Healthy eating habits/Are weight loss diets worth their dollar $?

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Australia's weight loss industry

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Australians are continuing to invest increasing amounts of money towards becoming thinner and healthier. Throughout 2014-2015, Australians are expected to spend approximately 603 million dollars on weight loss services, low calorie foods and dietary supplements. [1] At any given time approximately one third of people are actively trying to lose weight and another third are trying to maintain their lost weight. [2] However, regardless of these efforts we are still seeing an increase in the rates of overweight and obese Australians. In 2011-2012 approximately 63.4% of Australians were either overweight or obese, largely increased from 56.3% in 1995. [3]

Despite Australians efforts and financial investments into weight loss services we are not overcoming our battle with obesity.

What is a fad diet?

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Fad diets promises rapid weight loss and a quick fix solution to health. They work by promoting restrictive and unbalanced diet behaviours, such as focusing on consuming single foods or nutrients, or by eliminating specific foods or food groups. [4] These habits are focusing on short term changes that are unsustainable in the longer term and usually are not backed up with scientific evidence. [5]

The four main diet approaches to weight loss:

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1. Reduced energy diet

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Provide approximately 1000-1800 kcal per day with a balanced portion of energy from macronutrients, carbohydrates (CHO), protein and fat. [5] Aims to create an energy gap by consuming less energy through foods than your body burns through functioning and daily activates.

Example: Weight watchers

2. Low carbohydrate (CHO) diet

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The Atkins Diet- Foods restricted: Breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fruits and vegetables
The Atkins Diet- Foods eaten freely: Animal products, red meats, eggs, fats, oils (1)

Works by limiting carbohydrates to between 20-100g per day while allowing unlimited amounts of protein and fats. [6]

Example: The Atkins diet

Restricts CHO to 20-30g per day. Results show that low CHO diets have better results at the 6 month point, but at 12months and beyond there was no difference from low fat diets. Research has shown this diet may increase LDL (bad) cholesterol by 2-3%. [7] Furthermore the American Heart Association cautions against following this diet due to its high saturated fat content. [8]

3. Low fat

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Fat is restricted to approximately 5-10% of total energy intake. Low fat diets are usually less energy dense. As fats contain more energy per gram compared to carbohydrates and protein you generally fill up on less energy dense foods. [7]

Macronutrient Energy per gram [9]
Fat 37kj
Protein 17kj
CHO 16kj

4. Novelty diets

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Usually allows one specific food or food group and exclude almost all others. Generally very unbalanced diets which are difficult to sustain in the long term. [5]


  • The cookie diet
  • The cabbage soup diet
  • The lemon detox diet
  • The raw foods diet.

What do the results say about their success?

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Weight loss is a very complex process involving many physical and mental processes. Unfortunately there is no magical pill or quick fix solution to weight loss. While some diets promote themselves as an easy weight loss solution generally fad diets are highly restrictive and unsustainable. This often results in people feeling more disheartened about themselves than they started.

Research has compared different diets consisting of varying amounts of protein, CHO, and fats, ranging from high CHO to a low CHO and high fat diet. Results found that at the six month point all diet groups had lost an average of 6kg, and by 12 months people had begun to regain weight. By 2 years all diets had similar results with no diet being more superior to another. [10]

The total energy intake is more important than the nutrient composition in determining weight loss results. [6]

What should we do from here?

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In the US Americans are spending $33 billion dollars per year on fad diets. Instead people would be better off investing in a healthy eating and exercise plan which they can follow for the rest of their life. [5] For a majority of people, fad diets will not result in long term weight loss. Small and sustainable lifestyle changes will help to ensure long term weight management. [4]

Tips for successful weight management: [4]
  1. Balance your energy intake from all macronutrients
  2. Eat breakfast each day
  3. Keep track of your weight and keep a food journal.
  4. Exercise regularly
  5. Have ongoing support from a local weight loss professional

Where should I go for further readings of recommendations?

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  • Find your local Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) visit: Dietetic Association of Australia: [[1]]
  • Australian Dietary Guidelines summary: [[2]]
  • Fad Diets: What are they really doing to you? [[3]]


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  1. IBISWorld, (2014). Weight Loss Services in Australia: Market Research Report, Retrieved from:,
  2. Rankins, J., Williams. M., Montgomery, D & Wilton, D. (2007). Demystifying weight loss diets. Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 45 (5), 379-403, DOI: 10.1080/03670240600985498.
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2014). Australian Health Survey: First Results, 2011-12 , Retrieved from:
  4. a b c Crowe, T. (2014). Are fad diets worth their weight? Australasian Science. Retrieved from:
  5. a b c d Bredbenner, C., Beshgetoor, G., & Berning, J. (2007). Wardlaws Perspectives in nutrition (8th ed.). New York: Michelle Watnick.
  6. a b Thomas, B., & Bishop, J. (2007). Manual of Dietetic practice (4th ed.). Oxford (UK): Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
  7. a b Clifton, P. (2006). The science behind weight loss diets: a brief review, Australian Family Physician, ,35 (8). Retrieved from: http://0-;dn=362827884143825;res=IELHEA.
  8. American Heart Association. (2014). High protein diets. Retrieved from:
  9. Nutrition Australia. (2014). Balancing energy in and out. Retrieved from:
  10. Sacks et al. (2009). Comparison of weight loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein and carbohydrates, The New England Journal of Medicine, 360 (9). 859-873.