Dieting 101: Introduction and spotting the scams

June 21st, 2008  |  Published in How to eat  |  10 Comments

Lowcarb diets, no-carb diets, low-fat diets, Atkins, Protein Power, cabbage soup diets, grapefruit diets, Paleolithic diets… can’t a girl just get some plain old eating any more?

Somewhere along the way, someone decided that it would be really swell to package a few basic ideas about eating, give it a snappy name like Starch Madness (say that with me, and really scream it: STARCH MADNESS!!!! AAAAAUUUGGHHH!!), slap a book together, and buy into the angst of wobbly-bottomed folks. Then that someone figured it would also be good to do the TV talk show circuit and do interviews while looking sleek, sparse, and shiny, mocking us as we sit on our comfy couch, falling asleep with one of our greasy paws still in the bucket of chicken.

I mean, let’s be honest, the world of dieting is fraught with half-truths and guilt, not unlike a cult. You just buy one recipe book, and before you know it, you’ve been indoctrinated into the Way Of The Broccoli, or the Clan Of The Calorie Combuster, and two weeks later, you’re face down in some Haagen-Dazs. Every chocolate chip in that ice cream is like another signpost of your failure. Failure to comprehend, to really stick to it, to know enough, to be good enough, to eat that perfect combination of fruit and spiderwebs which will send the fat leaping suicidally from your bootay, and blah blah blah. Next month you get suckered in again.

So, since I feel that the only person suckering you should be me, I henceforth present Dieting 101.

spotting the scams

The diet industry is just that: an industry. So they’re going to try to pry your hard-earned cash out of your little fingers any way they can. They will play on your ignorance, fear, and guilt. But sisters, I have the mongoose to that diet industry snake. Here’s how to sniff out the diet cowpies. Mmmm… pie…

1. Beware of anything with a brand name. That goes for workout plans too. There is nothing new under the sun, at least when it comes to eating, so when you see a diet with a brand name, be suspicious.

2. Beware of any diet plan that tells you you need to buy supplements. Besides a good multivitamin, you don’t need to supplement. Real food is the best supplement you can buy. Now, you may want to buy some protein powder for pure convenience, but it’s not anything special. It’s just a portable, cheap, easy source of protein that you can throw in your gym bag.

3. Beware of any diet plan that tells you you must drastically restrict any nutrient. There is one exception to that, which is ketogenic dieting, but that’s a special case and I’ll explain it in a bit. Even keto dieting isn’t for everyone.

4. Look at the overall calorie count of the diet plan. Most diet plans work short-term, at least for getting rid of a few pounds of water weight, but only because they’re a drastic caloric reduction. Once your body wises up, you’re in for a nice metabolic slowdown. More on calorie counting below. Also take a look at why diets don’t work.

5. Empower yourself to choose your own foods. Don’t rely on a diet industry to prepackage your food for you. Learn what you’re eating, and why.

6. Read labels. Often diet products are loaded with junk like chemicals and sugar. Know what real food is and where it comes from.

7. For gawdsake who cares what celebrities are eating/not eating??? Unless you’re prepared to shell out for liposuction, your own chef, and a few lines of coke, don’t bother trying to follow what Starlet-Of-The-Month is doing. She’s 19 and living on cigarettes and celery. People are paying her huge sums of money to be skinny at any cost. Get real.

8. Beware diet plans that claim to knock ten pounds off you in a week. A half-pound to two pounds of fat loss per week is the most you should aim for. Ten pounds in a week is going to be water, muscle, and maybe an ounce of fat. And it’s not gone for good. It’s just on vacation. It’s going to arrive with some more luggage two weeks later.

9. Beware diet plans which use drugs or “herbs” as the main selling point. See the crap list for more on this.

10. Beware diet plans with a one-size-fits-all mentality. Sure, some things work better than others, but everyone is different. Consider your activity level (of course you are engaging in weight training, right dahling?), age, present bodyfat levels, etc.

11. Demand to see the research. Don’t be fooled by scientific-sounding jargon. A lot of diet products and programs use pseudoscientific gimmicks to sound like they know what they’re doing. Look at the studies they cite, if they do cite any. Look them up on Medline. That may sound intimidating, but it’s worth your while to gain a basic understanding of how your body works, and how it processes nutrients. You may also find that the “studies” they cite don’t even exist.


  1. Mary says:

    May 26th, 2009at 4:02 pm(#)

    What do you think of dieting that uses the principles of Swedish fartlek for weight loss (or weight gain, for that matter); i.e., moderate calories one day, higher calories the next, alternating until goal? Because, as you say, everyone is different, the calorie allowances used would vary, according to one’s metabolic level.

  2. bandit a la mode says:

    January 22nd, 2010at 4:20 pm(#)

    I know I’m going to regret asking this, but I have just started lifting (love it) and am a vegan on nutritional and moral grounds. I get all the protein I require and eat 10 servings of veggies a day.

    Every so often (3 times a year) I do a cleanse called the master cleanse for 4-14 days. Despite the fact that you don’t eat any food, you get around 1200 calories a day. I love doing it because it changes the way I look at food, as you pointed out above, and I feel cleansed.

    Is this a really bad idea? Should I not lift while doing this?

  3. Mistress Krista says:

    January 23rd, 2010at 6:31 am(#)

    How much protein do you require?
    How do you get 1200 calories without food?
    What does the master cleanse involve? Generally the concept of “cleansing” as applied by practitioners is not physiologically accurate.

  4. bandit a la mode says:

    January 29th, 2010at 12:05 pm(#)

    Hi Krista,

    The master cleanse is a fast but you drink water mixed with fresh lemon juice, grade b maple syrup (closest to its original form and where the calories come from) and cayenne. If you drink a lot of it, you get some calories and really get cleaned out.

    My other concern is weight training while vegan, I eat about 55 grams a day – soy, beans, veggies, etc.

    Thanks for getting back to me

  5. Mistress Krista says:

    January 30th, 2010at 9:29 am(#)

    The master cleanse has no scientific basis in evidence. There is no purpose to it.

  6. bandit a la mode says:

    February 1st, 2010at 12:20 pm(#)

    Thanks Krista!

  7. Max says:

    September 14th, 2010at 6:08 pm(#)

    Hi Krista, I <3 how you stick up for science! Not always popular, but always the best way to go. Keep up the fight for reality. :)

  8. Morgan says:

    January 21st, 2011at 2:25 pm(#)

    What does everyone think of Weight Watchers? Sure, it’s sort of a creepy cult, but the points system is pretty easy to follow and seems based in good sound nutrition. I lost 40 lbs through them exclusively, and their program made me change my core eating habits enough to keep all that weight off for about four years now.

    I’m just starting training for strength and also to shed some remaining body fat, so I’m back on their nutritional plan, but open for suggestions. Thoughts?

    Awesome site!

  9. Lauren says:

    February 20th, 2011at 10:03 am(#)

    Thanks for some great, no-nonsense info on dieting!

    My 2 cents on the comment above: I’ve done Weight Watchers more than once and always lost weight easily, but found it too expensive to keep up for long.

    I found the WW meetings themselves fairly pointless, although other people get a lot out of them (my mum included!) I liked it that they encouraged a sensible low calorie and low saturated fat diet, simplifying calorie counting into points. But we all know you could diet at home for free. For me, the reason it worked so well was because, after forking out all that cash every week, I was determined to have some weight loss to show for it!

    What I really disliked was that WW is totally focused on food, with almost no mention of exercise at all (at least, it was 4 or 5 years ago when I last did it). I know that not everyone wants or is physically able to exericse, but for me it’s absolutely vital, not only to burn calories, but psychologically – it makes me feel fantastic and it naturally makes me want to eat more healthily.

    Basically, the only thing I got out of WW was the accountability that paying every week just for the privilege of standing on some scales brings. However, in future I think I’d get even more out of just eating healthily, exercising and (for accountability) doing a sponsored slim for charity.

  10. Dana says:

    April 6th, 2011at 11:24 pm(#)

    The only reason Atkins has a brand name is that it was developed by a specific person and he put his name on it to differentiate it from other low-carb plans that were being touted then and since. Anyone bothering to read any editions of his book up to 2002 (I don’t think much of the latest version, and of course he had no input into it at all since he’s been dead eight years) would know that first and foremost, Dr. Robert Atkins advocated a whole-foods lifestyle including meats, fruits, veggies, and dairy. What they all get stuck on is that 20g carbs a day during Induction. That’s NOT the totality of the diet.

    It’s ridiculous. Atkins books are usually available at the public library. Failing that, Goodwill and Half-Price Books often carry them when people give up on their various weight-loss attempts and declutter their homes of all the diet stuff. There’s no excuse for pretending to have an opinion about the diet plan if you have not even read the primary source material. Anyone here who’s guilty, and you know who you are, shame on you and you don’t deserve to be considered any sort of dietary authority.

    I am not saying anyone has to go along with what the guy said (although more and more research studies come out every day that vindicate him). I AM saying it is irresponsible to dismiss something when you know nothing about it. I bet I’ve read more about veganism from vegan sources than your average vegan has bothered learning about low-carbing, for example. Come on now.

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