As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I am often posed the question, “Which Diet is the Best
Diet?” This question usually comes with an agenda for weight loss. Because hundreds of fad diets have made their way into American culture, and some never die (Hello, Keto, former Atkins Diet), it has become increasingly difficult for consumers to distinguish fact from fiction.
So, how do we spot a fad diet? Here are a few red flags to look out for when choosing a diet.
It’s inflexible. Fad diets use inflexible approaches to drastically change your current diet and/or eating habits. Some diets insist that you cannot eat after a certain time of day which may not be feasible for someone who works, let’s say, third shift. Other diets require you to eat certain food groups at certain times, but there is no scientific evidence to back the effectiveness of this for weight loss. If your diet doesn’t allow for a little wiggle room for your current lifestyle (work, family, etc)- it’s probably not the right diet for you.
It promises a quick fix. Safe weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week. If you are losing more than that, you are probably losing a significant amount of water weight or you’re going to plateau very quickly. In addition to this, rapid weight loss typically increases your risk of rapid weight gain. This is called the Yo-Yo dieting effect and it plaques many dieters. If the weight loss promotion has “Before and After” photo marketing or promises you’ll lose X amount of weight in X amount of time- it is probably a fad diet. There are hundreds of ways to lose weight, not all of them are healthy and fad diets are not a permanent fix.
It requires you to completely change your habits overnight. If you find yourself doing a 180 and making more changes than you’re ready for- it’s likely a fad diet. Change takes time! And changing too much at once sets you up for failure. No one just gets up and runs a marathon- you start with one or two miles. The same goes for your eating habits. Instead of changing everything at once- aim for setting one or two realistic goals at a time. If you are currently not eating any vegetables, aim for one to two servings per day to start and work up to the recommended three to five. If you are not engaging in any physical activity, going for a brisk walk a few times a week certainly offers more health benefits than sitting on the couch. Remember that the little stuff adds up to big changes over time!
It eliminates entire food groups. A balanced diet includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean sources of protein, low fat dairy, healthy fats and occasional splurges. If you are eliminating these food groups in an unsustainable way it is probably a fad diet. Instead, work with a dietitian to find out how much of these food groups should be included in your diet each day. If you are constantly feeling hungry (or Hangry!) and do not have adequate energy levels, you’re probably following a fad diet.
It is not backed by scientific evidence. Probably the biggest red flag is that fad diets are not backed by scientific evidence. In the research world, you can manipulate the data of almost any study into giving you the results you need. Obviously, these are bad researchers- but it certainly happens. Sound research is published in peer-reviewed journals. It does not try to apply its results across age, gender or species and it is repeated over and over again. So the results found in a single study conducted on mice cannot necessarily be applied to humans. While many fad diets are written by doctors, the evidence used is often “cherry picked.” This means that they “picked” the parts of the study that prove their point and leave the other parts of the study out. This does not give the readers the whole picture and misleads them to believe false information.
It requires you to spend a lot of money. A lot of popular fad diets like to say they aren’t a “diet”, they’re a “lifestyle.” However, if the intention is to get you to purchase products like bars, shakes, pills and books - it’s a fad diet. Personally, the thought of drinking a liquid breakfast for the rest of my life makes me shutter. It is also expensive. Contrary to popular belief, eating healthfully does not need to cost a fortune.
You’re not enjoying your diet. Food is a big part of life. If asked why we eat, the answer isn’t always because we are hungry. If we all only ate when we were hungry, and knew exactly what we needed, obesity would not be an epidemic. Most of us eat to celebrate (birthdays, graduations, promotions, etc.). Some of us eat when we are sad, others as a distraction from boredom. And these reasons are all okay (sometimes you just need a piece of chocolate!). But if you’re missing out on celebrations because of your diet, if you want to cry when you look at a piece of asparagus, you probably aren’t following the right diet for you. If you hate asparagus, there are literally thousands of other vegetables. And it is perfectly okay to enjoy cake on your birthday!
It tries to speak to all lifespans. Diets should be individually tailored to each person based on their age, activity level, health status, culture, and goals. Dietitians wouldn’t necessarily make the same recommendations for two different people. Instead, they work with the individual and their current lifestyle, taste preferences, time constraints, cooking ability, etc. so that they are able to live their healthiest lifestyle- whatever that may look like for them! If the diet seems to only speak to one population, it is probably a fad.
From Adkins to The Zone diet, fad diets are not fading. They intrigue consumers with their quick fixes to a complex problem. They also lead to burnout, weight gain, and low self esteem. If you are concerned about your health, speak with a Registered Dietitian about making flexible lifestyle changes that work for you.
About the Author:
Raelynn Prokop, RDN
As a Registered Dietitian, Raelynn aspires to help her clients live a healthier, well-balanced life style throughout its entirety. She believe that diets are not "one size fits all" and should be tailored to your individual preferences, schedule, budget, etc. She takes a flexible approach to helping you achieve your health goals; ensuring that you enjoy the foods you are eating and it is maintainable for a lifetime.