Dishing the Dirt on Fad Diets Part 1 – Why Do They Never Work?

Fad diets. We have heard of them, in large part due to their proliferation in the media and also from our previous post about how some of these diets may affect your skin. From Beyoncé advocating the benefits of turning vegan to Kim Kardashian tweeting how the “flu diet” helped her lose weight, we are bombarded with information of what we should eat or not eat in order to look and feel good.

Historically, the word “diet” was only defined as “habitually taken food and drink”. However, with emerging dietary trends, it has become synonymous instead with restricting your food intake in hopes of losing weight or achieving the proverbial “bikini figure”. Fad diets promise quick weight loss by cutting out important macronutrients, usually through unbalanced, unhealthy and questionable means.

Note that more often than not, these diets do not have sound scientific basis. Though dramatic results can be achieved in the short-term without exercise, most become boring or unappealing, making them difficult to sustain in the long-term. And some fad diets can actually be harmful to your health.

It’s time to get the facts straight. Why do fad diets never really work? In this two part series, we explore the health effects of some popular fad diets, why you should be steering clear of them and some common dietary mistakes to avoid for a more viable long-term eating plan.

The Low Carb Fads

The most common diets advocate low levels of carbohydrates to allow for consumption of other macronutrients such as protein and fats. This effectively forces your body to switch from burning carbohydrates for energy to burning fat, a process called ketosis, resulting in rapid weight loss. Popular ones include the Atkins, Ketogenic and Dukan diets, all with the same basic underlying principle of carb restriction.


Bye bye breads and carbs…

The most restrictive of these is the Keto diet. Forget about having that apple…it might exceed your permitted daily amount of carb intake. The Dukan diet includes an “attack” period of ten days, allowing you to consume as much as food as you want, so long as it is exclusively lean and healthy protein.

Such restrictive, low-carb diets can lead to serious problems such as lethargy, fatigue and dizziness. Due to the low levels of fibre, constipation and other potential bowel problems are expected. Though good on your waistline, these diets can cause bad breath and dry mouth caused by chemicals called ketones (produced during ketosis). Being on such a diet for a long time can result in serious nutrient deficiencies, a loss in muscle mass, kidney problems such as kidney stones, and high levels of acid in your body. Going off this diet into a full eating binge may lead to rapid weight gain, especially around the waist.

Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet has been described in our previous post where we busted the myth surrounding it and examined how it affects the skin. Paleolithic diets are all about eating like our ancestors did. No, you don’t need to hunt down your own bison, but you will need to eat as naturally as possible, opting for lean protein in the form of grass-fed meats, plenty of fruit and vegetables (the carbs component) and other whole foods such as nuts and seeds.

Sounds simple enough but the diet has a number of problems. First things first, the evolutionary argument isn’t very strong, given that our ancestors ventured all over the world and adapted to different living environments. Another problem with the Paleo diet is that it ignores the health benefits of consuming whole-grains, beans and legumes. These foods supply B vitamins which, among other things, help us unlock the energy in our food. Omitting dairy may limit the intake of minerals like calcium as well as vitamin D, both essential for bone health.

Given the high intake of red and fatty meat, there is a danger of the consumption of excessive amounts of saturated fats, which can increase LDL (bad cholesterol) and the risk of bowel cancer. Finally, It might also be problematic to stick to the diet when socialising and eating out because of these food restrictions. Imagine having to say no to that delicious chocolate cake every time you go out.

Stay tuned for part 2, where we explore more fad diets and uncover the problems with them. In the meanwhile, take a page from our dietician’s book and follow her tips on how to eat healthy and not be obsessed about any rules.


Photo credits: Pexels and Unsplash

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