followed by (hopefully) steady slow loss. A low-carb approach to dieting can represent a genuine lifestyle change, is sustainable, and won’t make you feel like crap (except for the initial keto flu…)

The unsafe: Extreme caloric restriction. The lemon detox diet is particularly culpable here – it has you drinking lemon water (with some maple syrup), and that’s about it. Yes, you’ll lose weight, but a lot of it is likely to be lean muscle as your body frantically scrambles for energy to keep running. This isn’t sustainable, and will likely lead to a rebound effect when you stop the diet – research suggests that diets can actually lead to increased weight gain in the long term, as people come off the diet and rebound into eating more.

Overall: The most important thing when trying to lose weight is to invest in a long-term lifestyle change. Fad diets may work, but they’re unlikely to do so safely, or in the long term. By all means check them out, but do so with a critical eye as to the claims they are making – if they’re suggesting a rate of weight-loss greater than 2lbs per week, be very skeptical. On the other hand, investing in a lifestyle change (such as cutting out most carbs) not only leads to safe weight-loss (assuming you calculate macros and daily energy requirements), but is a sustainable long-term change that may be less likely to result in the diet rebound effect.


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One thought on “How to lose weight fast: The truth about fad diets

  1. What many of the most cruel “helpers” have in common is that they themselves have never had to lose 100 or 150 pounds of weight so they can actually not judge how difficult it is. The give advice on something they only see from the outside, and their advice is not only unproven but also toxic, laced with hatred and contempt.

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