Clear Liquid Diet and Other Fad Diets

Dr. Christopher McGowan
October 16, 2020

As obesity and overweight continue to be among the greatest health challenges faced in the United States today, the appetite for fad diets has grown steadily. In fact, the weight loss industry has been valued at over $70 billion annually, and experts expect it to continue growing (the downturn this year is almost exclusively explained by COVID-19). Millions of Americans are trying to lose weight through a dizzying variety of fad diets, but few of them seem to work as obesity and obesity-related health conditions remain major factors in poor health outcomes. Some of the most concerning diets, from an overall health perspective, are highly restrictive diets like a clear liquid diet or various “cleanses” that rely on only fluids.

What Is a Clear Liquid Diet?

As the name implies, a clear liquid diet is simply one in which all calories come from clear liquids rather than solid foods. Water, clear broth, and plain gelatin are all classic elements of this kind of diet, but it can also include fruit juices, sports drinks, and even sugar-free hard candies. Traditionally, the primary purpose of a clear liquid diet has been as part of the preparatory process for either surgery or a gastrointestinal evaluation like a colonoscopy. It’s only in light of the somewhat recent move toward more extreme dieting trends that something like relying on all liquids has made headway as a legitimate form of dieting.

Other Fad Diets

The clear liquid diet, when used as an actual weight loss regimen rather than as surgery or colonoscopy prep, is similar to a lot of other fad diets that rely on temporary but extreme reductions in caloric intake. These diets are also sometimes referred to as cleanses, but they often assume that the body is full of “toxins” that need to be expunged through a brief and shocking change in the number and type of calories ingested. Below are just a few of the many examples of such fad diets:

  • Master Cleanse: For 10 days, you can only consume a liquid mix of water, lemon, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper
  • Cabbage Soup Diet: Just like it sounds, you can only eat cabbage soup until you achieve your desired weight loss result
  • Military Diet: Even though it has nothing to do with any branch of the military, this diet requires rigid adherence to a 3-days-on-4-days-off cycle of heavily restricted eating and then “normal” eating
  • Tapeworm: This extreme idea involves purposely ingesting a parasite that will theoretically absorb some excess calories and lead to weight loss
  • Cookie Diet: While a little more complicated than just loading up on your favorite cookies, this diet nevertheless focuses on limiting one’s diet to a series of special cookies that claim to give you all the nutrition you need

There are of course many other weird diets that claim to give you the results you’re looking for through wildly unorthodox methods. More often than not, fad diets like the clear liquid diet encourage severely curtailing widely accepted healthy food choices in favor of something that is supposed to work quickly or rid your body of toxins. Unfortunately, there is essentially no evidence that any of these methods are effective, much less healthy. The truth is that the clear liquid diet and others just can’t provide the kind of nutritional value that your body needs to function in a healthy way. Moreover, some of these methods can actually be dangerous if utilized for too long.

The Real Purpose of the Clear Liquid Diet

As noted earlier, the main purpose doctors occasionally recommend a clear liquid diet is in the runup to a colonoscopy or some kind of surgery. A clear liquid diet can also be helpful in the short term for people with digestive problems or other medical conditions related to the digestive tract. Regardless of the reason, opting for clear liquids instead of solid foods ensures that the digestive system is clear of any residual food debris that might impact a visualization of the intestinal tract or how the body responds during surgery. Being on such a diet is acceptable for a day or two, but it wouldn’t provide enough nourishment for any longer period of time. Below is a list of foods and beverages that can be included in this short term diet:

  • Water (can be carbonated or flavored)
  • Tea (without cream or milk)
  • Fruit juice (without fruit pulp, white grape juice, cranberry juice, apple juice, orange juice, etc.) 
  • Gelatin (Jell-o) 
  • Sports drinks (Gatorade)
  • Fat-free broth (bouillon or consomme, for instance) 
  • Flavored popsicles (without seeds or fruit pieces) 
  • Hard candy 
  • Soft drinks (ginger ale, Sprite, etc.)
  • Strained vegetable juice (tomato or carrot)

Alternatives to Fad Diets

The desire to lose weight can be a powerful one, but achieving that goal doesn’t have to involve crazy diets that statistically have very little chance of working over the long term. True You Weight Loss offers several weight loss procedures that are a distinct alternative to the kind of yo-yo dieting that so many people fall victim to. One great example is the ORBERA® Managed Weight Loss System; by inserting a small, inflatable balloon inside your stomach through the esophagus, you’ll feel full faster after eating and will be less likely to overeat. Over time, the resulting caloric deficit will help you lose weight and adjust to a new diet with less food but without worrying about extreme dietary changes. 

Contact a Weight Loss Specialist

Anyone who has tried to lose weight knows that it can be difficult to sift through the many eye-catching claims about a particular diet or weight loss routine. Often these claims come from faux dietitian sources that don’t have any scientific basis. By contrast, True You is helmed by Dr. Chris McGowan, a triple-board-certified medical doctor with extensive experience in endobariatrics, a new field of gastroenterology that focuses on non-surgical solutions to weight loss. Dr. McGowan and his team are passionate about helping people achieve their weight loss goals safely and sustainably. If you’d like to learn more, request a consultation today. Freedom is waiting! 

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan

Dr. Christopher McGowan, MD, a leader in endobariatrics, specializes in non-surgical obesity treatments and is triple-board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Obesity Medicine. Renowned for pioneering endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) with over 2,000 procedures, his global influence and research contributions define him as a top expert.

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