Quick-weight-loss or “fad” diets can seem appealing. We like the idea that we can be slim and trim with very little time or effort.
Marketers of fad diets know how to target your weaknesses and play on your desires to lose weight. Some of the greatest influences that lead to high numbers of individuals on fad diets come from social media, television, magazines, peer pressure, and parental body-image issues.
In order to maintain a healthy weight, a lifestyle change must occur that includes a balanced diet and physical activity. Not only do fad diets produce short-term results, but also they can present health risks.
Some weight-loss diets may work in the beginning. This is often because the fad diet helps you cut calories in one way or another. However, many of these diets restrict certain food groups, limit it to specific ‘healthy’ food choices, or promise unrealistic results. They are hard to sustain over time. They do not help you develop a healthy relationship with food. As soon as you return to your usual eating habits, the weight may start piling back on. This often leads to “yo-yo” dieting: losing and regaining weight repeatedly.
There is no magic formula for losing weight other than taking in fewer calories than you burn. The key is to find a healthy daily eating pattern that keeps you at a healthful weight and provides the right balance of calories and nutrition with appropriate amounts of regular physical activity. This will usually mean changing your behavior and making a lifestyle switch.
You need to adopt the idea that what you eat significantly affects your health. Each food group provides its own unique set of vitamins, minerals, and energy for the body. Try to ween yourself from sweetened beverages, packaged foods, and sugars. Then try to implement changes that are compatible with your lifestyle, work schedule, and individual tastes. I like to see people focus on the elimination of processed food, which marks a huge improvement from what most Americans eat today.
The potential problems with fad diets:
- Poor long-term weight control. A fad diet promotes a “quick fix” and does not teach healthy eating plans.
- Increased risk of chronic diseases. Many fad diets severely restrict or eliminate fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and whole grains. These foods all contain nutrients that may help prevent many chronic conditions.
- Reduced athletic performance. Diets that significantly restrict carbohydrates increase symptoms of fatigue and decrease body energy supplies and endurance. In addition, low-carbohydrate diets cause a loss of fluid and electrolytes.
- Kidney stones and gout. Diets that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates often lead to the formation of uric acid and calcium oxalate.
- Ketosis. A diet that is low in carbohydrates puts your body into ketosis. Without adequate carbohydrates for an energy supply, fat becomes the primary energy source, and ketones turn out to be the means of transportation. You may notice a funny smell to your breath.
Just because a diet is popular doesn’t mean that it is effective or good for you. If you are considering going on a diet, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the diet promise rapid weight loss (e.g. Lose 10 pounds in one week)?
- Does the diet require rigid menus of a limited number of foods to be eaten at a specific time of day?
- Does the diet use pictures and testimonials rather than scientific evidence?
- Does the diet claim that you can lose weight without exercise?
- Does an element of the diet have warnings against it? (e.g. FDA has warnings against an ingredient in a fad diet supplement)
- Does the diet eliminate one or more of the five food groups?
- Does the diet require you to skip meals?
- Does the diet encourage the purchase of special products – food, pills, herbs, seminars?
- Does the diet claim to be suitable for everyone or not warn people with diabetes or high blood pressure to seek medical advice before starting the diet?
- Does the diet cost a lot of money?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you are looking at a fad diet. Steer clear of it!
Instead of a fad diet, follow these simple guidelines to make good food choices for life by following the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Key Recommendations: Follow a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level. A healthy eating pattern includes:
- A variety of vegetables from all the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other vegetables;
- Fruits, especially whole fruits;
- Grains, at least half of which are whole grains;
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and fortified soy beverages;
- A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products;
- Oils; and
- A healthy eating pattern limits saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.
Another Key recommendation: To meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
Most nutrition experts agree that the biggest problem with fad diets is that they are not sustainable. Instead of turning to fad diets in order to lose weight quickly, put your effort toward taking the long-term approach to developing healthy, sustainable eating habits. I advocate a whole foods-based eating plan. The most important thing is to eat more real, unprocessed foods and less packaged empty sources of calories. The reality of weight loss is that, in the end, a slow and steady approach brings more lasting results than any quick weight-loss fad.
(Sources: 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans; Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans; U.S. Department of Agriculture)