There is a diet book for everything and to some degree every diet book is based on exactly the same principles (more on this below). The pictures of the diet books shown below is by no means an exhaustive list, but represents the many types of diet books marketed today. In general, these diet books fall into the following twenty categories (reading left to right on the picture):
- Good Calories versus Bad Calories
- Paleo/Primal Diets
- Detox Diets
- Brain Foods
- Raw Foods
- Ultra Metabolism/Secret code
- Food for your Body Type
- Blood Sugar/Glycemic Index
- Anti-Fat (Omni Diet)
- Optimal Nutrient Distribution
- Calorie Counting
- Specific Food Type
- Big Food/Food Addiction
- pH Based Diets
- Fasting/Alternative Day Fasting
- Another Country’s superior food patterns (not pictured here)
These 20 seemingly different diet types can be summarized as having two primary properties: 1) they attempt to maximize micronutrient density (high amounts of vitamins and minerals) and/or 2) reduce caloric intake. Micronutrient density has ZERO impact on weight loss; however, in general, if you consume foods with high micronutrient densities (fruits and vegetables) you will be reducing your caloric intake. For example: there is nothing inherently special about the “juicing diet” that will automatically lead to weight loss. For those of you unaccustomed to “juicing” it involves placing fruits and vegetables into a blender and blending these solid foods down to a liquid and drinking said liquid. Juicing proponents claim that “juicing” is beneficial for weight loss due to the associated high intake of vitamins and minerals found in the fruits and vegetables you are consuming, when in reality, weight loss is almost 100% due to a reduction in the number of calories you are consuming, not a magical property of micronutrients.
When you stop and think about it, how many calories can you possibly consume if you were to only eat fruits and vegetables (which is what many of these diets tell you to do in one way or another)? If you were to eat an entire 32 ounce bag of baby carrots you would be consuming 1320% of your daily value of vitamin A, 110% of your daily value of vitamin C, 88% of your daily value for dietary fiber, and 88% of your daily value for potassium. You would also be consuming 385 calories or to put it another way, 135 fewer calories than a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with cheese (which by the way is only 7 ounces by weight with a bun compared to 32 ounces of carrots). If you follow the juicing diet strictly, it is virtually impossible to eat enough calories to maintain your body weight. Negative caloric intake, not micronutrient content is the key to losing weight while juicing and this theme holds true for most fad diets. Maintaining this weight loss is another story and is dependent upon long term dietary adherence, something that is nearly impossible for most fad diets. Dietary adherence is another complicated issue that we will save for another day.
If you are an avid reader of my content (which I hope you are) you will notice what you may perceive to be a tired theme for my articles: energy balance. Provided you are in a negative energy balance, it does not matter what type of diet you choose to eat you will lose weight. Low carbohydrate, high-carbohydrate, low-fat, high-fat, high-protein, or any of the 20 diet types listed above, provided you are in a negative energy balance you will lose weight. I realize there are many biological, psychological, and social factors that affect what you eat, when you eat, how much you eat, and why you eat. These factors definitely play a role in energy balance, but energy balance is still the ultimate guide and the ultimate decider of whether you lose weight or gain weight.
As long as there is a demand for diet books, publishers will continue printing them and making money from them. I do not know what the next diet craze will be. Maybe it will be the “aquatic diet” where we only eat food from the oceans, maybe it will be the “small game diet” where we only eat squirrels and rabbits and vegetation they typically eat, or maybe we will eat the “tree diet” only consuming foods that grow on trees such as almonds and various fruits. Whatever that diet may be, know that it is only going to be another passing fad. Energy balance is here to stay!
Todd M. Weber, PhD, MS, RD