Controversy has never left the world of dietary fads. It has been a go-to process for people looking out for a quick fix and those who want to lose weight within a short amount of time. Dietary fads can be dated back decades ago, from the widely known grapefruit diet advertised by a Hollywood actress, to low-carb diets, to juice detox, and so much more. In contrast to this, the American population’s trend has been going towards higher BMI levels, with around 50% of adults either overweight or obese. As such, diet fads have only gotten more attention as time passes by.
But the question still remains — do fad diets really work?
Unfortunately for many hopefuls, the answer is a resounding “No.”
To back this up, UCLA has designed a study back in 2007, which studied 31 different diet types. They followed people who were doing these diets for two to five years and analyzed their pre-diet and post-diet weights. The results showed that more than half of the subjects not only regained their lost weight but even weighed more than before they dieted.
While it may be true how some people can drop a lot of weight in a few weeks, as we often see in social media advertisements and celebrity endorsements, what happens months to years later isn’t as glamorous as we think. Yo-yo dieting may lead to more severe health problems since this focuses on unhealthy nutritional restrictions. This propagates a culture of labeling foods as strictly bad or good and nothing in between. People also tend to forget to see food as nutrient sources and are merely reduced to the calories they contain. Unfortunately, many people remain uninformed or refuse to acknowledge that extreme calorie deficits can blunt our metabolism for even a few days.
Alarmingly, the dangers of diet fads have taken on another level recently. An infamous diet from the 1950s — tapeworm pills — has resurfaced a few years ago in multiple countries worldwide. This causes weight loss but at the cost of disrupting the normal gastrointestinal flora and physiology of our bodies. Especially when taken for long term and at very high doses, this can lead to life-threatening situations.
Diet fads only focus on the number on the scale and not your health
Low weight doesn’t equate to good health. The optimum weight for every individual varies depending on their height, muscle or fat composition, energy requirements, and many more. A fit and well-toned individual can weigh just as much as a sedentary overweight individual since muscle is heavier than fat. But the former has healthier cardiovascular function due to regular exercise and better blood circulation than the latter.
In the first few days and weeks of a fad diet, you may notice you’ve lost weight but what you lose initially are more on water weight, lean muscles, or fibers. Fats are harder to burn, especially if without adequate exercise. Diets available on the internet are usually restriction diets wherein you cut off certain macronutrients such as carbohydrates. But what happens when you do this? You may notice your shirt has loosened up a bit, but you have likely lost energy to get through your daily life. The body breaks down carbohydrates into simpler sugars which in turn gives us that immediate energy we need. Just think of moments in your life when you’ve felt refreshed again and ready to conquer the world after eating a decent serving of your favorite pastry or pasta. I’m pretty sure the majority of us can relate. The serotonin boost from rewarding yourself with good food is a welcome bonus as well!
Diet fads are highly unrealistic and impractical
Fad diets are often founded on stringent rules, whether it be regarding the food groups you can eat from or the time you are allowed to eat. For example, the health celebrity Suzanne Somers is known for her stringent diet rules, such as waiting for 3 hours to eat carbohydrates after eating protein and only eating fruit on an empty stomach. Imagine your day occupied with all these rules. You may lose weight, but you may not even be able to focus on your work or home life properly because these diet rules are all you think about! When this happens, burnout is likely, and you’ll lose motivation, return to your old ways, and maybe even have a couple of binges in between.
The truth is, you cannot treat your body as a programmed machine. Your body can communicate to you when you need to replenish your energy, and trying to block it out is almost impossible. Maybe highly motivated individuals can do so for a few weeks, but not for a couple of years. Fad diets are meant to fail because they take away the fun out of the act of eating and, soon enough, life itself. This is why we often rethink our choices halfway through a fad diet and ask ourselves if everything is worth losing a few pounds. Food should be seen as nutrition and not as a punishment.
Fad diets mess up your metabolism
When you suddenly cut off certain food groups in your diet that you have been used to eating for most of your life, the body perceives this as a form of ‘stress’ and reacts by producing cortisol (aka the stress hormone) in your bloodstream. This hormone inhibits the production of insulin in the body (thereby increasing the risk for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus), forces your body to store/conserve visceral fats (since your body cannot efficiently store glucose due to lack of insulin), and sends perpetual hunger signals to the brain (strengthens the craving we have and predisposes to binges).
Research data has shown that 83% of dieters regain their weight after a diet and undergo ‘weight’ cycling. This, in part, is attributed to the buildup of cortisol in the body and the upregulated appetite you experience a few days after stopping your diet.
If there’s no use for fad diets, what now?
Here are some tips we’ve prepared to help you become healthier without trying futile diet fads and without sacrificing your sanity.
- Set realistic goals. Don’t be tempted with empty promises of weight loss after one week. Remember that if you healthily lose weight, the longer you’ll be able to maintain it. Just 5-10% weight loss in a year or so drastically reduces your risk for cardiovascular diseases!
- Find a balance. Listen to your body, and don’t try to go cold turkey. If you are eating way over the recommended calories for your height and age, try cutting 100 calories every day for a week and then 150 the next week and so on. Celebrate your streaks and if you fall off for a day, don’t give up and continue strong.
- Have fun. Losing weight is not based alone on what you eat. It is also based on how much energy you expend! Try moving more and find activities you enjoy doing. It doesn’t have to be the gym! If you enjoy dancing, sports, or even walking your dog, it can help as long as you keep your body moving regularly.