Nutrition In yoU: 4 ways to recognize a fad diet

This time of year, the weight loss industry preys on new year’s resolutions and those looking to start fresh after their post-holiday eating. In 2018, the total U.S. weight loss market was worth an estimated $72 billion, including best selling books, meal plans, powders and pills, all claiming to hold the secret to weight loss. Unfortunately, weight loss claims are often not supported by science. Research has shown that on average dieters lose only a small amount of weight and most gain the weight back in the future. This is because fad diets are difficult to maintain in the long term and do not often result in weight loss or other promised benefits.

4 Ways to Recognize a Fad Diet

1. Restricting or avoiding entire food groups

Eliminating certain foods from the diet may result in weight loss due to calorie restriction. However, it may also come at the cost of overall health and well being. Eliminating foods that have demonstrated to have positive health benefits, such as grains, dairy, and oils, can result in nutritional deficiencies followed by short- and long-term consequences. Additionally, starting a new elimination diet induces a “last supper mentality” in which dieters binge certain foods when there is a looming threat of deprivation. Our diets should include a variety of foods from all food groups in order to provide our bodies with the nutrients essential for life and growth. It’s important to remember that all foods fit into the diet in moderation – yes, that includes desserts!

2. Requires you to purchase specific pills, supplements, shakes, bars, or meals.

Although shakes, bars, and pre-packaged meals may make your life easier initially, it is a difficult lifestyle to maintain in the long term. With any new diet, you should always ask yourself, “Can I eat this for the rest of my life?” Additionally, supplements are not closely regulated and have not necessarily been proven to be safe and effective. Over 20,000 emergency department visits in the U.S. annually are attributed to adverse events related to dietary supplements. Keep in mind a food first approach before ingesting possibly unregulated substances. 

3. Based on testimonials and exaggerated promises rather than evidence-based research. 

As the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Most fad diets fail to live up to their promises. Initial weight loss usually comes from water, muscle and bone, not fat. Research has shown that individuals who lose weight quickly are more likely to regain the weight in the future. Gradual weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week is generally recommended for more sustainable results. Additionally, anecdotes and before-and-after photos often portray the exceptional cases. The diet should rely on multiple, peer reviewed scientific studies rather than anecdotal claims.  

4. Ignores the importance of exercise to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Regular physical activity is just as important as a healthy diet in maintaining good health. The Physical Activity guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week for adults. Achieving and maintain weight loss often requires more than 150 minutes per week. Look for activities that you enjoy doing, such as dancing, biking, and gardening.

Overall, there is no one size fits all diet for weight loss. Fad diets do not take into consideration health history or individual lifestyle habits, such as exercise, sleep, and stress. What works for one individual may not work for another. There is no shame in wanting to achieve a healthier lifestyle. However, it must be achieved through lifestyle habits that can be sustained throughout the life cycle. In  order to achieve a healthy lifestyle, you should follow a dietary pattern that meets your nutritional needs, includes a variety of foods, and fits your lifestyle and dietary preferences.  


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