The Fiction of Fad Diets

Heather Reese Health Guide April 20, 2007
  • As a dietitian, I try to stay informed on all the new fad diets circulating out there because people often ask me for my opinion. But staying on top of all the diet books available is nearly impossible - as soon as I finish reading one there’s a new one at the top of the best-seller list. But whether the book is a best-seller or not, my review is always the same: skip the diet and make lifestyle changes instead.

     

    Fad diet books can be very convincing.  They are often penned by medical doctors or dietitians, and the truth is, they often have one or two gold nuggets of truth amid the not-so-great advice. But most fad diets take one piece of valid nutrition advice and exploit it. They present extreme versions of healthy habits – they go too far. The consensus among fad diets seems to be that if the general recommendations are to eat something in moderation then completely cutting it out is even better.

     

    Beware of any diet that suggests cutting out an entire category of food because our bodies need vitamins and minerals from all the food groups.  General nutrition guidelines recommend limiting added sugars, but many fad diets take the recommendation even further suggesting that you avoid carbohydrates altogether. This is not a healthy approach to dieting because carbohydrates are a vital component of a healthy diet. They are the primary source of energy in the body and are needed for breathing, maintaining body temperature, as well as the contraction and relaxation of the heart and other muscles. You shouldn’t stop eating carbohydrates, but you should be selective when choosing your carbohydrate food sources and opt for whole grain sources, fruits and vegetables.  It is important to eat a balance of foods that provide a variety of nutrients.

     

    Another problem with fad diets is that they usually aren’t based on eating habits that you will likely follow long-term. They are very restrictive and once you resume normal eating habits the pounds quickly come back. In this sense, they set you up for failure. Research shows that fad diets do not lead to long term weight control. The vast majority of people who lose weight on one of these diets regains the weight within the first few years of resuming normal eating habits.

     

    The healthiest and most successful way to lose weight is to make changes in your diet and exercise habits that you are willing to maintain forever. Otherwise, your success will be short-lived.

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