Say goodbye to fad dieting 


Say goodbye to fad dieting 

Tens of millions of people have spent their hard-earned money to fuel the success of a $33-billion-a-year weight loss industry – fad dieting.  Fad diets promise dramatic weight loss results but their unfounded promises usually do not result in keeping the weight off long term and are not considered a healthy way to lose unwanted pounds.  Think about it – if fad diet delivered what they promise, the nation’s obesity problem would have vanished.  They can initially help a person to lose some weight but studies have demonstrated that fad diets are particularly ineffective for weight-loss maintenance – people may lose some weight, but once they go “off” the diet (because they are unsustainable), they quickly gain it back. 

Fad diets enjoy their popularity because they play on this desire of fast weight loss.  Indeed, fad diets will often work in the beginning, but then reality sets in and suddenly the appeal of the diet loses its luster. They become harder and harder to follow due to deprivation of favorite foods and not being able to eat socially with friends due to their tight restrictions.

Unfortunately, most fad diets are more fiction than science.  They sound plausible because they are skillfully written.  The authors weave in bits of authentic nutrition knowledge to set a tone of credibility convincing the skeptical.  For people with limited nutrition knowledge, this makes it hard for them to evaluate their credibility. 

To avoid that scenario and to save yourself time and money wasted on yet one more fad diet attempt, here is a brief look at five popular fad diets that are best to avoid:

1.     Atkins Diet/Ketogenic Diet

The Atkins Diet has been around since the 1970’s and focuses on drastically cutting carbohydrates.  The result from this is ketosis which means its breaking down fat stored within the body creating a metabolic state to facilitate weight loss.  This diet stresses a high consumption of protein and fat, making it particularly appealing to men but can also increase the risk of developing heart disease if choosing unhealthy fats.  Following the Atkins diet helps you feel less hungry leading to less calorie consumption, but the strict limitations on eating carbohydrates can zap energy making it hard to follow if you are exercising at a moderate to high level.  When exercising, muscles need carbs for energy to function at their best. It is better to learn to eat healthy carbs and stay away from the unhealthy highly refined carbs such as white bread, white rice, and foods with high amounts of added sugar.

2.     Intermittent Fasting

This is an eating pattern of cycling between periods of eating and fasting or where you make a conscious decision to skip certain meals.  It focuses more on when to eat rather than what foods to be eating. As an example, a person might only eat from noon to 8 pm or skip two meals one day, going long stretches without eating.  The problems with this method of eating are numerous – it can lead to rebound overeating, affect sleep patterns leaving a person with low energy during the day, reduced intake of important nutrients and it can result in burning more muscle with consequential muscle loss which then doesn’t help with weight loss. 

3.     Paleo Diet

Another very popular diet with men, the Paleo diet is based on the types of food presumed to have been eaten by early humans, consisting of mainly meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit while excluding dairy, legumes and grain products while also eliminating white sugar, white flour and highly processed foods.  The latter part of eliminating white sugar, flour and highly processed foods is good, it’s the elimination of whole grain, legumes and dairy that is concerning. By restricting intake of those foods a person will also miss out on important nutrients for good health. At this point, there is not strong evidence to exclude them from our diet.  Also, trying to follow a diet that has “allowed” and “not allowed” foods that are good for us, is problematic.  It often ends up by creating anxiety with the “all-or-nothing” approach and ultimately, makes it hard to follow long term.

4.     Whole30

This program is described to “change your life in 30 days.” It looks very similar to the ideology of the Paleo diet – you can eat meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, some fruit and good types of fat.  The premise is for 30 days you are to avoid no added sugar of any kind, no alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, additives such as carrageenan, MSG or sulfites and you are not allowed to step on a scale or take any body measurements during the month long period.  The idea for stripping these foods from your diet for 30 days is to “reset” the body.  One problem with this diet is if you mess up and sneak in a cookie or two, you are to start over from day one.  Trying to follow this method of eating for 30 days is also quite restrictive making it hard for people to get back on track. Eliminating grains, dairy and legumes is also questionable as they can offer important nutrients our bodies need on a daily basis.  Once you go off Whole30, the likelihood of going back to old habits is still there.                                            

5.     Detox Dieting

Detox diets have been around for a while and can take various forms from a three-day juice fast to a 10-day basically starvation mode of wiping out almost all foods.  Detox diets are a dietary regimen in which a person changes their eating habits to remove toxins from the body with the purpose being to improve health, energy, digestion, decrease inflammation and to lose weight.  It all may sound good but the problem lies in the lack of scientific evidence as to how effective detox diets really are.  Very few research studies have been conducted and the main evidence to go on is what people who have followed a detox diet write about on a blog.  The danger of detox dieting stems from the lack of medical supervision.  A person doing this on their own could develop nutritional deficiencies in addition to lacking energy and inability to focus.  Keep in mind our bodies already have built-in detox equipment – our kidneys, liver, lungs, intestines, spleen and our skin.  Even though a three- to five-day detox may not lead to health problems and may actually help motivate some to make dietary changes, in reality, it is not a long-term solution to a weight problem. 

Take home message

Fad diets come and go.  Going from one to another only sets you up for short-term weight loss without addressing the real reason of why the weight keeps coming back after the fad diet has faded.  Anyone can try a fad diet out and probably have some success with them, but they are not meant for the long-term and once you go off the fad diet, the weight tends to come back on.

Food is primarily meant to nourish us but is also designed for the pure pleasure and enjoyment we gain from it.  Learning how to eat appropriate portions sizes and how to manage food intake by making wise food choices, is still the tried and true method of obtaining and sustaining weight loss.  That is not a “fad” diet that eventually will go out of style but a bona fide way of eating you can do for the rest of your life.

To learn more about making better and healthier choices to help with weight management, check out and find a registered dietitian to get the information you need.