You know the New Year has officially begun when the gym is Thanksgiving Day-packed, enough women are lined up for the locker room scale to make you think you’re in CostCo, and ads for the Taco Bell Drive-Thru Diet and the Dole Banana Diet are popping up like a bad case of shingles. That’s right, step aside, Subway – and take that Jared guy with you – because there’s a new fast food diet shiller in town. Christine Dougherty says she lost 54 pounds on the newest diet plan, brought to you by the creators of the Fourth Meal. Their Drive-Thru Diet offers seven items with less than 9 grams of fat each (most of the Fresco items achieve their lower-cal status by swapping out shredded cheese and sauce for naturally waistline-friendly salsa.) Admittedly, some of the goodies sound pretty doable – the Fresco Bean Burrito, at 340 calories and 8 grams of fat, is similar, nutritionally, to many “healthier” frozen burritos, and who doesn’t love a Chicken Soft Taco? (170 calories, 4 grams of fat). But the way I remember Taco Bell, the way to order was more like, “I’ll take a Gordita Supreme, a Nacho Bellgrande, three Grilled Steak Soft Tacos…and a Fresco Bean Burrito” Just one teeny burrito or soft taco may wind up leaving a dieter feeling cheated and even worse than if she had just stuck with a big salad from the office cafeteria. If the thought of looking hot in a bikini while chowing down on a bean burrito is appealing, but the notion of farting your way to the scale every week for weigh-ins sounds less-than-ideal, why not try the Dole Banana Diet? (I don’t have a link to the ad in People Magazine which alerted me to this diet, but it basically looked something like this.) You basically eat two bananas every morning for breakfast, followed by low-calorie meals and snacks for the rest of the day (about 1200-1300/day total – the same as suggested by Taco Bell - and a few hundred of that is on bananas). Not surprisingly, a good amount of the suggested items, like mushrooms, pears, pineapple, baby carrots, fruit cups, bell peppers, raisins, apples and blueberries, are Dole brand. The theory is that bananas contain resistant starch, which ferments in your large intestine, creating byproducts that block conversion of some carbohydrates into fuel. Bananas also contain some fiber, which supports weight loss.
But my understanding is that for this resistant starch theory to work, the bananas have to be unripe (aka green) and cold. So unless you’re a monkey who doesn’t care if his nanner is green, yellow, bruised or even peeled (or if you’re like my grandpa, who likes his bananas straight from the fridge), these puppies may be difficult to choke down. Plus, bananas don’t have that much fiber – about 2-4 grams (to be considered a "good" source, a food must have 3.5-4.9 grams of fiber per serving).
Alas, it seems both of these diets are relying on one or two sound nutrition principles and, in the process, making it seem like their featured product is the John Locke of weight loss. (Sorry, you have to be a Lost fan to get that reference – who’s excited for February 2?!) It’s great that Taco Bell now features some healthier items, or than Dole is encouraging people to eat breakfast more regularly. But the boring, unsexy bottom line is always going to be the same: Calories In < Calories Out = Weight Loss. Bean Supreme or not. But brownie points for creativity.