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4. The promise of a quick fix.
Fad diets promise—and may even deliver—rapid weight loss, offering a short-term solution to a permanent problem. The tendency to gain weight will not go away after a few weeks of eating only grapefruit or bacon. A diet so unbalanced that you can't stay on it for more than a few weeks or months without feeling awful is of no use for lifelong weight control. And the lack of balance can hurt your health. Extreme high-protein, low-carb diets can lead to vitamin deficiencies, a loss of bone density, and other problems.

What to do after you've protected yourself against squandering time, money, and perhaps even your health on nutritional nonsense? Keep the constant company of your common sense and learn the skills and strategies you need to eat well despite the challenges of modern living—skills such as controlling hunger, balancing pleasure from food with pleasure in health and weight control, interpreting food labels so you can stock a pantry and fridge with healthful brands and products, making ingredient substitutions that add nutrition without subtracting taste, avoiding social pressure to overeat, and making physical activity an everyday part of life.

When you consider a new food program, first check to make sure it has none of the red flags listed above. Remember that any weight control program that doesn't include physical activity isn't a good one. If you're a parent, consider whether it's a way of eating you would endorse for your kids. If it's not healthful enough for them—offering an abundance of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains—it's not healthful enough for you! Ask yourself whether you'd feel comfortable and confident eating this way for the rest of your life. If not, it's an on-again, off-again diet, and these simply don't work.

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