Are you sick of trying diet after diet and failing? Here is why fad diets are dangerous for your long term physical, mental and emotional health.
It's a brand new year and it couldn't have come sooner, after the year we've had! As soon as December rolls in, there is a sense of optimism in the air, as we get ready to erase the past and start afresh with a clean slate. We make goals and resolutions, and hope to build a better version of ourselves. If you're like half the people across the planet, this better version is also a slimmer one!
Current social standards for beauty being what they are, most of us think that we'd look a lot better if we lost weight. Of course, there are many problems with this kind of thinking, one of them being an unhealthy fixation on looks that can have some far-reaching consequences, especially in young people.
In our haste to reach this 'ideal' version of ourselves, we go for the approach that gives us the quickest results with the least effort. And the thing that checks both these boxes is the Fad Diet.
What is a Fad Diet?
We've all heard of the term 'fad diet', but what exactly is it? It's a kind of diet that is trendy or popular for short periods of time, similar to fashion trends. Fad diets are generally used for rapid weight loss, and have little or no scientific backing. Most common fad diets include the Keto Diet, the Atkins Diet, the Paleo Diet, the South Beach Diet, Intermittent Fasting and the Mediterranean Diet. You may have also heard of more specific diets like the Cabbage Soup Diet.
Most of these diets involve excluding certain foods or food groups, and including excess amounts of others. In nearly all fad diets, the focus is entirely on these food restrictions and very little attention is given to exercise. Some diets focus on time, restricting foods during certain days or certain time periods.
Of course, fad diets are not to be confused with food restrictions that arise from medical conditions. Certain illnesses require certain foods to be restricted, and patients may need to follow specific diet plans. These will always be done with a doctor's recommendation and are generally followed for as long as the medical condition persists. Fad diets are different, and here are some ways to spot one.
How to Spot a Fad Diet?
- They promise very fast weight loss, of more than 1 kg per week
- They have rules that require eliminating entire food groups
- They categorize foods as 'good' or 'bad'
- They prescribe specific times or days to eat certain foods
- They recommend certain shakes, bars, powders or other supplements
- They rely on studies that have no peer reviews or are done on small samples
- They pay little or no attention to exercise
- They sound too good to be true
That last point alone should warn you - if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't! Unfortunately, this is exactly why so many people across the world sacrifice so much time, money and even their health on fad diets. Companies and nutritionists exploit this gullibility and use it to sell their products and services, and before you know it, you've fallen into their trap.
The Diet Trap - Why Fad Diets are Dangerous
Most fad diets exclude certain foods or food groups, due to which you miss out on essential nutrients. As it is, most Indians are deficient in vital nutrients like iron and protein, and cutting out on food groups can cause more harm. Even fats are essential for our body to function normally, especially our hormones. Cutting out fat completely from the diet can have adverse effects over time. On the other hand, eating too much of any food isn't good either, as it can hurt your internal organs like your kidneys. What's more, excessive calorie restriction can slow down metabolism, achieving the opposite result of what you wanted.
One thing that makes fad diets so attractive is that they result in quick weight loss right at the start of the diet. This encourages people who think that the diet is working. However, what they've actually lost is water weight, and this can lead to dehydration. We also consume a lot of water from our food, and restricting food also reduces the amount of water intake. Dehydration can have serious health consequences, especially if you live in a hot and humid climate.
Calorie restriction is a normal part of weight loss, however, sudden cutback of calories can put the body into shock, and leave it with no energy to function. Eating far less than what you're used to can cause extreme tiredness, lethargy and lack of focus and concentration. There have been many cases of people starting diets and suffering from hypoglycaemia due to insufficient intake of food.
Many of the popular fad diets prescribe cutting out carbohydrates completely or to a large extent, which means eliminating grains and starchy vegetables. However, this sudden elimination of starchy foods causes a deficiency in dietary fiber, which is essential for proper digestive function. The result is constipation, or diarrhea, or both. Many people also suffer from bloating and gassiness due to eating the wrong kind of foods or missing out on important probiotics.
There's a reason fad diets are a 'fad' - they aren't long lasting. The U.S. News & World Report states that 80% of New Year resolutions fail by February, and this is because people go for fad diets without thinking about it as a long term lifestyle change. Fad diets are too restrictive to stick too for a longer period, and often people get so tired of restricting themselves that they end up binge eating. Even if people lose weight for the term of the diet, they gain it all back as soon as they go back to their old eating patterns.
Mental Health Issues
Wanting to change your body overnight is not healthy - physically or emotionally. Wanting to eat healthy should stem from a love for your body and a need to stay healthy and disease-free. Unfortunately, fad diets feed on people's insecurities about how they look and wires our brain to think negatively about food. Fad diets often lead to cycles of binge-eating and calorie restriction, which creates a vicious cycle of guilt and stress. Fad diets also stop people from enjoying the company of family and friends, and sets a bad example for their children.
These problems prove that while a fad diet may appear attractive in the short term it actually does you more harm than good in the long term. If you are serious about losing excess weight and getting healthier, there are many other healthy ways to do it, without having to resort to a fad diet. These involve adopting healthy habits rather than sticking to a diet plan.
Healthy Ways to Lose Weight without Fad Diets
- Keep a clean kitchen. Yes, you need to clean your kitchen cabinets and counter tops, but this has to do with the contents of those cabinets. Get rid of all the processed and packaged foods like chips and cookies, as well as the high-sugar foods like sweets and soft drinks.
- Include all food groups. A healthy, balanced diet should include all food groups - whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables. Aim for these quantities every day:
- Grains and cereals - 150-170 grams
- Protein foods — 150 to 180 grams
- Vegetables — 2 to 3 cups
- Fruits — 1½ to 2 cups
- Low fat dairy — 3 cups
- Oil — 5 to 7 teaspoons
- Go local. We tend to focus too much on what the 'trendy' foods are, and end up ignoring local foods that are packed with nutrition. Our traditional foods are naturally ideal for the kind of weather and region we live in, and it's best to stick to these. Local foods have more nutrients, fewer chemicals, a lower carbon footprint and are often more flavourful.
- Don't skip meals. Eat all your regular meals including breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time every day. This keeps your metabolism working well and ensures you don't overeat due to hunger. Several studies have shown how people who eat a good breakfast are more successful at losing weight and keeping it off.
- Practice portion control. This is one of the most important tips to lose weight without depriving yourself. There are many ways to do this, starting with serving yourself on smaller plates, portioning out your snacks and eating only half your plate when at a restaurant.
- Practice intuitive eating. One of the reasons we overeat is because we're not listening to our bodies. Keep mealtimes sacred, putting away your devices. Intuitive eating involves listening to your body's innate intelligence system and creating a healthy relationship with food.
- Read food labels. Packaged foods are notoriously high in empty calories and low in nutrition. The next time you're at a supermarket, pay attention to the label and avoid foods with too much saturated fat, trans fat or sugar syrups.
- Include treats in moderation. One reason for the ultimate failure of fad diets is that they're too restrictive. It is hard to enjoy life when you're under so much stress. Have a treat every now and then; just make sure you keep the portion size small and know that no food is inherently good or bad.
- Move your body. Many people wonder what is more important for weight loss - diet or exercise. The answer is both. Along with healthy eating, some moderate intensity exercise at least 150 minutes a week can really boost your weight loss efforts by building muscle. Besides that, find ways to move throughout the day to keep your activity level high.
- Keep track. Experts have found that those who keep track of their food and exercise on a daily basis are more successful at achieving their weight loss goals. Keep a diary without going into excruciating detail - just track everything you eat and drink, and you'll have a log that will offer many insights about your eating habits.
At the end of the day, remember that healthy eating is not a diet that you 'do' for a few weeks or months - it's a complete lifestyle change. Do not try to overhaul your complete life in one day - you'll only set yourself up for failure. Instead, take it slow and focus on one habit at a time. For instance, keep a food and log for a week and analyze yourself. Then aim to increase your daily water intake by a glass every day. And so on and so forth.
Another thing about fad diets is that it assumes that everyone following the diet will see the same results. The truth is that we're all very different and our bodies metabolize foods differently. Two people of the same age and gender may see entirely different results by following the same diet plan.
Make yourself a plan that is sustainable for you. Start with the easier, smaller changes first, and once they become a normal part of your routine, move on to the next. Rome wasn't built in a day, so take your time and you can end the year on a healthier note than the one you started on!