The answers to the following questions will raise the red flags and highlight the positive features of any diet plan you're contemplating:
Is it safe?
Watch out if the diet encourages you to take a lot of supplements that haven't been proven to assist weight loss or requires strange food combinations or extremely high levels of protein. Believe it or not, most dietary supplements sold today have not been proven safe or effective.
Most food-combining diets are so difficult to follow that you're liable to end up eating a diet that's unhealthy and possibly unsafe. High-protein diets promote ketosis, a metabolic state similar to starvation, which can be hard on your kidneys, toxic to the liver, and deficient in carbohydrates that provide essential instant energy for the brain.
Is it nutritionally sound?
A diet should include all the recommended intakes for vitamins, minerals, and protein (shown as Daily Value, or DV, on food labels). Diets that severely limit food choices or eliminate whole food groups, such as dairy, are unlikely to meet your nutritional needs.
For example, diets that are extremely low in fat can also be low in fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids, and diets that ban dairy products may be deficient in vitamin D and calcium. Make sure that the diet takes into consideration the unique nutritional needs of people over age 50.
Does it make sense?
If a diet sounds like the answer to your prayers, watch out. If it says it's going to do what no diet has ever done before, you can be sure it won't. If it claims there is a medical conspiracy preventing you from hearing the truth about weight loss, you can be sure you won't find the truth you're seeking with this diet. There is no "hidden medical secret" and no such thing as instant weight loss. Let your common sense be your guide.
Does it require specially purchased foods?
For a diet to have any hope for long-term success, it's got to incorporate foods you can buy from the supermarket where you usually shop. Short-term use of prepackaged meals is OK and can actually help kick-start some people's efforts. However, if the plan requires you to buy special foods or supplements forever, forget it.
Who's behind the diet?
Was the diet written or developed by a credentialed doctor (M.D. or D.O.) or registered dietician (R.D.)? While those credentials don't guarantee that the diet provides good dietary guidance (some of the most popular but unsound diets have come from medical doctors), they do slightly increase the odds that the diet will be a sound one that you can stick with over the long haul.
But if the diet promotes a certain brand of supplements or a particular brand of meal replacement, for example, you can be fairly certain that the advice is heavily influenced by a sponsor and not by the expert--and it's likely to be expensive to follow.
Does it promise rapid weight loss?
Rapid weight loss often means rapid regain, especially because much of the initial weight loss on crash diets is water loss, not fat. When you start to eat more normally, the pounds will creep back. Most experts recommend a slow and steady weight loss of about a pound or two each week.
On any diet you'll probably lose more rapidly at first. After the first couple of weeks the pounds are likely to come off more slowly. But if rapid weight loss continues, you're inviting long-term failure. Only slow and sure can win the race.
Is it practical?
Does the meal plan offer concrete suggestions for what you can eat as well as substitutes you can make when you're away from home? Does it allow for special occasions, eating out, and feeding other family members?
Any diet that doesn't take changing circumstances into consideration isn't worth the time or the effort. The more tips and how-to information the diet book or program provides, the better your chances of sticking with it over the long haul.
Does it require a lot of calculations?
Eating isn't a one-time event; it's a recurring activity throughout each day. Many people don't have time to weigh every morsel, keep a running log of calorie intake, or play a Rubik's Cube game of food balancing. A good diet plan should lead you through an initial phase
of educating yourself about healthy foods and serving sizes. After that, little if any number crunching should be necessary.
Does the diet make physical activity an inseparable part of the plan?
If not, say hasta la vista, baby, because you'll go nowhere. Cutting calories and losing weight without physical activity is a temporary solution, at best. Any diet plan that ignores or gives short shrift to this critical aspect of weight management is missing the boat and will set you up for weight-loss failure.
Is a maintenance program included in the diet plan?
No? Then it's like being abandoned without a map by a tour guide when you're halfway to your destination. Losing the weight is a short phase of the diet plan. Maintaining that weight loss is something you'll be doing forever.
Does the diet allow you to individualize the plan?
If you're a 150-pound woman trying to lose 10 pounds, you shouldn't be eating the same diet as a 250-pound man trying to lose 50 pounds. Make sure the diet plan lets you figure the amount of food you can eat and allows for substitutions. If the diet plan makes tofu and grapefruit de rigueur for breakfast and you can abide neither, then you have a problem.
Does the diet plan suggest you check with your doctor first?
If you plan to lose more than 15 to 20 pounds, if you have any existing health problems, or if you take medication on a regular basis, you should check with your doctor first before starting any weight-loss program.
On the next page, find out everything you need to know about choosing the right diet as a senior.
To learn more about senior health, see: