These kinds of dietary treatments pose serious harm to health in the medium and long term: cardiovascular, kidney and liver problems. In addition to the so-called yo-yo effect.

With the advent of spring, the socalled bikini challenge inevitably rears its ugly head. Probably because we cover up more during the winter, it is only then that we start worrying about the extra weight we have gained since the end of the previous summer. The problem is that there are just a few weeks before summer arrives and it is time to get out our swimming costumes, as well as light dresses, shorts, etc. Even more so this year, as rare is the person who has not put on an extra kilo or more during the quarantine period.

Given this scenario, what is needed is a system that helps us lose enough weight to avoid feeling ridiculous in our swimsuit. This is when the fad or miracle diets make their appearance. Yes, those that “promise effective results in a very short space of time with minimum effort”, as defined by Doctor Giuseppe Russolillo Femenias, a dietitian-nutritionist with a PhD from the University of Navarra and president of the Spanish Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Ineffective in the medium and long term

Indeed, these kinds of dietary treatments work when it comes to losing weight in a short period of time. And Dr. Russolillo goes on: “Today we know that, for example, low-carb, high-protein diets, such as that of Dr. Atkins or the Dukan diet – which consist in avoiding carbohydrates and eating mainly food that is rich in protein – cause rapid weight loss in patients and, in some cases, this is even greater than with balanced hypocaloric (lowcalorie) diets.” Who could resist the temptation…

But you should not let yourself be fooled; rather, look for effects beyond the short term, i.e. the following six months. “When we analyze such weight loss in the medium and long term (between six and 12 months), we realize that those who went on a low-carb, high-protein diet have lost the same amount of weight as people who stuck to a balanced hypocaloric diet. In other words, they are more effective in the short term; but, in the medium and long term, weight loss is the same for both groups.” Viewed thus, it would seem that both diets produce identical results. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Miracle diets pose serious harm to the health of those who go on them. “It has been found that, in the group following a low-carb, high-protein diet, the risk of mortality from any cause, particularly cardiovascular disease, increases significantly.” But there is yet more, as Giuseppe Russolillo explains: “Kidney failure, liver failure, malnutrition, eating disorders, depression, loss of libido, hypotension, loss of muscle mass and bone mass, delayed wound healing, infertility and menstrual irregularities.” He also underscores the so-called ‘yo-yo effect’ – swiftly regaining the lost weight (or even more) – once you quit the diet. Dr. Russolillo offers data to confirm this: 90 percent of those who lose weight regain it within a year. The percentage rises to 97 percent after 18 months.

Dietas milagrosas, dietas peligrosas

Addictive and misleading

That is to say, they are very harmful to health and ineffective in the long term. And yet, a high percentage of the population has tried one or various miracle diets at least once in their life. The President of the Spanish Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explains further: “If people were diagnosed with a kidney problem or had liver pain four or five days after starting a miracle diet, nobody would follow it.” But they are also highly addictive: “They are effective in the short term, so those who go on them for the first six months of the year will have lost enough weight by the summer, and they can forget the diet till the following January…” And they start over again. 

Sticking to this routine for five years means they will have spent a total of two and a half years eating badly. Bear in mind that many of these weight-loss methods restrict the intake of certain foods that are essential for the body, such as fruit, vegetables, carbohydrates, etc.

Then, what should we do to lose weight without risking our health? The dietitian is perfectly clear: “Overweight and obesity must be understood as diseases which call for longterm treatment. Anyone who has attempted to lose weight in a correct fashion knows that it involves great effort and sacrifice. This is because overweight or obese people tend to maintain that excess weight and, therefore, face a lifelong struggle to keep a close watch on their diet and level of physical activity. It’s frustrating and that’s where these gurus see their business opportunity, at the expense of the expectations and desperation of millions of people battling this disease every day.” The recommendation is clear: patients should visit a nutritionist who can help them “plan their diet and contextualize it within their personal, family, professional and labor environment. A nutritionist is not going to indicate how many grams of each type of food to eat, nor force you to weigh each item. Nutritionists teach us how to cook and how to incorporate certain foods into our daily lives.”

Primary Care Nutritionists

A problem faced by those who want to follow a healthy diet to lose weight in the medium and long term is that they must pay for the treatment out of their own pocket. Dr. Russolillo states that “Spain is the only country in the European Union that doesn’t have nutritionists in its Primary Care system. Including them would lead to major savings in healthcare and pharmacological spending in the medium term. Politicians really must get their act together on this issue.” These professionals would not only help improve the lives of overweight and obese people. But also patients with diabetes, cholesterol and even cancer.

Dietas milagrosas, dietas peligrosas

Fundación MAPFRE is committed to healthy eating

The report Miracle Diets in Spain, produced by the Spanish Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in collaboration with Fundación MAPFRE, gives a good idea of what Spaniards know about miracle diets. It includes the results of an exhaustive survey on the awareness, attitudes, and practices related to this kind of weight-loss methods. The results are curious. 76 percent of respondents identified fad diets correctly as diets which “produce no long-term results unless you also change your habits and lifestyle.” 84 percent agreed that “the results do not last forever”, although this belief was not so widespread among the youngest in the sample, the 18-25 age group.

Close to 80 percent of those surveyed admit that going on a miracle diet is “very or quite dangerous for their health” and that “it has negative effects”. Moreover, 90 percent of the sample recognize that these kinds of diets do not work. The problem is that a large part of the population (46 percent) are unable to identify them as such.