Fad Diets Don't Work
Debunking,  Fad Diets

Why fad diets don’t work … and what to do about it.

fad (noun): an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities; a craze. (Source: dictionary.com)

New fad diets that promise extraordinary results are so alluring! You see the dramatic before-and-after photos, enthusiastic testimonies from people who have changed their lives for the better, all because of the newest diet trend. Certainly, most fad diets can and do deliver weight loss to their devout followers, but the long-term truth is that most people who practice fad diets don’t stick with them or regain any lost weight. Why is this?

There are a myriad of reasons why a particular fad diet doesn’t work out for any one person. Whether you’re three weeks into a diet or considering a new one, here are some tell-tale signs that an eating plan may be difficult to follow. 

Six Reasons Fad Diets are Hard To Follow

  1. Entire food groups are 100% off limits.
    • What it looks like. 
      • Restrictions like: no legumes, no bread, no dairy, no animal products, no bananas, etc. You get the picture. 
      • These diets may forbid an entire class of commonly-consumed and generally regarded as healthful food.
    • What it means. 
      • A diet with hardcore restrictions and rules might result in some weight loss and be overall healthier than your previous diet, but chances are you won’t be able to maintain this unbalanced way of eating. And, in order to benefit from a way of eating, you have to be able to sustain it. 
    • Examples: Keto, Whole30 (to be fair, this is meant to be temporary at 30 days), veganism, Carnivore Diet
  2. Diets that require abstaining from super common ingredients.
    • What it looks like. 
      • Restrictions like: no added sugar or sweetener of any kind, no wheat, no soy. 
      • What you will find yourself doing:
        • Scouring labels for any trace of sugar, syrup, or any ingredient ending in -ose. 
        • Asking every server at every restaurant things like, “Does this breading have wheat in it?” (The answer is likely “yes”. You don’t even have to ask.) 
    • What it means. 
      • If you have celiac disease or food allergies, these are valid reasons to prohibit common ingredients like sweeteners, wheat, egg, soy, etc. Crazy diet is not.
      • Almost any ingredient, in moderation, can be part of a healthy diet. Don’t sabotage success by vowing to never, ever eat something again.
    • Examples: Keto, Whole30, veganism
  3. The amount of meal planning and food preparation required is interfering with important parts of your life.
    • What it looks like: 
      • Very complicated recipes that require lots of planning, chopping, equipment, and dishes.
      • You feel like you’re a slave to food preparation, and you don’t even really like what you’re making.
    • What it means.
      • It’s likely you’ll have a “I’m done with this s***!” moment and make a bee-line to your favorite take-out joint. Who could blame you?
    • Examples: Keto, Carnivore Diet
  4. You’re blowing your existing grocery budget out of the water.
    • What it looks looks
      • A diet that recommends a lot of supplements in order to stay healthy or loose weight.
      • Meals that are based on very expensive or hard-to-find ingredients – think lots of grass-fed steak, wild game, organic and exotic foods.
    • What it means
      • You may start to resent the financial and logistical burdens that these diets require.
    • Examples: Carnivore Diet, Keto, Anti-Inflammatory Diet, any diet that requires lots of supplements – $$.
  5. You’re eating more calories than you’re burning.
    • What it looks like: 
      • A diet that advertises unlimited access to certain foods that are high calorie. For example, heavy cream, butter, very fatty meats, dried fruits and nuts.
      • You misinterpret diet instructions, eg, “unlimited coffee” (~5 calories/cup) is interpreted as “unlimited hand-crafted espresso beverages” (~100 – >500 calories each)
    • What it means.
      • The diet instructions and resources may not have been clear on what the rules mean.
    • Examples: Low-fat diet
  6. You feel miserable. Whenever you start eating differently, you should expect to feel differently for a while. For example, at first you may feel deprived if you stop eating ice cream before bed every night (I did!). However, the initial feelings of discomfort with change should be accompanied with positive feelings, such as a sense of satisfaction for treating your body well, feeling lighter and more energetic, etc.
    • What it looks like. 
      • After the initial transition phase (1-2 weeks), you still feel super cranky and lethargic. 
      • More quantitative physical signs might include constipation, frequent headaches, and disrupted sleep.
    • What it means. 
      • Your body is telling you something in a not-so-subtle way – you’re starving. 
      • Diets that cause the physical symptoms listed above are generally too calorie deficient and lack adequate nutrients to maintain good health.
    • Examples: Very low calorie (<1200 cal/day) diets, extreme forms of intermittent fasting (for example, 20 hrs fasting/4 hrs feeding per day)

In Summary …

Most fad diets are too hard and make us too miserable to maintain. Challenge is good. Pushing yourself to achieve your health goals is a noble cause. However, adhering to an overly restrictive, expensive, and/or time-consuming diet is a recipe for giving up (and bee-lining it to a tub of ice cream). 

What You Can Do About It

  • Solutions:
    • Try something different. Instead of eliminating all carbs from your diet, take a baby step and try, for example, not having drinks with added sugar for one week.
    • Accountability. Sometimes a partner or someone to check in with is just enough motivation to keep you on track. Ask a friend or family member to be a confidante and/or check in with you to discuss your new healthy behaviors.

What do you think about popular diet crazes – current or past? Have you had success with a specific diet, or really hated one? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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