As we enter a new year, many people will be resolving to get into shape.
It’s a tradition to make resolutions at the turn of the new year, usually designed to promote a better you.
Often, they could be mindset choices, such as trying to be more confident, but one of the most popular resolutions people make on January 1st is to get into shape.
Indeed, 47% of Brits aim to improve their fitness in the new year, 44% resolve to lose weight, and 41% wish to improve their diet. Some will even look to hit all three resolutions with a single choice, which is usually in the form of a fad diet.
Fad diets have been around for many years; readers of a certain age might remember the Cambridge Diet, a fad diet recently renamed as the 1:1 diet to reflect the one-to-one relationship between the dieter and consultant. It has been around for almost four decades now, but is it effective?
And if not, are other fad diets like it worth pursuing?
Table of Contents
- What is a fad diet?
- The main fad diets
- Why are Fad diets problematic?
- What are the alternatives?
- Final thoughts
- About the author
What is a fad diet?
Whilst there is no solid definition of a fad diet, it can be classified as a diet that becomes popular for a short time, in much the same way as a fashion fad.
Usually, it strays from what is considered standard dietary recommendations by making outlandish claims about weight loss.
They’re often fundamentally about extreme abstinence, such as cutting out all of a certain food group, such as protein.
The definition of Fad means “a short-term obsession with a style, product, idea, or concept. Fads are characterized by high adoption (expressed in either increased sales or publicity or word of mouth) and equally fast disappearance and obsolescence.”Oxford Dictionary
The main fad diets
The Atkins Diet
We’ve already mentioned the 1:1 diet, but what other diets are there on the market for you to try?
They’re named ‘fad’ diets, so they’re likely to come and go quite quickly, gaining much traction before disappearing.
The Atkins Diet was one such fad; it recommended cutting carbs completely and gained widespread exposure around 2003.
Usually, a fad diet involves drastic changes, focusing on a single food group or, as with Atkins, cutting certain elements out completely.
In the short term, it can lead to weight loss, improved triglycerides, blood sugar, and HDL (good cholesterol), as well as lowered LDL (bad cholesterol). However, ketosis has many negative side effects, including nausea, headaches, and bad breath.
The Carnivore Diet
Another example of a fad diet is the carnivore diet.
It requires the individual to eat mostly meat, eggs, and some fats, such as cheese.
Because it is extremely high in fat, it could lead to increased cholesterol levels. This doesn’t necessarily mean ill effects, as there is good and bad cholesterol.
Much depends on the quality of the meat being consumed – good, grass-fed meat is both ethically better and of better quality. Processed meats, such as those found in low-quality burgers, would certainly not be good for your body in large quantities.
Whole30 isn’t quite the same as some fad diets as they often promote an unhealthy diet culture, but Whole30 does get you to focus on eating fish, vegetables and fruit.
Other fad diets usually promote extreme abstinence or focus on a single food group, but Whole30 is more varied, setting it aside from other fad diets.
That’s certainly a good route to take in terms of a rounded diet, but where Whole30 falls down is cutting off access to other foods, such as legumes, dairy and grains.
The very best weight loss plans allow for a more ad-hoc approach to dieting, collating foods that you like and combining them with the right nutrients to give a balanced diet.
Also, Whole30 is just a 30-day diet, another fallacy. Healthy eating and dieting shouldn’t be about short bursts but more a sustainable, long-term approach to weight control.
There’s no doubt the Keto Diet will allow you to lose weight quickly.
It is called the Keto Diet as it aims to send the body into a state of ketosis, which is a metabolic state that occurs when your body burns fat for energy instead of glucose.
Like Atkins, it relies on you cutting out carbs completely, instead focusing on high-fat meats, fish, oils, high-fat dairy, and low-carb vegetables such as leafy greens.
Unlike Atkins, Keto also requires you to limit protein, and it cuts out the foods such as grains and legumes. It can help you balance out your blood sugar as it prohibits starchy carbs, which spike glucose levels.
Cleanse diets often appear at the start of a year; the idea behind them is to cleanse your body after the excess of the Christmas period.
Usually, they are packaged as a detox, and you’ll be encouraged just to have certain food groups, such as fruit and veg. There will usually be another element, perhaps fasting or drinking water, which aims to help you lose weight fast.
The reality is quite different. You already have something to clean your body – your liver and kidneys – so there’s zero need for you to do anything specific.
Also, it’s important to be aware that a cleanse diet and clean eating are very different, but they often get confused.
Clean eating is where one picks foods that are as close to their natural form as possible – for instance, instead of packaged vegetables, you would choose fresh instead. This is very different to a cleanse diet.
The 5:2 diet is a calorie-counting diet that promotes extreme fasting two days a week and unregulated eating on the other five days (hence the title).
Usually, the two restricted days see a woman consume around 500 calories and a man 600.
It’s widely accepted that a caloric deficit is required over time for anyone to lose weight, so the 5:2 diet certainly has a basis in science, but there’s no research that proves extreme abstinence is any better than a steady, regulated calorie intake over a seven-day period.
This way, you’ll potentially be hungry for two days a week, which could lead to overeating on the other days.
Why are Fad diets problematic?
The fundamental problem with fad diets is that they have a one-size-fits-all approach to dieting.
Laying out a food plan without knowing the individual is a huge mistake when it comes to weight loss as everyone is different and a wider approach to dieting is needed to gain long-term success.
Some diets, like Keto and Whole30, are intended for quick weight loss, but this in itself is another problem. Dieting shouldn’t be about shedding weight quickly. Because once the diet is up, it is easy to return to the same poor behaviours.
A rounded diet plan will hopefully spark a long-term change in the individual, but it can only do that by being appealing and sustainable, which fad diets are not.
Many fad diets also feel like a chore, a challenging journey and a battle.
Take, for instance, Keto. It requires you to strictly cut out many foods that are perhaps seen as a staple of our cuisine; bread, pasta, rice, and baked goods. In truth, this makes your overall diet far less appealing and creates the illusion that these are ‘bad’ foods. That mindset can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, adversely impacting your habits.
“The fundamental problem with fad diets is that they have a one-size-fits-all approach to dieting.”Janna Brandon
What are the alternatives?
The key to good dieting is to find a plan or approach that fits you as an individual.
That means including foods you enjoy but perhaps moderating portion size or the frequency with which you consume those foods. There is nothing wrong with the odd dessert if you’re dieting, as long as it is within a more rigid structure of healthy eating. For example, none of the foods that Keto cuts out are bad for you in moderation.
Also, exercise is a hugely important part of losing weight, which fad diets do not consider.
Whilst we can’t be certain of everyone’s metabolism, a balanced diet mixing good quality food with the right calorie intake will lead to weight loss. Bearing that in mind, if you’re going to the gym three times a week and working up a sweat, then you don’t need to cut out carbs, protein, or whatever else the fad diet tells you to; you just need to be mindful of what you’re eating.
If you’re wishing to lose weight in 2023, the best practice is to consult a dietician or specialist who can advise you as an individual as to the best approach based on your medical history, your immediate goals and overall lifestyle patterns.
Alternatively, you can speak to a Health Coach who can support you during your wellness journey and help you achieve your goals
“The key to good dieting is to find a plan or approach that fits you as an individual.”Janna Brandon
To answer the original question, fad diets are bad for you.
Some might have the right intention, but they all promote an unhealthy relationship with food, demonising certain food groups, promoting fasting, abstinence and crash-dieting rather than steadily introducing an individual to better habits that can last a lifetime.
About the author
Janna Brandon is a former health practitioner and dietician from Daventry and a long-time advocate for safer dieting methods. These days she splits her time between home and her holiday home in Macduff, Scotland, where her two border terriers are at their happiest.
Disclaimer: The content found within this blog post is strictly the opinion of Janna Brandon and is for informational and educational purposes only. notesbythalia.com is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding specific health questions, and/or before acting upon any information presented here.