PHOTOGRAPH BY LIAM NORRIS/GETTY IMAGES
You’re probably familiar with the infamous lemon, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper concoction popularized by Beyoncé, who used it to slim down for her role in Dreamgirls. Zoe Pickburn, now a health food blogger, tried the liquid diet once, but she only lasted 3 days. “The taste wasn’t particularly disagreeable; I enjoyed it at first, until it got boring, and I started associating it with being hungry,” she says. “I was very tired and irritable after the first day or so, which must have been horrible for the people around me.”
She says that at first she felt a sense of achievement for sticking to the unusual diet, but then her family persuaded her to stop using a simple common-sense argument: “There is no way that something that makes you feel so awful can be good for you.” (And science agrees.)
Since her Master Cleanse experiment, Pickburn has overhauled her approach to eating. “Now I’m much more about enjoying everything in moderation and eating intuitively: listening to what my body is telling me, and noticing how I react to what I eat (or don’t eat), both mentally and physically,” she explains. “It’s an ongoing process, but eating this way makes me much happier, and more confident.”
Susan Schenck was a strict raw vegan for more than 6 years, and she didn’t find the diet’s restrictions (no meat, seafood, eggs, or dairy) particularly challenging. “At the time I found it fascinating,” she says. “I had no temptation to eat meat, nor did I miss it. Though I did miss dairy, I ate nut cheeses instead, and I felt relief from sinus issues, colds, and constipation.” She even wrote a book promoting the diet that made the Amazon bestseller list in 2009.
But when Schenck’s memory started to get fuzzy around age 52—”I felt like I was getting early-stage dementia”—she knew something was seriously wrong. She discovered that she was deficient in vitamin B12, as well as the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Found mostly in fatty fish and eggs, DHA is essential for brain function. “Many think by eating seeds (like chia, hemp, and flax), the omega fats there will convert to DHA,” Schenck says, “But the conversion rate is very low for most.”
That was the end of Schenck’s raw vegan diet, and the inspiration for her follow-up book: Beyond Broccoli, Creating a Biologically Balanced Diet When a Vegetarian Diet Doesn’t Work. Her story is a good reminder that no matter what kind of diet you’re planning to try, you should talk to your doc first to make sure it supplies the nutrients necessary to keep your body running.
As a teenager trying to lose weight, Molly Carmel, LCSW, founder and director of The Beacon Program, experimented with weight-loss shakes like Slimfast. “They actually tasted good, but it’s like 16 ounces of a shake, how healthy can that really be?” she says.
Drinkability aside, the shakes took a toll on Carmel’s health and self-confidence. “I felt terrible, tired, hungry, and irritable, not to mention the impact it had on my social life,” she says. “I remember I’d bring a shake with me to high school, so everyone was eating their cheese doodles and sandwich, and I was sipping my shake. It really impacted my eating disorder and defined me as that kind of person, so different and a little broken.”
Now, when Carmel sees clients drinking shakes to slim down, she coaches them to try meal plans that they can maintain over the long-term, rather than crash diets. “The thing about shake diets, like Medifast, is that you get such great results from them initially, but it’s like the Holy Grail, and you can never get those results again,” she says. “You start to believe that’s what accurate weight loss is: 5, 6, 8 pounds a week. But it’s unhealthy and not sustainable.”
When she stopped competitively dancing, Monica Auslander, MS, RD, LDN, gained 15 pounds. So she turned to the popular three-phase South Beach Diet, which starts with the elimination of most carbohydrates, some of which are reintroduced in Phase 2. “I was having visions of dancing potatoes,” Auslander says. “I was practically sobbing into the allowable ‘dessert’—ricotta cheese, Splenda, and cocoa powder.”
Though Auslander admits that because she was a teenager at the time, she wasn’t very well equipped to get creative with carb-less meals, she hasn’t forgotten how sluggish her body felt. Now she doesn’t believe in diets at all, only consistent eating patterns, and cautions clients against South Beach.
“It’s not mindful, intuitive, or realistic, and limits fiber, B vitamins, and amazing antioxidants and phytochemicals from fruits,” she says. “Diet restriction is never necessary—that’s what leads to overindulgence. I think there is a time and place for cutting things out of your diet, but this first phase of the diet was just too restrictive, unrealistic, and didn’t set the tone for healthy, sustainable eating habits.”