Lisa Tillinger Johansen, MS, RD


I’m in the process of writing my second book STOP THE DIET, I WANT TO GET OFF! It takes a look at the fad diets out there and reviews their pros and cons. Ultimately, I discuss a healthy way to eat for life. It will be available at booksellers in February 2014. For more information about the book, please go to the book’s web site at

I want to share the first chapter of the book with you. It’s hot off my computer, not a press, and hasn’t been proofed by my editors. So once my fantastic editing team does their magic and the book is published, this chapter will look a bit differently. I hope you enjoy it!



Dieting…Who Hasn’t?

“I feel like banging my head against the wall when I am asked what I think about the HCG Diet, Grapefruit Diet, or the Atkins Diet. Have we become so naïve as to believe that taking some homeopathic HCG drops will fix 20 years of poor eating? The sales say we have.”

– Josh Hodnik, Staff writer for VPX sports and Muscle Evolution


Holy cow, I’m fat! I’ve turned into a complete out-of-shape blob. I’m standing here looking in the mirror and some stranger is staring back at me. Surely that’s not me. Maybe if I put my glasses on… No, it’s still the same tub of lard. Bummer!

I don’t know how this has happened, or maybe I do a little bit. But it just doesn’t seem possible. I feel like just yesterday I was slim and trim, but now I can’t button my pants. Aha, now I know why I’ve become so fond of stretch pants, baggy shirts and sweaters and Spanx.

This weight crept up on me and now no matter what I do I can’t get rid of it. I don’t feel good about myself or like the way I look. And I think my health may be suffering because of it. I’m so depressed. I think I’m just going to go eat cake.

Sound familiar? Could that be you talking? If it is, join the club. A club, by the way, with many members. For some of you, this may be a scary first experience. You’ve been at a healthy weight all of your life…until now. Or you’ve had to watch what you eat, but still managed to maintain a comfortable weight. For some this isn’t your first go round with this type of self-talk. There are many of us who’ve been up and down this path more than once. You might be in that vicious circle we like to term “yo-yo” (a dieters’ carousel, if you will) dieting. This refers to repeated weight loss through dieting followed by a regain of the pounds lost.

A 2012 study found that 26 percent of dieters in the U.S. adhered to their diets for less than a month, while 36% followed theirs for a period of one to six months. Eleven percent stuck to their diets for seven months to a year. Only 27% stayed the course on their diet plans for over a year.



Dieting. It’s almost easier to count those that haven’t been on one sometime in their life than those who have. Have you ever gone on a diet? How about two, three, four, five or more? I know that more than a few of you are nodding your heads vigorously. Or perhaps you’re shaking your head in frustration. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

The word “diet” means more than just what we do to lose weight. Let’s take a look at its definition:


Merriam Webster’s Definition of DIET


noun ˈdī-ət


a: food and drink regularly provided or consume

b: habitual nourishment

c: the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason

d: a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight


For the first part of this book we’ll cover 1d of the definition, the “sparingly” part. The latter section of the book will look at 1a and 1b. We’ll discuss a healthy diet for life.

Just because I’m a dietitian doesn’t mean that I’m not human. I come from a family where many of us struggle to maintain a healthy weight. It definitely takes work for me to do so. And as I’ve aged, it becomes harder. If I’m not diligent, I seem to expand almost overnight. Sound familiar?

It does to dietitian Bill Bradley, who recently said this about his personal weight management battles: “I’m not perfect and I have struggled with weight issues my whole life…That’s why I’m a dietitian. Not just to help other people, but to stay focused on helping me too.”

It’s not uncommon for medical professionals to be overweight or obese. A recent University of Maryland study of their School of Nursing found that 55% of the female nurses were obese. In Britain, it was recently reported that over 50 percent of medical personnel at the National Health Service were likely to be overweight. I could go on and on with the stats, but I’m sure you get it. Even those who know the health risks associated with being overweight can indeed carry too much weight on their frames. It’s a reality that crosses all ethnicities, ages, professions, socioeconomic classes and gender.

In December 2012 the Royal College of Physicians published a report stating that overweight nurses and doctors in Britain should have “stomach stapling surgery.” The reason given was that by being overweight they set a bad example for their patients.

Weight loss plans and diet products are a huge business in the United States. In 2012, Americans spent approximately $60 billion in their quest to lose pounds. Yes, you read it correctly. We spend a lot of dough in our effort to avoid being doughy. And a recent survey found that over half of Americans (63 percent of females and 48% of males) would rather lose $1,000 of their own money than gain 20 pounds.

The desire to lose weight and/or to maintain a healthy one isn’t a bad idea. In fact, it’s a really good one. But we don’t always choose the best route to achieve this often elusive goal. Consequently, many of us are unsuccessful in our weight loss attempts.

Three in ten Americans (25 percent of males and 32 percent of females) are currently trying to lose weight. Of males, about 55% have attempted around four times to lose weight, while 73 percent of American females have tried to shed pounds on average around seven separate times.

A 2011 Gallup poll reported that about 52 percent of all U.S. adults were successful at losing weight sometime in their life.

In Britain, the average 45-year-old has already been on 61 diets.

And a survey of approximately 2,000 Canadians found that while 62% reported losing five or more pounds over a five year period, most didn’t maintain it. Seventy percent of those who were overweight or obese gained back all, or sometimes more, of the pounds they shed after their initial weight loss.


In the United States, two-thirds of us are overweight or obese. Obesity is also a negative trend we’re seeing around the globe. In 2004, 36 percent of Canadians were overweight while 23 percent were obese. But it doesn’t stop there. The highest obesity rates are in Oceania and in the Middle East. Oh, and in the U.S. as well. It’s a very dubious distinction. The top ten heaviest countries in the world are (percentage of obese population follows each country in parenthesis):


#1 American Samoa (74.6%)

#2 Tokelau (63.4%)

#3 Tonga (56%)

#4 Kiribati (50.6%)

#5 Saudi Arabia (35.6%)

#6 United States (33.9%)

#7 United Arab Emirates (33.7%)

#8 Egypt (30.3%)

#9 Kuwait (28.8%)

#10 New Zealand (26.5%)


Kudos to the eight countries in Asia who have the lowest obesity rate.

The obesity epidemic is a problem that must be dealt with. In June 2013, the American Medical Association took a major step by labeling obesity as a disease. While this brought on some controversy, it should result in a change in how healthcare providers look at and treat obesity in individuals.



Carrying extra body weight can be quite detrimental to our health. It puts us at risk for a variety of conditions and disease states such as prediabetes, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, joint problems, heart disease, sleep apnea, certain cancers and more. Who wants that? I sure don’t and I would bet that you don’t either. So what do so many of us do to combat our expanding girth? We go on a diet, often what would be termed a “fad” diet. And we’ve been doing this for a lot longer than you may think.

Fad diets have been around as far back as the year 1087. In this particular year, William the Conqueror came up with the alcohol-only diet. Perhaps we should call him William the Conqueror of the Fad Diet. Unfortunately, this crazy plan didn’t work for William. He actually gained weight and died a year later.

The fad diet as we know it came into existence in the 19th century when Sylvester Graham came up with the Graham Diet. It focused on caffeine-free beverages and vegetarian meals, which actually sounds good. But lest you might think that the diet was named after its inventor, this may not be the case. Part of the diet included eating graham crackers as not only a way to assist in weight loss but also to inhibit masturbation and the supposed blindness it caused.

In 1876, Englishman William Banting introduced the low carbohydrate diet. He lost 50 pounds with his plan and wrote the “Letter on Corpulence” discussing it. His weight loss plan became so popular that in Britain the word “banting” became synonymous for dieting. A later version of this, the Atkins Diet, would later become popular and is still being followed today.

Studies have shown that high protein/low carbohydrate diets don’t result in greater weight loss than a typical higher carbohydrate diet. Most participants gain back the weight that they lost no matter which diet they were on. Other studies have shown that those on Atkins for 2 years lost on average almost 9 pounds. We can also do this, and more, on a healthier eating plan.

Other early fad diets included Horace Fletcher’s Great Masticator diet, which in 1903 suggested people chew their food 32 times. After doing this, they weren’t to swallow it, but spit it out. The year 1928 gave us the Inuit Diet, in which followers could choose to eat either only meat or the fat from the meat. There was also the Bananas-and-Skim-Milk Diet. And as recent as the late 1960’s, Dr. Herman Taller advanced the Calories Don’t Count Diet. Before you embrace this concept, read on. It involved eating whatever you wanted and not worrying about quantity. The important aspect of this diet was that after you ate, you consumed vegetable oil as a kind of chaser. Really? This was considered a good weight loss plan?

So perhaps you can see that the first four letters of my dietitian title is somewhat of a dirty word. I, and also the vast majority of my colleagues, consider fad diets to be temporary and to be unhealthy. Very often they are restrictive. And many times they are, let’s face it, a bit crazy.

People are drawn to them because of the allure of quick results, on which they sometimes deliver. But typically the weight loss can’t be sustained long-term. We’re then faced with the disappointment and adverse health effects of reverting back to our prior weights. Or perhaps we may carry a heavier burden…in our girths.

A 2012 study found that close to 60 percent of adults in the United States want to shed at least 20 pounds.

It would be fantastic if we could go to sleep one night and wake up the next day 20 pounds lighter. That’s a good dream. And a dream it is, not a reality. But so many of us want it to be true and we try a lot of weight loss programs with the hope that we’ll be proven right. Optimism is high at the beginning. Some do have success that is maintained in the long-term. Most don’t.

Fad diets can be very difficult to adhere to for life. Even following them for years can be hard. We can also suffer ill effects from them such as headaches, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, nutritional deficiencies, hair loss, weakness, dizziness, fatigue, bad breath, loss of muscle and more. Those with certain disease states, for example diabetes, kidney disease and others, need to take care as well. More about health risks will be discussed in chapters to come.

Here’s a crucial question. What is a fad diet? Some are easier than others to spot. Let’s review some of their characteristics:


• They promise a quick result.

• Statements are made about them that seem too good to be true or realistic.

• Simple conclusions are taken from involved studies.

• They take information from studies that haven’t been peer reviewed. Peer review and duplication of results is an important aspect of drawing reliable conclusions.

• Basing statements of facts on only one study. Again, results need to be tested and replicated to determine their quality.

• Using studies that don’t have a large research group or one that looks at only one segment of the populations such as African American males between the ages of 30 and 45 or Caucasian women ages 65 to 80.

• Making assertions that highly regarded medical- and science-based organizations refute.

• Using their statements or recommendations to try to sell you their product(s).

• Promoting “special elixir” type foods or specific food combinations

• Suggesting that food can affect body chemistry

• Eliminating foods or food groups.

• Identifying foods as either “bad” or “good.”


Do any of these ring a bell? Have you explored or engaged in a diet that has made/had one or more of the above statements, claims and/or positions? Who’s nodding their head?



3 Day Diet

Cabbage Soup Diet


Coconut Oil Diet

HCG Diet

Hollywood Diet

Apple Cider Vinegar Diet

Grapefruit Diet

Beverly Hills Diet

Atkins Diet

Dukan Diet

Paleo Diet

Zone Diet

South Beach Diet

Blood Type Diet


My husband is on the Brown Diet. It’s a simple one. If it’s brown, he eats it. This isn’t a healthy diet, as it’s filled with things like fried chicken, french fries and pizza. He’s getting better though. I got him to get rid of the fryer he had in his bachelor days. But he’s still a work in progress.



Restrictive, low calorie and other fad diets are not only a challenge to navigate but they can be nutritionally unbalanced. For example, cutting out entire food groups or a significant portion of them may result in us not getting adequate calories, vitamins, minerals and more. Or we may get an overabundance of something. High protein diets, for example, can result in kidney problems for some. Too little or too much of something isn’t a good thing. Our bodies like balance.

Protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and healthy fats should all have a place in our diets. Our bodies use all of these for a variety of things. Making the more nutritious choices out of these groups is, of course, important. And each of these food groups has healthy members. When we cut out a food group or a significant part of it, we are short-changing ourselves and our health. Here’s why the food groups are important:

Carbohydrate: Carbs are all grains (rice, pasta, bread, crackers, cereal, etc.), starchy veggies (corn, peas, beans, potatoes, yams, winter squash, pumpkin) and sugar, jam, jelly, pie, cookies and other sweets. There’s carbohydrate in milk and yogurt as well. Fruit is also a carb. Just about everything but proteins and fats are in this group.

We use carbohydrate as our main energy source. About 50% or a little less of our calories should come from them.


Protein – These include meat, fish, poultry, cheese, milk and yogurt (can also be identified as the dairy group), beans (also carb), nuts and nut butters (also a fat), tofu and eggs. Our bodies use protein to help us maintain our normal body functions and keep our organs and muscles in tip-top shape. It also helps us to build and replace hair, blood and muscles.


Fats – Fats give us energy. But they’re very high in calorie and need to be limited. There are four kinds of fats: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans fats. Only monounsaturated fat, which can lower our bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase our good cholesterol (HDL), and polyunsaturated fat which can reduce cholesterol levels are good fats to choose.

Vegetables (and fruit) – I call these multi-vitamins. They contain vitamins, minerals and fiber. And they’re yummy!

I’ll go into detail on all of the food groups and recommend portion sizes, methods of food preparation, sample meal plans and more later in the healthy eating section of this book.



Another key component of weight loss/management is gaining the tools we need to navigate our eating for life. It requires knowledge and behavior change. The former is likely not difficult for most of us, yet the latter can be a seemingly impossible task. Let’s tackle the easier one first.

First of all, how do you know if you’re not at a healthy weight? If you’re in the obese range, you likely have a very good idea of your weight status. If you’re what has been termed “pleasantly plump” or “chubby,” you may or may not know. The following are a few ways to determine a healthy weight.


BMI is a height-to-weight ratio. The BMI ranges are:

Less than 18.5 – Underweight

18.5 to 24.9 – Healthy Weight

25.0 to 29.9 – Overweight

Over 30 – Obese


There are tons of BMI calculators online, but if you want to figure it out on your own here’s the equation:

Take your weight in pounds and divide it by your height in inches squared. That number is then multiplied by 703. That’s your BMI. Let’s take an example of someone who is 5 ft tall and 140 pounds:

140(weight in lb)/3600 (5 feet in inches squared) = .039

.039 x 703 = 27.4

In this case, this person is considered overweight.


Some of you may be old enough to remember the Special K commercial that asked us the dreaded question about our mid-section…”Can you pinch an inch?” Well, there was something to be said about it. Another way to see how we’re managing our weight, particularly for heart health, is waist measurement. Men, look to have a waist measurement of equal to or less than 40 inches. Ladies’ waists should be at 35 inches or less.


I’m sure that many of you have heard of ideal body weight (IBW). A lot of people in the healthcare field like to use this benchmark. The drawback is that many of us haven’t been at our IBW for a long, long time. We may find it difficult to achieve. But it’s something you might want to take a look at. Here’s the formula:

Females – Add 100 pounds for the first 5 feet in height. Then give 5 pounds for every inch over that. You can create a range of +/- 10%.

Males – Add 106 pounds for the first 5 feet in height, then 6 pounds for every inch thereafter. You also can have the +/- 10% range.

Here’s an example of IBW for a 6’ male:

100 (first 5 feet of height) + 72 (5 inches for every inch over 5 feet) = 172

172 +/- 10% = 155 to 189 pounds


Where do you sit with regard to your weight?



We’re so lucky to live in a day and age in which information is so abundant and available. The Internet has expanded our horizons and our learning ability in such amazing proportions. Practically any information we want or need is just a keystroke away. But we need to make sure that what we’re reading, even relying on, is quality and expert.

When looking for nutrition information on the web, I recommend perusing the sites that you know are science-based. Medical websites such as, and are reputable. You can also go to licensed dietitian sites like mine at You have a question? I’ll answer it. For other online sources, please review Appendix A for more sites that I like.


Experts in the field can be good sources. Registered dietitians are a fantastic “go to” for information about nutrition. But there are so many people out there, including celebrities, who have their own diet plans or champion one. It’s important to note that these people often don’t have the training necessary to assess and recommend an appropriate diet plan. Tread carefully here. Designations like RD, RN and MD signify experts in health care, including diet and nutrition.

We also get information from other sources. I teach thousands of patients each year regarding a variety of health issues, including weight management/weight loss, prediabetes, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease, kidney disease, malnutrition and more. Many of these patients are well-versed in self-care and have solid facts and plans to achieve/maintain good health. Others could use some help.

Television shows, magazines, books, our families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, personal trainers, vitamin store personnel and others often share advice. Many of us take that and run with it. Sometimes we shouldn’t.

It’s essential that we use a filter and common sense when sorting through the barrage of information that comes our way. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. The promise of 5 pounds of weight loss in several days or 10 pounds in one week, for example, isn’t healthy or advisable. It’s tempting, I know. But in this case, slow and steady wins the race.

I strongly recommend that you look to reliable sources for weight loss/management. It’s vital to the long-term success of your weight loss plan and your health. It’s that important. I’m glad that you’re reading this book, because I discuss the most popular diets out there and their pros and cons. Ultimately I’ll give you a healthy eating plan for life. And you can rely on it because I’m an expert in the field of nutrition.



Who likes change? Some of us do and kudos for that. But for many, including myself, change is extremely hard. We go kicking and screaming into it and through it. But that doesn’t make it impossible. And the reality is that weight management requires behavior change. There’s no way around it. But we have to be ready to take the leap. Are you?



There are five stages of change. We may find ourselves in all 5 of them at one time or another for the same issue. The stages are:

Precontemplation: At this stage, we aren’t necessarily even aware, or are barely so, of the problem at hand. Therefore we have no plan to change our behavior at this point.

Contemplation: We’re at the point we know that there’s a problem and we’re thinking about what to do to tackle it. But we haven’t made the commitment to act.

Preparation: This is when we’re getting ready to do something about the problem in about 30 days.

Action: Ready, set, go! We’re now off and running and making changes.

Maintenance: We have to work to maintain our changes and avoid relapse. We want to maintain for six months, but for the addictive personalities, this time period may be ongoing.


In later chapters, we’ll cover behavior change more in depth and I’ll give you lots of tips for setting goals and achieving them.

Weight loss essentially requires behavior change that must be long-lasting. This is difficult to do with a fad diet. If, for example, we cut out foods or food groups or rely on food that is delivered or made for us, what have we learned and what sustainable behavior change results?

So what do you need to discover in order to implement a healthy eating plan for you? A great beginning is to understand the pros and cons of all the major diet plans out there and to ultimately learn how to eat healthily for life. Having reliable facts and figures, determining your desire and willingness to change, engaging in goal setting and behavior change is also a good start. Understanding portion size, balance of the food groups, the importance of physical activity, and the effectiveness of using measuring/benchmark tools helps round out a powerful weight management arsenal. I can help you with all of these, and there’s no time like the present. It’s time to stop the diet and get on with a long-term eating plan for life.

So let’s get off the dieting merry-go-round. Our healthy weight lies ahead.


For more information about Lisa Tillinger Johansen, MS, RD please visit her web sites, and Lisa is also on Facebook at Lisa Tillinger Johansen and on Twitter @LisaTJohansen.




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