When looking to achieve a healthy lifestyle – one where you’re operating at an optimal level physically, emotionally, and mentally – there is no downplaying the role of food. Good nutrition gives you the fuel you need to crush that tough workout, engage your brain to solve that problem at work, and stave off the “hangry” when spending time with family and friends.
But unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out in the world about what a healthy diet looks like. And when it comes to trying to lose weight, that information gets even crazier. Fad diets are a pervasive and insidious part of society and can be legitimized by celebrity or “expert” endorsements. But the truth is, these diets can be ineffective at best, and harmful at worst. So how can you tell the difference between legitimate nutrition advice and fad diets? Fortunately, almost all of them have telltale signs that can help you identify them – and steer clear.
What Is a Fad Diet?
In our seemingly never ending quest to lose weight and stay healthy, fad diets have persisted throughout the decades. Much like fads in fashion and music, these diets come and go with societal trends and claim to be the best and only way to lose weight and achieve your wellness goals. They’re typically marketed as fast-acting, require little to no lifestyle modification, and make amazing claims for effectiveness and results.
By their very definition, fad diets rarely work (or at least in the long term) and often require eliminating nutritional components our bodies need to function well. This is when they can become dangerous, as they’re rarely based on any sound research or dietary guidelines. That means that it’s on you to do your homework to avoid falling into the trap of a fad diet.
3 Ways to Spot a Fad Diet
There are too many fad diets to list here, but almost all of them follow the same formula: reduction of a macro, restriction of calories, and a quick fix approach. What differentiates one fad diet from another is simply what macro or food sources you eliminate or reduce with calorie restriction.
Let’s dive further into these telltale signs of a fad diet:
- Reduction of a macro. Reducing or eliminating a particular macronutrient, as well as demonizing or glorifying a macronutrient, is a classic sign of a fad diet. Carbs is one such micronutrient that has long gotten a bad rap and many fad programs advocate their total elimination to achieve weight loss. However, carbohydrates are critical, since they serve as our bodies’ main source of energy, fueling our brain, kidney, nervous system, and heart muscles. That’s pretty important stuff! Other diets may advocate for the elimination of naturally occurring sugars in fruit. But fruit has major health benefits including providing many essential nutrients that often are underconsumed.
Carbs and fruits are just two of many examples of what fad diets say we shouldn’t be eating. But the reality is, eating whole grain breads and fruits and vegetables is key to losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The elimination of any one macronutrient could actually leave us lacking critical nutrition while doing nothing to help with weight loss.
- Calorie restriction. While finding, and sticking with, a daily calorie amount can help us feel good and stay within our desired weight, severe calorie restriction is another fad diet red flag. There are some diet programs that get weight-loss results by essentially starving their clients. Dropping under 1,000 calories a day can be dangerous in the long term, and actually halt weight loss progress. If your body senses it’s starving, it will kick into survival mode and amp up fat storage, rather than lose weight. And imagine trying to hit a challenging workout with little to no fuel in your tank. At best, you’ll have an ineffective workout, and at worst, you could injure yourself.
For successful weight loss and a healthy lifestyle, your body needs food. What makes the difference is what kind of food you’re eating. Nutrition-packed, whole foods will get you to your goals and keep you feeling full and fulfilled.
- A quick fix with no work. One of the most obvious signs of a fad diet is the quick fix. “Lose 30 pounds in four weeks!” “No need to exercise!” We’ve all heard and seen claims like these and have undoubtedly been intrigued. And at the start of a fad diet, it may seem like it’s working. Our bodies tend to experience the most dramatic weight loss at the start of a diet, but as time goes on, our bodies will plateau or go into fat storage mode. This is when it’s important to remember the old adage, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Dramatic and rapid weight loss is dangerous for our bodies, in addition to being unsustainable in the long run.
Additionally, if a diet claims that you can achieve all of your weight loss and health goals without changing your lifestyle (read: moving your body) it’s completely bogus. Achieving and sustaining any change to our bodies requires work. It’s just that simple. That can be a hard pill to swallow for many people, but anything worth doing will require effort and there’s no workaround or shortcut for that.
Get professional support
Now that you’re armed with three characteristics of a fad diet, you can make more informed choices when it comes to your health. If a program requires you to reduce or eliminate a macronutrient, severely restrict your calorie intake, or promises a quick fix, steer clear!
And if you’re not sure where to turn to get reliable and sound health information, reach out to Forge. We have a team of certified and dedicated dietitians and trainers ready to support you on a healthy and sustainable wellness journey.