What are Fad Diets?

This is the first of two blogs on Fad Diets. The second will run tomorrow.

We all hear about fad diets all the time. To those of us wanting to lose weight and get healthier, these diets often seem like an easy route to a better lifestyle. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Sometimes it’s because they are bogus to begin with, the diet is misconstrued, followed for the wrong reasons and taken too far, or simply just too strict to keep up.

It is accepted that in general most fad diets have a trace of truth to them.  Many originate from some rationale, but the problem is that people will often cherry-pick what they want to choose to follow.

People who do drop a lot of weight on a fad diet probably give that diet too much credit. You’ll hear about people who go on one of these diets and have all this success, but it’s often simply as a result of people eliminating all the extra junk, rather than this particular diet being so magical.

Examples of Fad Diets

The following diets offer some good advice, but are either not followed properly, or are based on ideas that are just not supported by fact and research:

Low-Fat

Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, doctors were telling patients to stop eating steak, eggs, cheese and butter due to the perceived excesses of saturated fats.  They thought that fats, especially saturated fat found in animal-based products, led to heart disease and the trans fat, the synthetic fats in margarine, baked goods and fried foods, was somehow considered healthier.

But the best option, doctors said, was to consume very little fat at all. As a result, pasta and bagels were dubbed “health foods,” and you could find low-fat versions of just about anything. But what low-fat processed foods lack in fat, they more than make up for in carbohydrates and added sugars, which as we now know now leads to weight gain.

Low Carb

Following the low fat fad, carbohydrates became the one to avoid. The low-carb Atkins diet swept the western world and people who’d long struggled with their weight were suddenly losing weight sizes, by ditching pasta, potatoes and bread. Bizarrely at restaurants, you could order a double bacon-cheese burger; hold the bun, no fries, with a side salad with extra cheese dressing!

Many people’s interpretation of the diet left them nutritionally lacking. Although one really good thing to come out of the Atkins craze was it got people away from eating white bread, pasta, cookies and other refined carbohydrates, the negative part was that many people went too extreme with avoiding carbohydrates altogether and even took beans, fruit and vegetables out of their diets. Not a good move.

A much better carbohydrate strategy is that we get one-third of our calories from fat, one-third from protein and one-third from carbohydrates – the classic balanced plate.

Gluten free

Most people had never heard of gluten until about a decade ago, and now millions of us are avoiding wheat, barley and rye in order to avoid this protein. Obviously for those with celiac disease, a serious autoimmune condition triggered by gluten, a gluten-free diet is a medical necessity. But for a vast majority of people, there is zero reason to avoid gluten. Yet somehow gluten-free diets have been misconstrued as a hot ticket to weight loss, when they’re not.

Gluten-free certainly does not equal healthy and gluten-free packaged foods often have more added sugar and calories than their conventional counterparts. On top of that, by eliminating wheat, rye and barley, you’re also eliminating great sources of fibre, protein and key vitamins and minerals and many people fail to eat extra fruits, veggies and lean meats to make up for those nutrient losses.

Apart from those who go gluten-free to lose weight worse, just because it’s trendy, people shun gluten because they think it gives them digestive problems such as gas, cramps, diarrhea, headaches or low energy. However, new scientific evidence, suggests that people who assume they have non-celiac gluten sensitivity may not. Instead of gluten, it’s likely that a type of carbohydrates found in wheat, dairy, and all kinds of fruits and vegetables, is causing them gastrointestinal distress.

So we must not simply assume our problem is gluten and take it out of our diet altogether, as we could be missing what the problem truly is and unnecessarily missing out on an important food group. Instead work with a dietitian or medical practitioner to establish exactly which foods are causing the trouble.


7 Sep, 2015

2 thoughts on “What are Fad Diets?

  1. I agree we are surrounded by these fad diets all the time in the media and given the pressure on TV to look ‘good’ it’s no surprise.

    I think we can take something useful from each of them and that is to eat a balanced diet, without cutting out food groups, eating sensibly for our lifestyle and to exercise regularly. When taken to extreme any of these diets can be harmful and that is when the problems arise, because of the pressure that society places, particularly on teenagers nowadays to look a certain way.

    I know schools are catching up with such pressures, but I am sure the media should take much more responsibility to help ensure children eat properly and not develop food fads if at all possible.

    1. Thanks, yes I totally agree. It’s become a stain on society as you say. Whilst models are becoming thinner, agencies who employ them and society as a whole are becoming more accepting.

      I think we all need to go back to basics on this one and agree with the rest of your thoughts. Thanks.

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