There are close to 40,000 diet and weight-loss related books available on Amazon. But, there were three diets that caught the attention of dietitians around Australia in 2012.
For all the wrong reasons.
In a newly released survey by the Dietitians Association of Australia, more than 230 members agreed that the three worst diets of the year were the Lemon Detox Diet, followed by the Acid and Alkaline Diet and Six Weeks to OMG.
From a list of nine popular diets, nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of the dietitians agreed that The Lemon Detox Diet was the 'worst'. This is the second year in a row the diet has received top dishonour.
The diets are of particular concern to dietitians considering another recent survey, by the Association, of 200 young women which found 42 per cent are looking to lose weight in the new year.
Around 35 per cent of women aged 18-24 years are either overweight or obese and Australians are expected to spend over $800 million in 2012-13 on weight-loss services, low-calorie foods and shakes, diet cookbooks, weight loss guides and dietary supplements.
DAA Spokesperson and Accredited Practising Dietitian, Melanie McGrice says: "Like many things in life, good health takes perseverance and commitment to a healthy lifestyle," she said. "Extreme diet measures are unnecessary and counterproductive."
Lemon detox diet
The Lemon Detox is a ten day "holistic naturopathic journey to better health," says the author Dr K.A Beyer. Or in other words, it's ten days of nothing but laxative tea, salt water 'flushes' and a concoction of lemon, water , maple or 'natural tree' syrup and cayenne pepper. It is, Beyer says, a "carefully formulated formula to provide the nourishment while supporting the body as it cleanses itself."
It works by "stimulating your body's own natural cleansing process by giving it a break from the constant work of digestion... Its purpose is to purify the body and free the system of excess fats and deposits."
Beyonce famously lost 6 kilograms on the diet for her role in Dreamgirls. She promptly regained the weight and said she would never "recommend it to anyone".
What the dietitians say
Apart from concern about cutting out all core nutrients and criticising the necessity of detoxes in the first place, Melanie McGrice points out potentially more dire dangers.
Just 24 hours without protein and calcium can do damage, she says. When we don't get certain amino acids (found in protein) and calcium-rich foods, "the body has to break down muscle tissue [to access stores], which slows down metabolism... and get calcium from the bones, which increases the risk of osteoporosis."
While slowed metabolism and depleted calcium can occur quickly, "they take ages to build back up."
It is diets such as these that result in her seeing many women whose metabolism is so slow all they need to do is "look at chocolate cake and [they] put on weight."
Dietitian Tara Diversi agrees that "your metabolism can take a bit of a beating," but says cleanses "can be OK for a week or a couple of weeks [assuming] you don't have a medical issue."
They can "act as a kickstart into a healthy lifestyle," she says but equally they can set up problematic eating patterns and be bad for body image. "people can think 'I can only lose weight if I don't eat' and start getting negative about food and their body - yo-yoing and either eating crap food or nothing."
The Acid and Alkaline Diet
A diet which has been growing in popularity over the past few years, the idea is that too much acid in the body creates a breeding ground for disease. "In recent years, one of the most exciting nutritional discoveries has concerned the effect that different foods have on the body's PH levels once they are consumed," say authors of The Acid Alkaline Food Guide, Dr Susan Brown and Larry Trivieri. "Simply put, some foods create an acidic effect within the body, while others act as alkalising agents than can neutralise harmful acids."
Alkalised foods include green, leafy vegetables, bananas, avocados and oatmeal while acidic foods include some other fruits and vegetables along with dairy, most meats, caffeine and alcohol.
What the dietitians say:
While some small studies have found that restricting dietary acid can be helpful for health, McGrice says such diets simply add to confusion about food.
"Some of the foods they're getting you to cut out are really healthy," she says. "It's sending the wrong message."
In spite of preliminary research, she warns against jumping on the bandwagon too quickly, "when they can do us damage." Instead, "people should follow [current nutritional] guidelines until we have good evidence behind changes."
Diversi says that it's not bad so long as "it's getting people to eat more whole foods." But, she is skeptical of the PH balance argument. "Our bodies are actually very good at keeping homeostasis," she says. "That's our body's role."
Six Weeks to OMG
The controversial author claimed to have the key to weight-loss. He was, he told me last year, sick of "watching people pour their effort into old-fashioned diets destined to fail; and ... knowing that there were solutions that no-one had the guts to put forward."
His so-called 'solutions' involved black coffee for breakfast because it "urges fat cells to spill their contents into the bloodstream, where working muscles can then make use of it," cold showers to kickstart your fat-burning furnace and avoiding fruit because of fructose.
But, the claim that he copped the most criticism - and press - for, was that broccoli carbs are no better than soda carbs. His rationale was that carbs are carbs and our bodies can't tell the difference between chocolate cake and an apple.
What the dietitians say:
He must have a good imagination, Diversi says. It would take around "three kilograms of broccoli to get the same carbs as a can of soda," she says. "I'd put this [diet] at the top of the [worst] list."
He is correct that if we over eat carbs we will put on weight, she says. "But it's easier to eat them when they're condensed... we're not just going to overeat broccoli, but it's easy to drink two litres of soda."
McGrice is equally critical. "It's marketing hype," she says. "He must have thought 'what're the most outlandish claims we can make to get media attention?'"
The problem with such diets, Diversi adds, is that they take science out of context or say something "that seems kind of true, but is not right in the real world.
"They don't set [people] up for a healthy lifestyle. They are designed to sell."