Fad Diets – do they work?

November 18, 2020

The number of fad diets you can find on the internet is endless. They range from the ridiculous to the extremely dangerous. Despite our better judgement, many of us are still lured by the appeal of a quick fix. There are plenty of self-proclaimed experts who want to convince us that they know the perfect diet for weight loss and better health. The result is a multi-billion dollar industry, that can end up causing people to gain more weight and feel worse about themselves. 

How Do You Know if it’s a Fad Diet?

Fad diets make claims that sound unrealistic or controversial. They use pseudo-science by throwing out impressive medical terms without actually applying the science correctly. Many of today’s fad diets are pushed by people with no education in health or science, who just want to create a following. A popular way to attract an audience is to promote conspiracy theories and dismiss the guidance of health professionals or researchers. Some of these diets are based on clinical diets that were at one time used for people with serious conditions, and could lead to health issues and nutrient deficiencies if followed without medical care. Fad diets tend to categorize foods as good and bad, which can create an unhealthy relationship with food and begin a cycle of yo-yo dieting.  

Pros and Cons of Fad Dieting

Chances are excellent that you will lose weight very quickly on most fad diets…but also temporarily. Over the short-term, if a person is in good health, a fad diet may not be dangerous; but if followed long-term, it can to lead to nutrient deficiencies. Examples of some possible consequences include: lack of energy, impaired mental and physical performance, gastrointestinal discomforts, eating disorders, decreased immune function, and osteoporosis. In other words, a fad diet that promises to improve your health and cure you of diseases can make you sick. Fortunately most people aren’t able to stick to this type of diet long enough to harm their health. For people who continuously try to follow diets and fail, it can damage their sense of self-worth. It’s important to realize it’s the diets that are failing them, not them failing at dieting. 

Orthorexia Nervosa

If someone succeeds in following a strict fad diet long enough to harm their health, they may be suffering form Orthorexia Nervosa. It’s a condition in which a person starts dieting, not for the purpose of weight loss, but to be healthier. They develop an unhealthy obsession with eating only “clean” foods and gradually eliminate more and more foods. They develop a fear of eating foods that aren’t permitted on their diet. This extreme focus on dieting negatively affects a person’s mental health as well as their physical health. They’re sometimes encouraged by people who admire their dedication to clean eating and who don’t realize that this level of restriction isn’t healthy. 

Healthy Eating

Healthy eating is not about dietary restrictions and weight loss. It involves making healthy food and beverage choices on a regular basis, following healthy eating habits, and limiting highly processed foods. Healthy eating over the long-term can reduce the risk of diabetes, cancer, overweight and obesity and cardiovascular disease. If you’re looking to make changes to your eating habits, some evidence-based recommendations include: eating more whole foods, including lots of vegetables and fruit; trying to include more plant-based proteins; replacing foods high in saturated fats with unsaturated fat alternatives; cutting back on foods and drinks high in sugar; and drinking plenty of water. If you feel like you really need to follow a “diet”, take a look at the Mediterranean Diet that incorporates all of these habits and has a lot of science to back it up.  

Be kind to yourself by abandoning the dream of a quick fix. Learn about more positive approaches like mindful eating, intuitive eating, and health at any size. Focus on gradually incorporating more healthy eating habits, enjoying regular physical activity, and appreciating the body you have. Choose nutritious foods most of the time, and allow yourself to mindfully enjoy less healthy choices once in a while, without guilt. Maybe you’ll lose some extra weight and maybe you won’t, but you’ll be healthier and happier.

Aisha Khedheri , RD

Aisha Khedheri is a Registered Dietician at the Human Performance Center. You can contact her at 738-8299.