By: Kendall Peddie & Alison Kiefer
What Are Fad Diets?
Fad diets are diets that are popular for a time and promise quick and easy weight loss. They are often promoted as a “quick fix”. These diets may help to lose weight quickly, but are almost never successful in keeping the weight off long-term. Fad diets may concentrate on eliminating certain foods or food groups by avoiding fat, carbs, or sugar. Other diets may concentrate solely on a particular food, such as the grapefruit diet or cabbage diet.
Fad diets have a strong following because of the results they promote. Often, fad diets are supported with “Then & Now” images of thin people whose lives were changed by one diet or another. Additionally, they usually include testimonials from participants telling the public how easy the diet was to follow, and how they never felt deprived. In a culture seemingly obsessed with weight loss, even more than health, we chase after any illusion that we think might help us achieve the bodies we long for.
Aside from the lack of long-term success, many fad diets involve eliminating foods that contain necessary nutrients, and some even eliminate entire food groups. Eliminating specific foods or entire food groups can create nutrient deficiencies, which keeps you from achieving your optimal health.
Additionally, the fad diet culture is based on weight-loss alone, more than health. When we view food as a way to achieve the aesthetic results we desire, instead of a way of fueling our bodies and promoting health, fad diets may promote an unhealthy relationship with food.
The 4-1-1: Limiting carbohydrates and sugar forces the body to use fat, including body fat, is its primary energy source. The upper limit of carbohydrate intake for someone following the Atkins Diet is about 100g daily, which only equates to about 20% of total daily caloric intake. The diet focuses on a relatively high protein and fat intake to make up for the decrease in carbohydrates.
Why Don’t We Support It? For the average person, it is recommended that carbohydrates make up about 45-65% of our total daily calories. They are one of just three essential macronutrients, and a diet that severely limits them also limits many nutrients like fiber, iron, folate, and B vitamins. Carbohydrates are also the main source of energy for our brains, and without them people may feel foggy, fatigued, or irritable.
Why Won’t It Work? Limiting carbohydrates and sugar may help us to cut down on some calorie-dense treats, but when fat and protein are consumed in excess, they are stored as body fat just like carbohydrates are. Over-consuming any food, not just carbohydrates, will contribute to increased body fat.
Where We Stand: Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are all essential parts of a healthy diet. Each contributes unique and important nutrients that help our bodies to function properly. By incorporating all three macronutrients in appropriate ratios, our bodies will feel satisfied and full of energy.
The 4-1-1: Similar to Atkins, the Keto Diet is based around very low carbohydrate intake. The differentiating factor is the emphasis on fat intake to replace those carbohydrates. A true keto diet is made up of 75-95% of total daily calories. The goal of the keto diet is to get the body into a state called “ketosis” in which the body burns both dietary and body fat for energy. In ketosis, fats also break down into particles called “ketones” that the brain can use for energy.
Why Don’t We Support It? Aside from how difficult it is to build a meal plan that is 75-95% fat, this is just another diet that deprives our bodies of essential nutrients.
Why Won’t It Work? The keto diet is not sustainable for long periods of time. It requires intensive meal planning and prepping, and does not allow for much flexibility at all. After a certain point, cravings or frustration will kick in and throw the entire diet off track. Additionally, the long-term implications of the diet have not been studied in enough depth to determine the overall impact on health. It is likely that there is a link between dietary fat intake and higher blood lipids and cholesterol levels.
Where We Stand: The Keto Diet does not stick to dietary guidelines for eating a healthy, balanced diet. It promotes an excess of just one macronutrient, and a major suppression of the other two, which could lead to multiple severe nutrient deficiencies.
The 4-1-1: The Whole30 diet eliminates certain foods and food groups including added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites. The Whole30 diet includes moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs, lots of vegetables, natural fats, and some fruit.
Why Don’t We Support It? Constantly thinking about what can or cannot be eaten under the Whole30 “rules” can contribute to an unhealthy or obsessive relationship with food. Additionally, some of the food items that are not allowed on the Whole30 diet, such as legumes and grains, are actually very good for your health and should not be avoided. Dairy and alcohol can also be part of a healthful lifestyle in moderation.
Why Won’t It Work? It is likely not attainable to never eat a certain food or food group ever again. While you might be able to avoid these foods for 30 days, you likely will not avoid them for the rest of your life. Since the foods you are “allowed” to eat on Whole30 are limited, you may lose weight simply because you are not eating as much. As soon as you are allowed to eat these foods again after 30 days, you will return to consuming the same amount, if not more, calories as before.
Where We Stand: While this diet does emphasize the importance of focusing on whole foods, it makes the classic diet mistake of eliminating entire food groups. Whole, natural foods are very important; but whole grains, legumes, and dairy are all whole foods and therefore should not be avoided. In short, it is a short-term solution to a long-term problem—as are most fad diets.
The 4-1-1: Juice cleanses entail consuming only fruit and vegetable juices while avoiding solid foods. Juice cleanses are often done to “detox” the body and usually last between 2 to 7 days. An all-liquid diet will likely make you lose weight, but only due to decreased calorie consumption from avoiding solid foods.
Why Don’t We Support It? Your body already has so many detoxifying systems in place, so a juice cleanse is unnecessary. Juice cleanses cut out many important nutrients and do not provide the same nutritional benefits as whole fruits and vegetables. When fruits and vegetables are juiced, much of the fiber is removed. Juices may also have hidden added sugar to make them taste better. This can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, leaving you feeling irritable and with low energy.
Why Won’t It Work? Juice cleanses are quick fixes that do not provide attainable, long-term results. While you may lose a few pounds of water weight, you will gain this back almost immediately as you re-introduce solid foods into your diet.
Where We Stand: Pressed juices can be part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation, but should not be consumed as a sole-source of nutrition. Cutting out entire foods and food groups can be detrimental to health and hinder the body’s ability to work properly.
What is the
Alternative to Fad Dieting?
In theory, a “diet” should only be followed by those who have been advised by a Doctor or Registered Dietitian. A diet is very different from, and much more restrictive than choosing to eat healthy foods to promote a healthy lifestyle. Diets typically follow a specific time period, whereas a healthy lifestyle is, as the name suggests, for a lifetime.
A healthy lifestyle is based on balance, moderation and variety. It should include a large variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, whole-wheat bread products, whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, etc.), lean proteins (chicken, turkey, fish, plant-based proteins such as legumes), and heart-healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, nuts). When following a healthy lifestyle, it is also important to honor your cravings and listen to your body. It is also okay to honor what your body is craving from time to time, whether it be a nice meal out or a sweet treat.