Do Trendy Fad Diets Work?

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With the recent entrance into 2017 and the making of new year's resolutions, the lure of “lose weight fast!” has gotten a lot of people excited about trendy diets. But should you consider trying a trendy diet? The answer is, probably not.

Studies show that fad diets do not work over the long term, so there really isn’t a point in getting too attached to them. Proper exercise and eating healthy are a much better strategy for consistent weight loss. 

Let’s take a look at trendy fad diets, why they don’t tend to work, and why it ultimately makes the most sense to stick with exercise and proper nutrition.

What is a Fad Diet?

A diet can be considered to be a “fad” diet if it incorporates any of the following characteristics:

1. Promises quick results

2. Completely cuts out a certain macronutrient (for example: carbs, fats)

3. Only allows one type of food/product (for example: protein drinks, meal replacements)

4. Sounds too good to be true

5. Involves costly, branded diet products

Another tell-tale sign? Most people gain the weight they lose from the fad diet back almost immediately after stopping it.

Many are manipulated into trying fad diets because of the apparent “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow” - a “perfect” body without a significant amount of effort. Who wouldn’t want to believe that’s possible?

The following represent some of the more popular fad diets, with a focus in particular on fad diets that are either dangerous for your body, or where weight loss efforts are immediately reversed upon completion of the diet.

Detox/Juicing

A juice detox is meant to be completed over a short time period. A juice diet can be defined as, “A nutritionally unsound ‘elimination’ diet in which only one fruit—e.g., apple or grape—or vegetable—e.g.,carrot or onion—its juice, and water, but no other solid foods are ingested.”

A juice diet will initially help you drop weight, but won’t help you keep it off. EatThis shares that on a juice diet, “You will lose weight while on the cleanse, but it will be from your muscles and from water weight.” This weight comes back just as soon as the cleanse is over.

The biggest misconception about a “detox” is that your body is already doing this on it’s own. Your kidneys and liver naturally detox everything, and eating certain types of food won’t necessarily aid the process. Knowing that a lot of the advertising around juicing revolves around the idea of detoxing, why bother with this lie of a fad diet?

Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet is often referred to as the “caveman diet.” According to Huffington Post, it was the most Googled diet of 2013, and is enjoying increasing popularity moving into 2017. Popular lifestyle blogs and celebrity endorsement have continued to fuel the diet’s growth. Those who take the Paleo lifestyle especially serious tend to also be involved with a trendy fitness movement known as Crossfit.

If you observe the Paleo diet...

You eat; fruits, veggies, nuts/seeds, lean meats, fish, and certain oils.

You do not eat; grains, legumes, dairy products, refined sugar, salt, potatoes, highly processed food.

Many think the Paleo diet isn’t a good diet to stick to, unless it’s for medical reasons. Dr. Henriksen stated, “Today’s berries, vegetables and seeds are nothing like then. It is simply just a different environment and time period.”

The Paleo diet ignores some obvious facts, like:

-- We live in a different era, with different food options, than that of our cavemen ancestors

-- We have farming now, alongside other modern food preparation innovations

-- Many grains (restricted under the Paleo diet) are known to have certain health benefits

Many people adopt the Paleo diet as a structured way to avoid many grains/carbohydrates, ignoring the fact that these things aren’t inherently unhealthy.

Meal Replacement Diet

There are many variations of the meal replacement diet, but it usually centers around the idea of replacing one or two meals with a smoothie/drink. Like many others on this list, it’s supposed to be a short term diet. After all, who wants to drink 1-2 smoothies each day for the rest of their lives? It’s an unrealistic goal.

In a Huffington Post article on the topic, it was shared that, “Meal replacement shakes require little digestion and are quickly absorbed. Eating real food will always be superior.” But how exactly is eating real food superior? Most importantly, your intake of nutrients, phytochemicals, and antioxidants is not the same between real food, and popular meal replacement formulations. If you’re looking to be healthy when eating on the go, consider options like fruit, yogurt, low-fat cheese, and granola bars.

Low-Fat Diet

If you purchase a low-fat product, know that companies take out the fat from the product, but replace the fat with sugar to make it still taste good. A BBC article shared that, “The problem is low-fat can mean vegetables, or just clever marketing for, "we took out all the fat and then pumped it full of sugar."

By implementing a low-fat diet, people might look at labels thinking there should be zero fat in the food. What these people don’t seem to realize is that not all fat is bad.

Saturated fats are found in animal products and vegetable fats. There’s evidence that shows overconsumption of these fats can lead to colon or prostate cancer. Trans fats are another kind of fat that can be bad - so long as they are artificial, and not naturally occurring. Trans fats found in many popular baking products (margarine, lard, etc.) can increase the risk of heart disease.

Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats are both good fats for people. Eaten in moderation, and in place of bad saturated fats, they can actually lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. You can find these healthy fats in food such as: nuts, oils, avocados, peanut butters, eggs, and fish.

Raw Food Diet

A raw food diet is defined as “any uncooked, unprocessed, and often organic foods, esp. as eaten as a large percentage of the diet.” Many tout the benefits of eating a raw food diet as reducing inflammation and improving digestion by cutting out processed and pasteurized foods.

However, a raw food diet is a lot of effort to keep up. Coming up with meals that are all raw foods takes a lot of preparation and will power. Additionally, eating too many raw foods can actually work in opposition of proper digestion - it’s not for everyone.

Losing weight takes a lot of work on it’s own, but it is worth it if you want to be healthier. Because this diet is even more time consuming than just “eating right,” it might deter some people from their goal. Since a raw food diet is so time consuming, a person may give up and consequently, gain the weight back.

Why Trendy Diets Don’t Work

There are a number of reasons why fad diets don’t work; one of the biggest issues is the fact that they don’t work long term. Fad diets that promise “quick results” ignore how healthy weight loss occurs — slowly, over time. Another issue with many trendy diets is their focus on cutting out certain food groups. This in turn, starves your body of certain nutrients it needs to function properly.

It’s unrealistic to cut an entire food group out, like carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are not inherently bad for you. However, foods where natural ingredients have been stripped, like white bread, are lacking in the nutritional value that, for example, a whole grain wheat bread would have. With regards to carbohydrates in your diet, focus on moderation and limiting your indulgences. Choose the healthier carbohydrate alternatives whenever possible.

Clearly, fad diets are unsustainable. It’s a lot of work for an unsatisfying end; most people gain weight back immediately after stopping a fad diet.

What You Should do Instead: Proper Diet

A proper diet is the key to good health, and should not be confused with going on a diet. A “diet” is temporary, while maintaining a proper diet is a lifestyle change.

A proper diet means eating from all the food groups, and maintaining a healthy balance of macro (and micro) nutrients. By implementing a healthy diet plan, cutting out processed foods, eating less sugar, eating more protein & vegetables, and also starting a workout routine - a person can lose weight.

Meal planning can be an excellent way to strategize about eating healthy. Meal planning involves going into the grocery store with a list of all the ingredients you’ll need to create certain recipes for the week, then setting aside time to create a number of meals at home. Besides helping to maintain a healthy weight, it also helps people snack nutritiously, shop efficiently, and save time over the long term. Why not give it a try?

What You Should do Instead: Work Out

On top of proper diet, well-rounded health means incorporating regular exercise. Fitting in 20-30 minutes/day is enough to make a positive difference. And a gym membership is not necessary! Find your ideal workout with an activity like:

Active walking

Biking

Running

Fitness classes (spin, yoga, kickboxing, etc.)

Weightlifting

What you do isn’t as important as the fact that you’re doing something - so get out and get moving!

Many people make it their New Year's resolution to lose weight, eat right, and exercise more. These are all great goals, but they have to be realistic in order for them to be successful. Trendy diets are not part of having a realistic weight loss goal.

Do trendy diets work? The answer is a resounding “no.” But what are your thoughts? We’d love to hear about what healthy weight loss tips have worked for you!

Cortney Berling is a registered dietitian nutritionist at Tri-City Medical Center, a full-service, acute-care hospital located in Oceanside, California. She received her Bachelor of Science in Dietetics at The University of Cincinnati and completed her dietetic internship at The Cleveland Clinic. You can often find Cortney enjoying the San Diego weather where she spends most of her time running, playing beach volleyball, paddle boarding, and hiking.

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