Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez issued a no-sugar, low-carb 10-day challenge earlier this year. Chris Pratt went on a Bible-inspired, 21-day plan of no sugar, no meat, and no booze. Jay-Z and Beyonce have promoted a 22-day plant-based diet plan.
The question: If all these celebrities are jumping off of the dietary equivalent of a cliff, does that mean you should to?
Not without extreme caution.
First, let me say that following a low-carb diet may help you lose weight. Cutting out added sugar for a few days might be a solid way to curb your sweet tooth and hit reset. And eating more plants is always a good idea.
But the, ahem, challenge with any diet challenge is that short-term tactics don’t work over the long haul.
“You’ve heard this a million times, but if it sounds too good to be true, it is,” says Brierley Horton, a registered dietitian in Birmingham. “The challenge with any quick fix is that it’s just that. A quick fix. If any ‘diet’ was so good about being a solution, there wouldn’t be so many diets.”
Quick-fix diets are appealing because people do lose weight on them, and they drop it quickly. But maintaining the weight you lost on the challenge will be an incredibly steep uphill battle.
You see, when you slim down fast (versus a slow-and-steady approach) you’ll lose more muscle—and muscle is a calorie-burning powerhouse.
You can stave off some of that muscle loss by increasing how much protein you’re eating, how frequently you’re eating that protein and, of course, clangin’ and bangin’ on that iron.
Gaining (or at least maintaining) muscle while simultaneously losing fat is the ultimate holy grail of the weight loss game. Quick-fix, diet challenges that are intended to help you lose weight fast, however, also often cause you to lose some of that weight in muscle.
Plus, if you gain back the weight you lost on the challenge, you can adopt a pattern of losing and gaining. The scientific community refers to this dangerous pattern as “weight cycling.” Research shows weight cycling can shorten your lifespan and potentially raise your risk of developing diabetes.
I know, I know: Who brought the fun sponge?
It’s not like you can’t lose weight without a flashy challenge issued by some celebrity. You just have to be more realistic.
“I tell patients to strive to lose just five pounds over a year,” says John Whyte, M.D., M.P.H., chief medical officer of WebMD. “And in five years they will have lost at least 25 pounds where as most of their friends will have gained weight.”
That’s how you keep the weight off, maintain that muscle, and reach your fitness goals to become your healthiest self.