By Flower Aston
It seems almost everyone reaches a point in his or her life when he or she thinks hey, I’d like to get healthier, or I’ve GOT to lose this weight. But the problem is, we want it to happen now. We want a quick fix or magic pill, because heck, summer is just around the corner and we need that beach body yesterday, if not sooner. People are looking for that “amazing new breakthrough” which requires “little effort and big results.” Or the opposite happens, we think that it requires a lot of attention to detail and the elimination of a few types of food or a complete food group and often times requires following rigid guidelines based off different theories about why our bodies can’t handle certain types of food and why we should only be eating certain types of food. Because of this, the world of food and nutrition has been heavily exploited and is profoundly profit driven. There are literally thousands of fad diets, diet pills, and nutrition supplements out there claiming to be the next best thing for weight loss. Before and after pictures and testimonials are posted, and because so many are desperate for that perfect body, they fall into the fad diet trap, often again and again, spending money, and struggling with body weight fluctuations all the way; meanwhile, these companies get rich quick because there is nothing or no one to hold them accountable. Americans spend an estimated $60 billion a year on weight loss products and programs according to an ongoing study by MarketData. Let’s think for a minute…If we are spending more than $60 billion a year on weight loss, shouldn’t we as a nation be successful at it by now? But the opposite is the case; we continue to struggle with weight. So why do we believe these fad diets and diet products actually work?
Besides our own desire for quick solutions and being flooded with fad diets and diet supplements, there are countless “nutritionists” touting to be experts in nutrition, coming up with creative angles to sell their recommendations to make a profit. Any Jane or John Doe can claim to be a nutritionist with no actual nutrition training as the title nutritionist is not regulated. Sometimes even medical doctors write diet books that are more like fad diets than actual steps toward making long lasting lifestyle changes, as many doctors are not required to take a nutrition course throughout their entire schooling and education process. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, only 30% of schools surveyed required a nutrition course for their medical students. Some doctors do take the time to be fully educated in nutrition and in those cases can offer great nutrition advice and support, and other doctors fall into the same trap as consumers and unfortunately recommend strategies that aren’t always proven or scientifically based.
In addition, the latest fad diet often times is an old fad diet repackaged to look like a new idea to grab your attention. For example, Atkins type diets focusing on low carb and high protein have been recycling since the 1800s. They keep resurfacing and all the while most of the time fad diets don’t provide the results they claim. Many fad diets, diet pills, and nutrition supplements claim rapid weight loss in a short amount of time; however, this weight loss often is not true weight loss, and in fact it is water weight and even muscle mass so although it looks good on the scale, it’s really not reflective of actual fat mass changes. A healthy lifestyle change would provide a weight loss rate about ½-2lbs per week and would be pulling more from fat stores than fluid loss.
Many people who lose weight on a fad diet (whether water weight and/or true fat mass) attribute their success to the fad diet itself. However, if you take a closer look at what actually tends to happen is that a person may dedicate themselves to making a change and, for example, only eat what the fad diet outlines for them. This typically results in consuming fewer calories because they are either decreasing portion sizes, or are eliminating foods or food groups leaving the individual with not as many food options. It’s likely not the super benefits of the fad diet itself, it’s simply less calories coming in. Also, you may hear “I feel so much better on this diet, I have less of an appetite, I have more energy, etc.” Again, that is typically the result of decreased portion sizes, eating less junk food, exercising more, etc. all of which make us feel better. You may be thinking, who cares? They lost weight so it works. One common problem with most fad diets is that they restrict the variety of food intake, and by doing this, unnecessarily eliminate healthy foods that contain beneficial nutrients. Although one may experience weight loss, it’s not balanced and nutrients may be missing from your dietary intake that can cause nutrient deficiencies if the diet is adhered to over a long period of time. Instead, refocus is needed on becoming healthy and maximizing nutrition intake while striving for a weight that is appropriate for one’s body type, not losing weight at all costs, including health. For example, if a fad diet recommends avoiding grains or carbohydrates, this cuts out a whole food group and while someone may lose weight because food options have been decreased, they are missing out of those beneficial nutrients that the grain food group provides. The only time specific foods should be avoided are in those cases where individuals have food sensitivities and/or allergies and then it is important to work with a dietitian to help find food sources to replace some of the missing nutrients from their diet.
Eventually fad diets are not practical for the long term, people tend to gain the weight back (usually quickly) and often times even more weight than where they started, especially since every time a person puts on weight more fat cells are added. Fat cells don’t go away when weight is lost; they just shrink and are ready to fill up again in addition to new developing fat cells when people start eating more and exercising less. So when weight is lost and then regained, the weight gain may happen even faster, and to a greater extent, than before. Thus, if a person would dedicate the same amount of time and energy toward making healthy lifestyle changes overall, like watching portion sizes, eating more balanced, and exercising, over time they would have the same results, if not better results. And they would not have to pay as much attention to detail or restrict so many food options. Furthermore, they would be able to do this for a lifetime instead of a small period of time and in many cases probably save some money too.
So the next time a diet, diet pill, and/or diet supplement catches your eye, keep your cash and put some real thought into if it might be a fad. If you are not sure, you may consider visiting with a registered dietitian to help clarify if the diet is right for you or if there are some recommended strategies for obtaining a healthy balanced lifestyle. For those of you that can’t touch base with a dietitian for some guidance every time a new diet or supplement appears, here are some tips to help you sift through the fallacies and determine if it’s a fad or if it offers helpful strategies towards making a long-term lifestyle change.
Is it a fad that’s gonna make you mad?
Typically it’s a fad diet if it:
- Promotes one food or food group and claims it can either cure a specific disease or results in weight loss.
- Sounds too good to be true( it most likely is), such as claiming “lose 20 lbs in 10 days!”
- Recommends using a single food on a regular basis.
- Promises easy weight loss that happens fast (greater than 2 lbs per week) with minimal or no effort.
- Eliminates an entire food group or groups such as grains, protein, fruits, vegetables, fats, or dairy.
- Guarantees outcomes in a specific amount of time.
- The evidence for effectiveness is based only on the quotes of other dieters.
- Recommendations are based on one study and/or a study does not contain reviews by other researchers.
- Recommends supplements to take to help replace nutrients you are missing from the diet.
- Has troublesome warnings of dangers from a single product or regimen.
- Claims you can lose weight in specific areas of your body.
Other things to look for:
Does it encourage permanent behavior changes and exercise? Does it include very fine print, asterisks and footnotes, and/or before and after photos that seem too good to be true? Also check and see if there is a Registered Dietitian, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Registered Dietitian Licensed Nutritionist or Certified Nutritionist involved. Those titles ensure the individual has met specified educational and professional requirements including ethics as it pertains to providing nutrition education and will most likely have your best interest at heart. Remember, other “nutrition experts” may not be experts at all.
Keep in mind, healthy balanced eating and working toward a weight that is healthy for you is a process and is not just something you do for a little while to lose weight; it’s something that should last a lifetime.If you are looking for some guidelines to develop a healthier lifestyle, I encourage you to visit http://www.choosemyplate.gov/. Also, there are a few “diets” out there that promote a healthier lifestyle and although they call themselves diets, I think of them more like healthy eating strategies because they really do promote a balanced lifestyle. You can check these out and their pros and cons at http://www.nutrition411.com/component/k2/item/29623-diet-rankings-by-us-news-world-report.
Sources: American Academy of Dietetics, RD411, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health.