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4 Crash Diets -- Tested
The Paleo Solution
The Diet: Paleo Solution proponents believe that our early ancestors' whole-foods diet is healthier than our modern (superprocessed) regimen. That means no chips or cookies or even prepackaged "healthy" foods, like yogurt. Instead you eat three to four meals daily of four to eight ounces of lean protein (chicken, turkey, or seafood), raw or lightly cooked vegetables, and healthy fat (oils or nuts). Daily caloric intake hovers around 1,200 to 1,400.
The Tester: The Sweets Addict, Christian McKenzie, 29
"My weakness is cookies and cake," Christian admits. When she noticed that her energy was low and she had put on about seven pounds, she joined a gym and started reducing portion sizes. Christian stopped gaining but didn't drop any weight, so she needed to kick things up a notch.
The Paleo Solution: Results
On the Paleo Solution, Christian lost seven pounds in one month by eating whole foods.
Before: 166 pounds
After: 159 pounds
What Worked: "I learned that fruits and nuts are more satisfying than chips. I don't feel weighed down after meals, and I'm not hungry — that's a first! The plan got easier when I found a prepared meal that meets Paleo guidelines: the grilled salmon with fresh corn salad from Whole Foods Market."
What Didn't: "I struggled with the lack of processed carbs, though I didn't crave them after a week, just as the book promised. The recipes are simple, but most take advance prep. That means if I'm traveling or too busy to pack a lunch, I'm in trouble. The worst part? No desserts. I can't do without a treat here and there, so I allow myself one a week."
The Pro's Take: "Eating more fruits and vegetables and less processed food is great," says Renata Shiloah, RD, director of nutrition at the Comprehensive Community Health Center in the Bronx, New York. "But the plan is hard to follow over the long run, because it's low-calorie and restricts grains. Eating so few carbohydrates could cause headaches or fatigue." Her advice: Supplement Paleo with complex carbs, such as sweet potatoes or beans.
The Raw Food Cleanse
The Diet: The Raw Food Cleanse is a three-, seven-, 14-, or 28-day plan that claims to reset your digestive tract. It's based on the theory that cooking depletes foods of nutrients, so you should eat fruits and vegetables in their raw state. There are recipes for fruit and vegetable juices, soups, and salads. Daily intake is around 1,200 to 1,400 calories, estimates Andrea Giancoli, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
The Tester: The Social Butterfly, Sarah Davis, 34
Sarah, who wants to drop 15 pounds, knows her restaurant habit is out of control: "My friends and I go out all the time," she says. When she's home, she rarely preps healthy meals.
The Raw Food Cleanse: Results
Just a few days into the Raw Food Cleanse, Sarah was already sick of produce. And she didn't lose any weight.
Before: 148 pounds
After: 148 pounds
What Worked: "Smoothies — a pint of strawberries, half a pint each of blueberries and raspberries, and coconut water — were filling and easy to make for breakfast."
What Didn't: "I've never thought so much about food — planning, chopping, and blending — yet I was always starving by the end of the day. You really need a juicer, but I wasn't willing to spend the money, and the recipes call for pricey exotic ingredients, like crystal manna flakes. I quit after four days, because I didn't like the lunch and dinner options — for instance, juice made with spinach, celery, and apples. My social life
was nonexistent. You try nibbling avocado and tomato while your friend downs margaritas and fish tacos!"
The Pro's Take: Upping your produce intake is a good thing, but a balance of raw and cooked is best. Cooking makes it easier for your body to absorb certain nutrients, like lycopene in tomatoes and carotenoids in carrots. "To make this cleanse healthier, you need to add a substantial lunch of lean protein, cooked veggies, and whole grains, like a tofu and veggie stir-fry with brown rice," Giancoli says. As for the claim that a raw diet resets your digestive tract? "It doesn't need resetting. With a diet of juices, it becomes a couch potato," she explains.
The 17-Day Diet
The Diet: According to the doctor who created the plan, it takes 17 days for your body to recognize a diet as a habit and slow your metabolism in response. He claims that three 17-day cycles keep your metabolism revved. The first cycle allows about 1,200 daily calories of unlimited lean protein, nonstarchy veggies and, early in the day, two low-sugar fruits. In cycle two you add two healthy carbs and alternate 1,200- and 1,500-calorie days. In the third cycle, fruit's okay anytime, as is one alcoholic drink a day. To maintain, you follow these rules during the week.
The Tester: The Foodaholic, Dawn Menkes, 38
"I'm hungry all the time," says Dawn, who has tried dozens of diets, all of which left her starving. With a busy schedule and two kids, she is constantly on the go and looking to lose 10 pounds.
The 17-Day Diet: Results
Despite the 17-Day Diet's wacky rules, like no fruit after 2 p.m., Dawn dropped 10 pounds in a month.
Before: 156 pounds
After: 146 pounds
What Worked: "No calorie counting — hooray! I'm not starving, because I can eat as much as I want of certain foods, such as chicken and carrots, and I can have a snack anytime; my go-to is a rolled-up slice of turkey. My favorite recipe is the pasta primavera made with spaghetti squash."
What Didn't: "The first cycle is too strict. I didn't miss grains much, but I hated the 'no fruit after 2 p.m.' rule. It's also tough that there aren't any cheat days until cycle four. I couldn't resist part of a Bloomin' Onion appetizer at Outback Steakhouse — oops!"
The Pro's Take: Science doesn't back the claim that 17-day cycles reset metabolism. "The reason you lose weight is simply that the diet is low-calorie," Shiloah explains. The restrictions in the first two cycles are unnecessary: "All fruits and whole grains can be part of a healthy diet, and it doesn't matter when you eat them," says Elisa Zied, RD, author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips. Ignoring the carb limits and sticking to a 1,400 to 1,600 daily calorie count would make the plan more doable.
The Dukan Diet
The Diet: Pay attention; the Dukan Diet is complicated. There are four phases: (1) two to seven days during which you eat low-fat protein (think chicken, turkey, fish, and tofu), drink water, and take one and a half tablespoons of oat bran a day to keep you regular. (2) Every other day, add low-carb veggies until you reach your goal. (3) Add one piece of low-sugar fruit, two slices of whole-grain bread, and one serving of cheese each day — plus a once-a-week cheat meal. (4) In maintenance, you can eat anything if you follow these rules: three tablespoons of oat bran and 20 minutes of walking each day and one pure-protein day a week.
The Tester: The Former Athlete , Emily Dull, 29
As a college cheerleader, Emily was slim. But when she graduated and started working as an event planner, she began to eat more pizza and frozen meals, stopped exercising, and put on 15 pounds.
The Dukan Diet: Results
The strict Dukan Diet emphasizes lean protein, like seafood, and very few carbs. In one month, Emily shed 14 pounds.
Before: 156 pounds
After: 142 pounds
What Worked: "I'm on phase two, and protein seems to keep me full better than carbs do. I'm rarely hungry, because the diet allows me to graze. Breakfast is two hard-boiled eggs or nonfat Greek yogurt, lunch is sliced turkey with mustard, and dinner is white fish with lemon, plus the oat bran. It's not exciting, but it works."
What Didn't: "Phase one was rough; trading cereal and greens for all protein was hard on my digestive system. I crave blueberries and watermelon, and I want them before phase three! I also miss wine, but booze is a no-no. I've cheated by having a glass a few nights a week and still lost weight."
The Pro's Take: "This is essentially a tweaked Atkins diet," says Shiloah, who disapproves of the restrictions on fruits and grains, because carbs give us energy. "There are no 'bad' fruits," she says. You need to balance protein with healthy carbs at each meal. "Half of your plate should be veggies, a quarter should be protein and a quarter should contain whole grains," she says.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, November/December 2011.