It’s hard to peel your eyes away from ‘miraculous’ celebrity weight loss stories, but whether they attempt to sate cravings, skip meals, or omit solid food entirely, all of these plans share one characteristic: they aren’t sustainable. Luckily for them, celebrities have entire teams willing to help them lose weight quickly and safely. You and I, on the other hand, could be taking serious health risks by resorting to crash diets.

With some diets stripping out vital nutrients and others going to the ludicrous extremes of ingesting parasites to gobble up calories, it’s time to take a step back and look at what really makes for an effective diet plan.

What Is a Crash Diet?

Crash dieting is the term used to describe a short period of time during which someone makes an extreme effort to lose weight. This is usually done by cutting out a substantial part of a healthy diet; for example, one of the most common claims lately is that low-carbohydrate diets are the fastest way to slim down. Crashing often goes hand in hand with fad diets that claim to “jump-start your metabolism” and “regulate hormones.”

Why To Avoid It

So how do these claims stack up? U.S. News used input from a panel of health experts to rate 35 of the best and worst diets around, and the results are clear: three of the five worst performing diets strictly enforce low-carb, high-protein intakes, and both of the quotes above are from diets in the bottom ten. Many poorly rated diets also involve fasting or dramatic changes to the schedules of would-be dieters.

So what did the top diets have in common? Ironically, the best diets are also the easiest to follow, showing that overly strict regimens are not necessarily the most effective. Top diets also emphasize unprocessed foods and whole ingredients, including healthy fats and carbs. No surprise there — whole grains from healthy carbs and the healthy lipids in natural fats have been repeatedly proven to lower the risk of chronic diseases. Instead of fasting and crashing, the best diets encourage users to be patient, eat regular meals, and focus on a healthy rotation of a variety of different foods.

Slow and Steady…

There’s no such thing as a foolproof diet, but there are some useful steps that you can take to improve your nutrition.

First, sustainability and patience are paramount; the Mayo Clinic recommends a goal of losing just one or two pounds per week, or about five pounds in a month. Rather than slashing calorie intake by huge amounts day after day, you can achieve this by eating smaller portions, or by starting an activity regimen like walking for an hour every day.

In addition to limiting the amount of food you eat, consider the importance of consuming high-quality ingredients. Try keeping a log of the foods that you eat, and each week make a commitment to replace one unhealthy meal with one that emphasizes whole ingredients. As for motivation, social support from family, friends, and online communities are great tools to help you stick to a plan!

Permanent lifestyle changes won’t take inches off your waistline overnight, but with a little patience and motivation, these changes can help you lose weight and feel good in a healthy way.