Why fad diets don’t work
When it comes to weight loss, both research and nutrition experts agree that fad diets don’t work. Thanks to their restrictive nature, fad diets can leave your clients feeling discouraged, conflicted, and anxious when it comes to eating. Here are some ways to help your clients ditch fad diets for good and establish a better relationship with food.
Between social media, commercials, books, and ads, we are constantly bombarded with unsolicited nutrition advice, diet trends, and lofty promises to lose 10 pounds in a week.
Since many things have contributed to the rising trend in obesity (such as stress, lack of sleep, and the COVID-19 pandemic), people are looking for a short term fix–which is why it’s no surprise that the US weight loss industry is valued at $71 billion [9,10,11].
Because fad diets focus on quick results with hardly any effort, many people flock to them as an easy, go-to option for dropping excess weight. And while that may seem like a good idea, in theory, experts all agree that fad diets don’t work in the long run, as they can lead to nutritional deficiencies, disordered eating habits, and an unhealthy body image.
As a dietitian, it’s your responsibility to fight fad diets with science-backed advice. Let’s discuss why fad diets aren’t the miracle cures they are portrayed to be, and how you can help your clients ditch them for good to have a better relationship with food.
What are fad diets?
Most commonly used for weight loss, fad diets promote a “quick fix” that often seems too good to be true. Oftentimes, these are temporary solutions that offer short-term results, and while they may seem like a good idea at first, they are very rarely successful in the long run.
In fact, studies show that people who initially lose weight when following a fad diet end up regaining that weight over the next six months .
As such, fad diets leave people feeling defeated, which can lead to a poor body image and a negative relationship with food.
How to determine a fad diet
Whether it’s low-carb, liquid diets, or high protein, fad diets come in a variety of different forms that often promise rapid weight loss or fat shedding. Whole30, paleo, keto, Weight Watchers, and the raw food diet are just a few of the most popular fad diets, but what are some defining characteristics, and what should you help your clients look out for? Here are some ways to determine a fad diet.
- Promises a “quick fix” with no scientific backing;
- Sounds too good to be true;
- Demonizes foods and labels certain ones as “bad” or “good”;
- No peer-reviewed research;
- Eliminates one or more of the five food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy) or subgroups (grains, dairy, fruit);
- Any sort of “testimonial”, especially from social media influencers and other paid sponsorships.
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Why fad diets don’t work
Fad diets are often touted as a “one size fits all” solution, which means they simply won’t work for everyone. Since everyone is unique and has different nutritional needs and health goals, what works for one person may not work for someone else. Here are some other reasons why fad diets don’t work.
- Too restrictive. Whether it’s demonizing carbs or cutting back on breakfast, fad diets focus on cutting out certain aspects of a nutritious diet to achieve rapid weight loss. As such, these restrictions may later result in binge eating, lethargy, and fatigue .
- Nutrient deficiencies. A well-rounded diet that consists of nutrient-dense foods from all major food groups has long been proven to reduce the risk of chronic disease, improve longevity, boost immunity, support the digestive system, benefit heart health, and much more . Unfortunately, fad diets tend to encourage people to eliminate food groups (such as whole grains and certain fruits and vegetables) that provide the body with essential nutrients and antioxidants . This can lead to certain nutrient deficiencies which may negatively impact health.
- Demonizing certain foods. Contrary to what the internet may say, carbs aren’t the enemy! When it comes to eating, there shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing approach, as all foods can be part of a healthful diet.
However, fad diets can make it seem that certain foods are off-limits and that if you eat them, you should feel guilty and your health will suffer as a result. Not only is this damaging to your client’s mental state, but it also eliminates foods that can be beneficial to their body.
Check out these tips for how you can help repair your client’s relationship with food.
If fad diets don’t work, what should you do instead?
If your client is looking to lose weight, you can encourage them to stay away from these “quick fix” options, and instead work with them to find a sustainable eating pattern that works for their body. Since this method has been found to be the most successful way to lose weight and maintain it in the long run, here are some ways for you to help your clients improve their relationship with food, focus on nutrition, and steer clear of fad diets .
- No two bodies are the same. As a nutrition professional, it’s your job to evaluate each client to determine what will work best for their individual health and wellness goals. What works for one person may not work for someone else, so it’s important that you work with your clients to meet their nutrient needs, physical activity goals, and hydration levels. While you can keep track of everything by hand, it’s recommended to use a nutrition software (like Nutrium) to make this process more streamlined.
- Focus on balanced meals. A nutritious, sustainable diet should include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes, with a limited amount of added sugar, saturated fat, and processed food . To help your clients achieve this, figure out what they enjoy eating, include those foods in their meal plans and educate them on what a balanced plate looks like.
Learn how to create the perfect meal plan with our step-by-step guide here.
- No food is “off limits”. To help support sustainable eating behaviors, encourage your clients to stop thinking of food as “bad” vs. “good”. All foods have a place in a healthful diet, so you can work with your clients to re-establish positive eating habits and thoughts surrounding certain food items.
- Be mindful of social media. Social media can be a toxic place, so if your client finds that certain people are promoting fad diets or unhealthy body images, encourage them to hit the unfollow button. It’s better to have your clients follow people who make them feel supported and encouraged, rather than trying to achieve an unrealistic goal or certain body type.
- Get in touch with your body. Fad diets (and diet culture itself) make it easy for your clients to get caught up in calories, grams, and macros, so take a step back from the numbers and have them get in touch with their hunger cues instead.
Ultimately, this provides your client with a deeper understanding of their body’s wants and needs, which allows for greater body autonomy. In fact, studies have found that women who can recognize their body’s cues and stop eating when full have lower odds of chronic dieting and binge eating . Furthermore, adults who allow themselves to eat with unconditional permission and eat for physical instead of emotional reasons have a more positive body image . Learn more about using the hunger-fullness scale with your clients here.
Fad diets often promote a “quick fix” solution when it comes to weight loss, and while they may seem too good to be true, it’s often because they are. Research and nutrition experts both agree that fad diets don’t work due to their restrictive nature, which can lead to nutritional deficiencies, disordered eating habits, and an unhealthy body image.
As a dietitian, you can fight fad diets with science-based advice through finding a sustainable eating pattern that works for your client’s body. This will help your clients improve their relationship with food, focus on nutrition, and ditch fad diets for good.
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