5 Unhealthy Diets

You want to lose weight, and you want to lose it now. Oh sure, it may have taken months or even years to gain those extra pounds, but you want them gone now. Or at least a week from now. That's the mindset that leads people to embark on unhealthy diets promising rapid weight loss. Diets such as the following five.

The Lemonade Diet

Also known as the Master Cleanse or the Maple Syrup Diet, the Lemonade Diet is essentially a liquid fast meant to promote "detoxification" in addition to rapid weight loss. It's been around for over sixty years, but received a major boost in popularity when Beyonce revealed that she used it to lose 20 pounds for her role in Dreamgirls. Of course actors frequently use extreme diets to quickly lose or gain weight for a role. It's part of the job description, and the results aren't meant to be permanent. Which is a good thing because they aren't. In Beyonce's case, she gained the weight back as soon as the film wrapped.

Going on the Lemonade Diet means not eating at all. Instead of eating, you'll be drinking "lemonade." Except that this is not like any recipe for lemonade you're likely to have tried in the past. To make one serving of lemonade you combine 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of grade-B organic maple syrup, 1/10th teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and 10 ounces of filtered water. Tempted? You also get to drink salt water and herbal laxative tea. No food or supplements are permitted for the duration of the diet which is typically 10-14 days.

Of course you can expect to lose a lot of weight if you consume nothing but this lemonade concoction and herbal laxative tea for two weeks. Unfortunately most of that weight loss will consist of fluids and lean muscle mass. After all, you're basically getting no protein and very few calories. This makes the Lemonade Diet a great way to lower your metabolic rate. And while the water weight will return as soon as you start eating again, it will take months of working out to get back the muscle tissue you've lost. But until you do, your body's lower metabolic rate makes it easier to gain weight. This is why people who follow the Lemonade Diet often end up heavier and with a higher percentage of body fat. Unfortunately, many then decide it's time for another round of the Lemonade Diet or a similarly unhealthy diet plan, and the cycle repeats itself. Hence the term yo-yo dieter.

Cabbage Soup Diet

The Cabbage Soup Diet, also known as the Seven Day Diet, is another bizarre fad diet. On the first day, you eat nothing but fruit (except bananas). On the second day, you eat nothing but vegetables, avoiding starchy vegetables such as peas and corn as much as possible, though you do get to have a baked potato with butter for dinner. Day 3 is a combination of the first two days minus the baked potato. On the fourth day, you drink as much skim milk as you want and eat as many eight bananas. On the fifth day, you eat 10-20 oz of beef and up to six fresh tomatoes. Day 6 is almost identical except that you substitute as many non-starchy vegetables as you can eat for the tomatoes. And finally, on the seventh day, you have all the brown rice, unsweetened fruit juices, and vegetables you want.

You're also allowed unlimited amounts of cabbage soup (made using a specific low-calorie recipe) throughout the whole week. Obviously this is not a balanced diet, and there's absolutely no point to the strange food restrictions and combinations. How much weight you lose on the Cabbage Soup Diet depends entirely on how many calories you consume. And while some days may not provide sufficient calories, others can provide too many. For instance, if you drink a gallon of skim milk and eat the full eight bananas you are allowed on day 4, you'll be consuming in excess of 2,200 calories.

Remember that there are no magical ingredients or food combinations for weight loss. Instead of eating nothing but beef and tomatoes or skim milk and bananas, you might as well use those calories to eat a balanced diet that won't leave you feeling deprived. One of the biggest drawbacks of fad diets such the Cabbage Soup Diet is that they do nothing to change your eating habits. You obviously won't continue eating only two or three foods a day for the rest of your life (nor should you), so you'll return to your usual eating habits as soon as the diet is over and swiftly put the weight back on.

Watermelon Diet

The Watermelon Diet is often billed as the perfect diet for summer. Who doesn't enjoy a piece of fresh watermelon on a hot summer day? The fact that watermelon is also extremely low in calories due to the fact that it's over 90% water has given rise to the Watermelon Diet. In its purest incarnation, you eat nothing but watermelon all day. While originally intended as a short 3-7 day weight loss plan, some people remain on this diet for weeks at a time. Sometimes the diet is modified so you eat watermelon during the day and a small meal consisting of grilled, skinless chicken breast with vegetables (or similar fare) at night.

Watermelon consists of nearly 92% water, over 6% sugars, and very small amounts (less than 1%) of fiber, protein, and fat. In other words, we're definitely not talking balanced nutrition here. Also, watermelon is so low in calories that you could eat five pounds a day, and you'd still be consuming only 675 calories, making the Watermelon Diet an extremely low calorie crash diet. And you already know what such diets do to your metabolic rate and lean muscle mass.

Original Atkins Diet

Described as a heart attack waiting to happen by many doctors, the original Atkins Diet encouraged dieters to eat as many high fat, no carbohydrate foods as they wanted. As long as you kept your carbohydrate intake to no more than 15-20 grams a day, you could chow down on steak, bunless cheeseburgers, scrambled eggs with bacon, and pork chops to your heart's content. The Atkins Diet is a ketogenic diet (see our "Low Carb Diet Vs Low Calorie Diet" article for details), and such diets are not necessarily unhealthy. Indeed, the new Atkins diet emphasizes healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids, portion control, and getting at least five servings of vegetables a day.

Unfortunately the original Atkins diet still has great appeal due to its lack of portion control and permission to indulge in many foods that are typically forbidden when dieting. And many Atkins dieters would rather use their meager carbohydrate allowance on eggs and dairy products than vegetables. But while you may be able to lose weight (at least initially, until your body adapts to the altered metabolic state) by eating vast amounts of artery-clogging foods, you sure aren't doing your health any favors.

HCG Diet

There are unhealthy diets and then there are unhealthy diets. We would argue that any weight loss program combining a semi-starvation diet with hormone injections is tough to beat in terms of health risks. But let's start at the beginning. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) is a hormone produced in the placenta during pregnancy. In 1954, a British physician devised the HCG Diet Protocol, claiming that regular HCG injections would mobilize stored fat cells, redistribute fat from "trouble areas," and suppress appetite, enabling patients to maintain a 500-calorie-a-day diet without difficulty. None of this proved to be the case, and the HCG Diet faded into oblivion. Until 2007, when it was resurrected by infomercial king Kevin Trudeau in his book, The Weight Loss Cure They Don't Want You to Know About.

There are now a number of different versions of the HCG diet, and in addition to the hormone injections that were part of the original program, sublingual hormone treatments are now available as well. There are even homeopathic HCG drops. The claims made for the HCG Diet, however, have only gotten more fantastical. The original diet was intended for obese patients in a clinical setting and promised an average weight loss of half a pound to a pound a day, depending on how overweight the patient was to begin with. Trudeau and company not only claim that dieters lose 1-5 pounds a day, but that HCG shots prevent the loss of lean muscle mass and permanently boost dieters' metabolic rates.

There was a single, poorly designed and administered study in the 1970s that showed HCG recipients losing more weight on the 500-calorie-a-day diet than the control group. However, every study before and since has proven that HCG injections provide no benefits whatsoever over diet alone. Will you lose weight on the HCG Diet? Of course! You're eating 500 calories a day! That's a semi-starvation diet that will result in significant fat loss. It will also lower your metabolic rate and result in substantial loss of muscle mass. Additionally, HCG hormone treatments can have a host of side effects from headaches and blood clots to depression and Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS).

Tempting as they may be with their promises of rapid weight loss, unhealthy crash diets are not the solution to your weight problem. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you'll need to permanently change your eating habits. And that means you need a balanced diet that won't leave you feeling like you're "on a diet." A balanced diet you can stay on for the rest of your life.