The Waterfall Diet - Fluid Retention and Food Allergies
By Dietitian Juliette Kellow BSc RD
What is the Waterfall Diet?
The Waterfall Diet is written by nutritional therapist Linda Lazarides. Unlike most diet books, it’s not designed to help people lose weight by using up their excess fat stores. Instead, the focus is on eliminating fluid retention to shift those extra pounds.
The book was first published in 1999, but a decade on, it seems to be having a revival.
Who is The Waterfall Diet suitable for?
The overall diet is based on the idea that it may be fluid that’s making you overweight – by as much as 20lb – rather than fat. As a result, conventional dieting and exercise won’t work. Therefore, the diet is aimed at people who have been struggling to lose weight, despite sticking to a reduced-calorie diet and exercise plan, in the belief that it’s fluid that’s the problem.
Quite simply, this diet works on the theory that fluid retention is tipping the scales in the wrong direction and is the main culprit for excess weight. Unfortunately, that’s where the simple bit ends!
According to the author, there are a multitude of conditions that may be responsible for causing fluid retention. A lack of protein, poor kidney function, prescribed medications and inadequate intakes of certain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are all thought to be potential causes. The presence of toxins in our body caused by everything from pollution and smoking to dust and processed foods, are also believed to be possible contributors. But top of the hit list are food allergies.
The theory is that as we get older our stomachs become less efficient at producing acid and so food doesn’t get properly digested. This partially undigested food then passes into the intestine where it can cause irritation and inflammation. This, in turn, damages the intestine wall causing it to become ‘leaky’, which allows undigested food particles and other potentially harmful substances to enter the blood.
These particles shouldn’t be in the blood so the immune system springs into action and releases antibodies to deal with them, typically causing common allergy symptoms, including fluid retention.
It’s thought we are more likely to become allergic to the foods we eat most often such as wheat, dairy and eggs, so these are the main foods that are most likely to be responsible for causing fluid retention.
No surprises then that if you eliminate the food or foods causing problems, fluid retention will disappear and you’ll lose weight quickly. If, however, fluid retention is caused by another problem, weight loss may be much slower.
How Do I Follow The Waterfall Diet?
This is not promoted as a low calorie diet. Instead, the plan encourages you to eat certain foods and avoid others to encourage the release of excess fluid. The diet has three phases.
Phase 1 aims to help you lose excess fluid as quickly as possible by identifying whether any particular foods are causing an allergy, which in turn, is resulting in fluid retention. You follow this Phase for 2 months – a sufficient amount of time to clear your body of anything that may be encouraging fluid retention.
The list of what you can eat is limited to fruit, veg, pulses, brown rice, nuts, seeds, soya products, tofu, chicken and fish. In contrast, you should avoid bread, pasta, wheat-based cereals, foods containing flour such as cakes, biscuits and pastry, dairy foods, eggs, red meat, processed foods, sugary foods, chocolate, sugar, mayo, alcohol and coffee.
Phase 2 lasts for four weeks and allows you to reintroduce foods to see whether they were culprits for causing fluid retention. You continue to stick to the same foods as in Phase 1 but then introduce certain foods that you’ve been avoiding, one at a time, checking to see whether you suddenly gain weight – a sure sign of fluid retention. The theory goes that if you lost a lot of weight during Phase 1, it’s likely you have an allergy or intolerance to wheat, dairy, eggs or yeast, so these are the foods you reintroduce.
In the first week of Phase 2, you add egg-free wheat pasta, wheat flour or plain wheat crackers to your diet every day for five days then stop. If you suffer with symptoms such as headaches, sinus congestion, fatigue or weight gain of several pounds you should exclude these foods again immediately.
Even if you have no symptoms, you should avoid them for the last two days of the week. You then repeat the process in week 2 with cow’s milk, cheese and yoghurt. Then in week 3, you add eggs to your diet. Finally, in week 4, you can add yeast extract to your diet.
Prevent Fluid Retention Returning
Phase 3 is a long-term plan and aims to prevent fluid retention from returning. It’s more relaxed and allows a wider range of foods to be eaten. Nevertheless, it’s recommended that 90 percent of your diet should consist of the types of foods you ate in Phase 1 ie. wholegrains, unprocessed foods, fruit, veg, nuts, seeds, tofu, soya and oily fish. The other 10 percent can be whatever you want, providing it wasn’t a food identified in Phase 2 as an allergy causer.
So How Much Weight Can I Expect To Lose?
The diet claims you can lose up to 14lb in 7 days. However, if fluid retention is not caused by an allergy, you will lose weight more slowly. Bear in mind though that this weight loss is predominantly caused by a loss of fluid, not fat.
What Are The Positives Of The Waterfall Diet?
This plan will get you thinking about the sorts of food you currently eat and will help you ditch some of those bad habits whilst encouraging new, healthier ones. It helps you to de-junk your diet by eliminating fatty, sugary, salty and processed foods, together with coffee and booze. And as so many foods are banned you’ll need to get creative in the kitchen and start experimenting – and get into the habit of buying fresh foods rather than relying on ready-made ingredients. You’ll also find yourself eating more fruit, veg and pulses and drinking more water – good habits we should all get into.
And The Negatives?
This diet is very restrictive and may not fit easily into family mealtimes. Eating out may also be difficult. Three months is a long time to follow such a restricted diet and in the long term you may suffer from low intakes of certain nutrients, particularly calcium as no dairy products are allowed.
For this reason, it’s important to make sure you eat good amounts of foods from the permitted list that contain calcium such as pulses, nuts, seeds, green veg and dried fruit. A diet devoid of red meat, eggs and wheat-based cereals (which are often fortified with iron) may leave you short on iron, so again, it’s important to eat iron-rich foods from the allowed list like oil-rich fish, nuts, seeds, green leafy veg and dried fruit.
Bear in mind, too, that the iron in red meat and the calcium in dairy products is better absorbed and used by the body than the iron and calcium in plant foods so you need to make sure you are eating good amounts of these foods. There’s also the worry that you might get bored with such a restricted diet and quickly give up, leading to rapid weight regain.
The downside of this is that it can set up a pattern of yo-yo dieting. Side effects such as headaches may also occur as a result of caffeine withdrawal. But perhaps the biggest drawback is that you might go through life thinking you have an allergy to a certain food or group of foods and end up eliminating them from your diet when you really don’t need to.
Juliette’s Verdict . . .
Fluid retention can be caused by many things including standing for long periods of time, hot weather, pregnancy, long-haul flights, hormonal changes linked to the menstrual cycle and certain medications. But it can also be a symptom of a serious underlying medical problem such as heart failure, kidney disease, liver disease or arthritis so if you suffer, you should always see your doctor for advice.
Reduce Fluid Retention
Treating fluid retention will certainly make the scales dip in the right direction. However, for most of us, fluid retention is usually only likely to be responsible for a few extra pounds – not the massive 14lb that this book indicates might be the case.
It’s also worth remembering that when calories are restricted, the liver mobilises its supply of stored carbohydrate – a substance called glycogen – back into the blood. Glycogen is stored with three times its weight in water so when this store is depleted, you also lose the water with which it is stored, explaining why you normally lose 4-5lb in the first week of any calorie-restricted diet.
However, although this diet is designed to help us lose excess fluid, it’s also very similar to a detox diet and so has the potential to be relatively low in calories, providing we don’t eat large amounts of nuts and seeds. This means we will also lose excess fat and so start to lose weight. This, of course, is no bad thing, but can be just as easily achieved by eating a healthy, balanced diet that provides 1,200-1,500 calories a day and allows you to eat a wider variety of foods, including dairy and wheat products.
Fluid Retention Really To Blame?
The theory behind the Waterfall Diet doesn’t deal with the real issue why so many of us are overweight or obese. In reality, fluid retention is unlikely to be the main reason why most of us have a Body Mass Index above 25! It’s an excess of fat that’s more likely to leave us with a weight problem that in turn, puts us at risk of many different health conditions including heart disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, joint and back problems and high blood pressure, to name just a few.
It’s relatively easy to check what’s really contributing to our excess weight. Most of us only need to stand naked in front of a mirror to see whether we are carrying too much body fat! However, these days it’s also relatively easy to get our body fat measured. For example, there are scales that can do this at many gyms and health centres.
Unfortunately, this diet also perpetuates two myths: firstly, that a large number of people in the Western world suffer from allergies; and secondly that weight problems are often due to an allergy. Doctors who practice traditional medicine remain clear that there’s insufficient scientific evidence to support either idea. In fact, while nutritional therapists tend to believe that around one in three of us suffers with a food allergy, the British Nutrition Foundation say only one in 50-100 people have a food intolerance and only a small proportion are truly allergic to a particular food.
The diet has a lot of science to plough through, too. There are eight chapters before you get to the diet itself. Seven of the chapters each deal with a different cause of fluid retention. However, the diet itself really only focuses on a food allergy being the main cause. There’s little advice on what you are supposed to do if you find you gain a little weight in Phase 2 in response to one of the foods you have reintroduced. You are left assuming that you need to avoid that food forever!
It’s also worth bearing in mind that as soon as you start having more calories, your glycogen supplies are restored in the liver, together with water – and this alone may make it look as though you have put on several pounds!
My advice is to stick with a well-balanced, healthy diet that includes a wide range of foods and is slightly lower in calories to help you lose fat. If you’re concerned about fluid retention see your doctor for advice. In the meantime, you can treat mild fluid retention by avoiding too much salt, making sure you’re drinking enough water and choosing nutrient-rich foods that provide you with everything you need to maintain fluid balance within the body.
In other words, stick to established healthy eating guidelines and you’ll see the benefits.
Typical day’s diet for Phase 1
Apple compote and almonds with soya yoghurt
Homemade vegetable soup with oatcakes and canned sardines. Plus 1 apple.
Bowl of lentil soup followed by roast organic chicken with broccoli and spring onion in a vinaigrette dressing. Plus blueberries.
Homemade beetroot and celery juice mixed with lemon juice
All the diet advice and tools you need to combat water retention and food allergies are at your finger tips in WLR including advice from registered dietitians and nutritionists. Try it free for 24 hours.