Promises of quick and easy weight loss define fad diets. They claim you can lose fat, inches, and improve your health by taking this pill or drinking that juice, no exercise needed. It’s that easy.
With these kinds of claims, one can see why fad diets are so popular. Who doesn’t want a quick, easy fix to the weight and health concerns we as a nation have so dramatically gained over the last decade?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics warns against fad diets, stating that one should be aware of certain claims such as:
- Rapid Weight Loss - If you want your weight loss to last, it is best to lose weight slow and steady. This also teaches healthy habits for sustained weight control and healthy living.
- Quantities and Limitations - Unlimited quantities of any food, such as cabbage, will become monotonous. Likewise, if entire food groups are avoided, use caution. Our bodies thrive on a multitude of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and other nutrients. It takes a variety of foods to provide all the nutrients we need.
- Specific Food Combinations - There is no evidence that combining certain foods or eating at precise times will help with weight loss.
- Rigid Menus - Meal plans that are too strict or complicated are hard to maintain and most will not stick with it long-term.
- No Need to Exercise - If a diet suggests that their plan or product is so good, you don’t need to exercise at all, run away! Regular exercise is essential for good health. If you want to maintain a healthy weight, build muscle, lose fat, and strengthen your heart, exercise should be a consistent part of your week.
Because fad diets often cut out key foods or require drastic reductions in calories, they may cause:
- Weakness and fatigue
- Nausea and headaches
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Inadequate vitamin and mineral intake
There have been some outlandish fad diets in our past. Everyday Health has reviewed several diet fads, some of which might seem shocking. Do you remember any of these?
- hCG Injections – pregnancy hormone injections paired with restrictive calories.
- Blue Tinted Glasses – intended to make your food look unappealing.
- The Twinkie Diet – eat only Twinkies, but lose weight because you’re eating fewer calories than normal.
- Ingesting Tapeworm Pills – while possibly deadly, the tapeworms eat the food in your stomach, causing weight loss.
- Sleep Instead of Eat – Elvis Presley was an advocate of this fad diet.
- Chew, but Don’t Swallow – chew your food until it is completely pureed but don’t swallow it.
- Ear stapling – to stimulate pressure points that control your appetite. After a few weeks your body gets used to them and your appetite returns to normal.
So what does healthy weight loss look like?
Dr. Joel Fuhrman states, “Weight loss can be achieved and maintained best when taking into account the four elements of hunger. Those four elements include not just caloric intake and the caloric density of one’s diet, but also the nutritional quality of one’s diet, food volume, and food addiction or withdrawal.
“When it comes to weight loss, most people focus on calorie restriction without taking into account nutrient density, food volume, and dealing with food addictions. We must focus on the nutritional quality of one’s diet and not just the calories.
“When we cut back on calories, lose weight, then increase caloric intake later and gain weight again, our bodies make more enzymes that store fat which leads to the accumulation of more visceral fat. More visceral fat puts people at higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Crash dieting leads to loss of subcutaneous fat but it may take years to get rid of visceral fat.”
For healthy, sustainable weight loss, focus less on restricting calories and more on limiting foods with empty calories, replacing them with nutrient-dense foods. This will leave our bodies more satisfied and nourished.
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) suggests that when it comes to nutrition for weight loss, one should:
- Eat breakfast daily and avoid skipping meals.
- Eat a variety of foods to ensure you get all of your daily nutrients.
- Watch what type of fats you eat. Avoid trans fats found in hydrogenated oils, fried foods, and baked goods. Also limit saturated fats (found mostly in meat and dairy products) and sodium. Opt for healthy, whole food fats such as avocado, nuts, or seeds.
- Limit sugar intake. High sugar foods are high in calories and low in nutrients. Whole fruits, vegetables, and grains are high nutrient foods that are low in calories.
- Avoid excess calories from unhealthy drinks like soda and alcohol. Be sure to get plenty of water in every day.
- Pay attention to portion size. Read labels and follow the portion size recommendations.
- Exercise on a regular basis. Nutrition and physical exercise go hand-in-hand in helping to maintain weight and increase health. Pay attention to both.
AAFP suggests asking your doctor these three questions:
- How do I know if a fad diet is safe or right for me?
- If fad diets are bad, what kind of diet can I try in order to lose weight?
- Are diets meant to be short-term or long-term?
Sometimes fad diets can help because they give you a plan and guidelines to follow. You follow the program to a “t” (for a little while) and you’re not left guessing what to eat each day or making last minute impulse decisions on what to eat when you’re really hungry. Usually, a diet plan is mapped out. Too often, people fail in their daily nutrition because they have not planned ahead and find themselves hungry and desperate to eat whatever is quick and easy to cure their hunger feeling. We see this example as we study Jacob and Esau.
When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished… Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” But Jacob said, “First, sell me your birthright.”
Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birth right to me? Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.” Gen 25:29-34
We can learn from the story of Jacob and Esau and see how important an eating plan can be. Planning meals allows us to avoid getting so hungry that we react like Esau, when he felt like he was going to die if he didn’t eat something right away.
Healthy eating plans can help give you this structure too. Come up with a system that helps you maintain a healthy balance with what you eat. If you pack a lunch for work, you mentally prepare for what you will eat that day and won’t fall into the ‘desperate for food’ scenario Esau found himself in. Planning ahead can be half the battle when it comes to maintaining proper nutrition.
If you struggle with knowing what to eat or how to shop for the right foods at the store, seek the advice of a registered dietitian who can help you tailor a nutrition plan that fits your needs.
For most of us, the key components to healthy eating are limiting sugar and processed foods and replacing them with nutrient-dense whole foods like produce, whole grains, lentils and beans, and lean proteins. Most of these can be found by shopping the perimeter of your grocery store.
Ann Kulze, MD, the author of Dr. Ann’s 10-Step Diet: A Simple Plan for Permanent Weight Loss and Lifelong Vitality explains, "You can gain or lose weight eating anything," she says. "You can gain weight eating healthy foods and lose weight eating hot dogs, but we would like to see you eat healthfully to reach a healthy weight," she adds.
"What you eat is just as important as how much you are eating,” says Samantha Heller, RD, a senior clinical nutritionist at the New York University Medical Center in New York City.
What diets have you tried in the past? Were they successful?