New ways to get sculpted abs or lose 20 pounds seem to appear every day. But finding a fitness or diet plan that will fit your lifestyle—and actually deliver results—can be a challenge. Discover the facts, scientific backing, and popular opinions on today’s biggest workout and weight loss trends with this guide.
Should You Get Rid of Gluten?
What's the Deal? Going on a gluten-free diet. A protein in wheat, barley, and rye can damage the intestines of those with celiac disease, so they must forgo bread, beer, pasta, and many other products containing the seemingly all-pervasive grains. (Search: Symptoms of celiac disease)
Though celiac affects only an estimated 1 percent of the population (and milder gluten sensitivity potentially another 9 percent), many folks without the disease have sworn off the g-stuff…and say they feel better.
Who Swears By It: Besides celiac sufferers, those on the paleo diet are also gluten-free. Some dietitians, strength coaches, and regular folks have also jumped on board.
What the Science Says: In an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine, authors Antonio Di Sabatino, MD, and Gino Roberto Corazza, MD, both of the University of Pavia, Italy, argue that there is little evidence, as of now, that non-celiac sufferers who still follow a gluten-free diet are having alleviation of symptoms because they've eliminated wheat. Instead, these non-celiacs, the authors say, may be falling prey to food advertising and marketing claims rather than responding to actual sensitivity: "’Sense' should prevail over 'sensibility' to prevent a gluten preoccupation from evolving into the conviction that gluten is toxic for most of the population."
Why You Might Like It: You might feel better, and you'll probably lose weight. But giving up gluten specifically may not be the reason why. "There are so many other variables," says Sandra Carpenter, RD, Senior Program Manager for Weight Management and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "They may say they're eating gluten-free and feel better, but it may also be that they aren't eating so much pizza!" Dieters also become more mindful of what they're eating and tend to give up foods that aren't good in large quantities anyway, gluten or not—stuff like pretzels, chips, bread, and more.
"It may not be the gluten," says Shawn Arent, PhD, associate professor of exercise science at Rutgers University. "It may be the food choices that go along with this that make it seem very effective."
Why You Might Not Like It: Wheat's tough to give up—and gluten's opponents say that's the problem. In The Wheat Belly, William Davis, MD, claims that the grain has been manipulated to improve yields, making it addictive, acting in the body like an opiate.
"Everything we're eating is Franken-food," says Valerie Berkowitz, RD, director of nutrition at the Center for Balanced Health. "It's creating this situation where a lot of times people eliminate wheat, and they may lose 20 pounds in a month, feel reduced acid reflux, sinus congestion, migraines, and more."
(Related: 14 Shape-Up Shortcuts that Work)
Will You Go Nuts for the Paleo Diet?
What's the Deal? Eat like a caveman. Paleo proponents suggest that when agriculture started, everything went wrong—10,000 years isn't long enough for our bodies to evolve to deal with the introduction of grains and other industrially-produced foods, and so we've developed "diseases of civilization," including cancer, heart disease, and obesity.
The paleo solution? Cut it all. This diet includes berries, meat, nuts, seeds, and anything else a hunter-gatherer might find. What you'll skip: Bread, corn, and other foods that require industrial farming or processing.
One argument against this logic: Cavemen didn't live that long, and many of the diseases listed above—especially cancer and heart disease—come as a result of old age more so than lifestyle.
"It goes back to the philosophy of basics, and that whole foods are good," Carpenter says. "But if they had lived until they were 80 or 90, maybe they would have had these diseases, too."
Who Swears By It: Among others, CrossFit athletes love the Paleo Diet.
What the Science Says: In a small study of just nine people from 2009, scientists from the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine saw a reduction in blood pressure and cholesterol, and an increase in glucose tolerance.
Why You Might Like It: You'll be eating lots of whole foods. As with the gluten-free approach, the benefit of this strategy may not be the "paleo" part, but the "not eating garbage" part, says Arent.
"You're removing a lot of energy density in the form of sugars," he says. "You wind up cutting a lot of non-satiating foods. So you lose weight because you've refrained from bad food choices."
Why You Might Not Like It: As with the gluten-free approach, wheat and other carbohydrates can be tough to kick.