Why Fad Diets Don’t Work

As a New Year dawns, many of us are gearing up to change our diet as part of an effort to improve our health. In some cases, trend-based widely publicized diets, sometimes called fad diets, are often tempting to follow due to their inflated claims of guaranteed weight loss.   Tweet This!

However, not all diet plans have equal effectiveness; what works for some may not work for others.   Tweet This! Most importantly, not all diets are safe and effective. Often these “get thin quick” diets don’t deliver long term on their claims and some come at a high cost even if they do deliver initial results.

So, let’s talk about some of the reasons why fad diets don’t work (for everyone).*

Characteristics of a fad diet.

Fad diets often make promises of rapid weight loss. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.   Tweet This! The Mayo Clinic recommends reducing the amount of calorie consumption daily by 500 to 750 (calories) in order to lose 1 to 1.5 pounds per week. Weight loss goals beyond those recommendations are generally considered unhealthy except under very specific medical oversight.

Some fad diets are even marketed in a manner that requires the purchase of a specific product in order to lose weight. This “only our way” strategy differs from that of from companies offering products to help support long-term weight loss efforts.

Fad diets that suggest consuming only specific combinations of foods in order to burn calories are not scientifically valid. An unbalanced diet has been shown to exhibit strong potential to deny your body many vital nutrients needed for proper growth. The same is true for diets centered on consumption of only one food item, such as grapefruit or cabbage diets, for example.

Diets that require skipping meals, replacing all meals with a special type of food, and/or consuming a low calorie intake are all common characteristics of gimmick diets. One other type of fad diet that is slowly becoming a trend is the elimination diet. This type of diet requires elimination of carbohydrates, fats, or a specific food groups.

Examples of fad diets.

Liquid, Juice or Broth Cleanses + Diets.

There are many variations of juicing diets. You may be familiar with – or even tried one – yourself. These types of diets, like many fad diets, promise quick weight loss in an extremely short time period.  Juice diets promote the consumption of specific juice blends from fruit and vegetable juices to broths, while completely avoiding solid foods. These diets are occasionally prescribed by physicians for patients with specific medical conditions.

While some juice-only cleanses do provide phytonutrients that may be missing from your diet, they come at the expense of severely limiting the consumption of other important nutrients. As a result, dieters can eventually become malnourished because they lack vital nutrients including (but not limited to) protein, healthy fats and fiber.

Consuming too few calories for an extended period of time may also have a negative impact on metabolic processes within the body. Since this diet is only sustainable for a short period of time, dieters will often gain the weight back after discontinuation (Obert 2017). Diets that require juicing from fruits and vegetables may also not be practical for those seeking a cost-effective weight loss method. The purchase of a juicer and/or pre-made juices can be highly expensive.

Low Carbohydrate Diets.

In the last few years, low carbohydrate diets have gained much attention and are now considered a part of the dieting trend. This type of diet focuses on an increased intake of protein and fats, with a restricted intake of calories from carbohydrate sources.

There is a great amount of research that supports the idea of a “low carb” or Ketogenic Diet in treating numerous conditions, including obesity and diabetes (Paoli, 2012). However, these diets are administered and closely monitored by physicians and registered dietitians to these specific populations for a designated time period.

Improper use of a low carbohydrate diet can lead to over consumption of protein and fat. Consuming a diet with very high amounts of protein in conjunction with an extremely low carbohydrate intake for an extended period of time can result in a fiber deficiency and potentially cause uncomfortable symptoms such as headaches, constipation and bad breath (Mayo Clinic, 2017).

The low carb diet can also be dangerous to individuals with existing kidney problems. Many protein sources also contain a high amount of saturated fats. An over consumption of saturated fats is shown to increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Although temporary practice of Ketogenic diets has been shown to provide some health benefits, there are also potential risks and side effects associated with this type of diet if practiced for an extended period of time beyond the recommended duration advised by a medical professional. Because of this, it is extremely important for any person participating in a Ketogenic diet to be monitored under close supervision by his/her physician and/or dietitian.

Is it still possible to consume too many calories even with restricting calories from carbohydrates? Yes.   Tweet This!

  • One gram of carbohydrate equates to four calories – the same as protein.
  • One gram of fat equates to nine calories of your total energy intake.
  • You can still lose weight when consuming carbohydrates – as long as you are expending more calories than you consume.

Elimination Diets.

Elimination diets encourage the idea that eliminating entire food groups or macronutrients completely such as all sources of fats or carbohydrates will lead to weight loss. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are required for every living cell in the body.

The body utilizes carbohydrates as the primary source of energy when broken down into glucose molecules. Carbohydrates are also stored in the body in the form of glycogen as an energy reserve and if not used immediately, is stored as fat to help maintain body weight.   Tweet This!

Although proteins and fats are used as secondary sources of energy for the body, it is important to note that your brain functions on energy derived from carbohydrates.   Tweet This! Glucose, a building block of carbohydrates readily cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore is an efficient source of fuel for the brain, unlike fat and proteins (Paoli, 2014).

Dietary fats provide insulation for the body and play a role in the production of hormones. Essential fatty acids also serve as an energy source for the body and assist with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Eliminating any of these macronutrients in an otherwise healthy person will not be beneficial to a weight loss plan.   Tweet This!

There are also fad diets that promote the elimination of food groups such as grains. There has been a surge of gluten-free options in stores and restaurants alike. However, gluten-free diets are mostly beneficial to special populations who suffer from medical conditions like celiac disease or a non-celiac gluten intolerance (or sensitivity). There is no scientific evidence to support that a gluten-free diet leads to weight loss. Unless you are adhering to a specific diet for religious, personal or medical reasons, there is no benefit to completely eliminating certain food groups from your diet.   Tweet This!

At the end of the day, what’s most important is to remember that all diets are not created equal. Because every body is different, aim to find a diet plan that is sustainable long-term and allows you to reach your goals (ex: weight loss, gain and/or maintenance). You can achieve your weight loss goals without sacrificing all the necessary nutrients your body needs to function – and one that does not feel like you are actually on a diet.   Tweet This! Your healthy nutrition habits should be a lifelong lifestyle that you can enjoy daily!


*The contents of the above article are not a substitute for the advice of your healthcare professional. If you have been advised to be on any specialized diet, please continue as directed.

References

  1. Mayo Clinic (2017). Are high-protein diets safe for weight loss?
  2. Obert, J., Pearlman, M., Obert, L., Chapin, S. (2017). Popular weight loss strategies: A review of four weight loss techniques. Curr Gastroenterol, 19(61), 1-4. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  3. Paoli, A. (2014). Ketogenic Diet for Obesity: Friend or Foe? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 11, 2092-2107. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
  4. Paoli, A., Moro, T., Marcolin, G., Neri, M., Bianco, A., Palma, A., & Grimaldi, K. (2012). High-intensity interval resistance training (HIRT) influences resting energy expenditure and respiratory ratio in non-dieting individuals. J Transl Med, 10, 237. Retrieved December 1, 2017.