Did Your Mama Do The Grapefruit Diet?


     I remember from childhood that “The Grapefruit Diet” was a very popular weight loss fad in the 1970’s. Dieters were often pictured in T.V. and print ads eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice. Grapefruit was very “IN”.

     I also remember in High School, in the 1980’s, a mimeographed menu for this diet was being passed around the classroom and copied by hand by one teenage girl after the other. This was “viral” even before the internet existed. 

     I recently learned that this quick loss method dates back much further, all the way to the 30’s in fact and has gone by many names including “The Hollywood Diet”, “The 12 Day Diet” and “The Mayo Diet”. My grandmother might have even gone on the Grapefruit Diet in her teens or twenties.

     Grapefruit, in my opinion, is not the world’s tastiest food and this diet plan, in all of its incarnations, is quite limiting. So, why did it hold popularity for so long? Is there good science behind this plan and is it a safe approach?

     The main reason for the longevity is it works. At least in the short-term.

     Folks get excited by the rapid weight loss. In the beginning you lose primarily water weight. However, it goes somewhat beyond that. The specific combination of foods required make this a very low cal, low carb, high protein approach. Thus the body begins to use more of it’s stored fat for energy.  This may, in fact, have been the first Ketonic weight loss plan.  It is believed that The Grapefruit Diet might even have been the inspiration that sparked the research that lead to the Atkins diet.

     The second reason for its appeal is it requires minimal commitment. The plan has a specific beginning and ending point of 12 days. We’ve previously discussed that two weeks is about how long most individuals can hold onto a fad diet plan and stick with it. The downside to that is habits aren’t changed so the pounds quickly lost quickly come back.

     What about the grapefruit itself? Up until recently there wasn’t much science to support that eating grapefruit three-time a day had anything to do with the results of the plan but that is changing. I picked up the March 2011 issue of Self magazine recently and saw under the heading 5 Metabolism Boosters a picture of the pink meated fruit so familiar to me from my childhood memories of dieters. The update? “Yes, there was a reason people went on grapefruit only diets, but we wouldn’t want you to try such a silly eating plan! Still, grapefruit contains narinenin, an antioxidant that researchers at the Scripps Clinic in California found helps your body use insulin more efficiently, keeping your blood sugar in check and improving your calorie burn.” How about that?

     At livestrong.com I found specific information about studies on Grapefruit and weight loss. “In the study at Scripps Clinic, individuals who drank grapefruit juice [no calorie reduction and minimal increase in physical activity noted] lost an average of 3.3 pounds. In this 12 week study, participants drank one glass of grapefruit juice three times per day before meals. Similarly, the 14-week study conducted by Dr Silver at Vanderbilt University showed that participants who drank 4 1/2 ounces of grapefruit juice before the three main meals while on a reduced-calorie diet lost an average of 15 pounds per person.”
     An Ivillage article went on to say of the Scripps study, “The researchers studied the effect of grapefruit capsules, grapefruit juice and real grapefruit. All three seemed to help, but the folks eating the real grapefruit got the best results. The mechanism isn’t completely understood, but the results speak for themselves. As an added benefit, grapefruit contains cancer-fighting compounds like liminoids and lycopene, and red grapefruit has been shown to help lower triglycerides. And half a grapefruit has only 39 calories.”

     Did you, your mama, or someone else you know do the grapefruit diet? Likely. Was weight lost? Probably a little. Did it stay off? Almost certainly not. When the carbs, calories, and old habits came back so did the weight. Most of us have know folks who have used short term weight loss plans to lose a few pounds but can any of us think of even one person who lost signifgant weight on “The Grapefruit Diet”, “The Cabbage Soup Diet”, or other simular schemes and kept the weight off. Not me!
     My conclusions upon research are that the “Grapefruit Diet” is too restrictive in both it’s nutrition and calorie count to be a safe or effective approach for long-term weight loss success. Any weight lost is likely to be gained back rather quickly. However, there are some things we can learn from this diet and take with us into a healthy, long-term eating plan. 
     Keeping calories in check. If more calories are being burned than eaten pounds are lost. 
     Eating few “empty carbs” can help keep the body in weight loss mode. A low carb approach can be very effective but get the right information. Speak with your doctor to make sure this approach is appropriate for you. Make sure you are eating enough of approved fruits and/veggies to get proper nutrition and be sure to focus on lean meats rather than filling your body with unhealthy amounts of saturated fat.  
      Whatever diet approach you choose, make sure it’s a plan that you can commit to for the long haul. Weight loss systems that teach healthy eating habits can lead to real sustainable life change. Short term commitment will get short-term results. Changes you can live with for life will get you slim for good.
     As for the grapefruit? If you like it, it can’t hurt WebMd points out that “the low glycemic index, high fiber, and low-calorie nature of the fruit may reduce insulin levels and help dieters feel full and eat fewer calories.” Less hunger and fewer calories? What dieter couldn’t use that. Based on the Scripps and Vanderbilt research it looks like it might help you loose as much as an extra pound a week, too. 
     I’m alrady eating a reduced calorie, well balanced diet, getting plenty of exercise, limiting empty carbs and making permenant lifestyle changes. I’ve already added fish oil to my regimen and upped my dairy intake. These are both believed to help improve calorie burn along with their other great health benefits. I might give grapefruit another try, too. Maybe I can call my approach to weight loss the Cod Liver Oil, Cottage Cheese, and Grapefruit Diet. The more gross or outrageous a diet sounds the more the public seems to believe it must work. I think I could sell it! But could I live by it? Probably not. I think I’ll just stick to my fish oil capsuls, yummy variety of dairy, and maybe a 1/3 a grapefruit 3 times a day along with a healthy and well balanced diet.
     Enjoy the grapefruit but stay away from the radical fad diets. Ok?
     *Grapefruit and grapefruit juice may be dangerous for those taking certain medications and with certain health problems. Consider talking to your doctor before adding grapefruit to your plan if you are on prescription medications.

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