How to Spot a Fad Diet
With a new year fast approaching it may be tempting to make a weight loss plan based on a fad diet that you read about or heard about from a friend. There are plenty to choose from! Diets including keto, paleo, the Zone, Atkins, the Dubrow diet, the Anti-Inflammatory diet, and many more are commonly talked about in our culture.
The International Food Information Council (IFIC), conducts a yearly study on consumer beliefs and behaviors about nutrition. This year, they reported an increased number of people (43% in 2020, vs. 38 % in 2019), who are following a specific diet or eating plan. The report clarifies that while some of these eating plans have evidence-based information that they work long-term, many of these plans fall into the category of fad diets. You can view the report here.
What are the Most Popular Diets of 2020?
According to the report, the most popular diets or food consumption patterns of those surveyed in 2020 are listed below. (Note: all four of these diets fall into the category of fad diets).
- Intermittent Fasting (10%)
- Clean Eating (9%)
- Ketogenic or High Fat (8%)
- Low Carb (7%)
The survey also reported the most popular reasons for following a fad diet or new food consumption pattern. They are listed below:
- Losing weight (47%)
- Feeling better and having more energy (40%)
- Improving physical appearance (39%)
- Protecting long-term health and preventing future health concerns (37%)
- Preventing weight gain (36%)
How Can You Spot A Fad Diet?
How can you tell if you a dietary pattern is a fad diet? A fad diet is a diet that is popular for a certain amount of time but is not based on standard nutrition guidelines. Fad diets gain often gain popularity due to celebrity testimonials in books, magazines, television, and social media. Some common characteristics found in fad diets are :
- Certain foods or food groups are eliminated
- Some foods or food groups are eaten excessively (i.e. the grapefruit diet or the cabbage soup diet)
- Strict rules control the timing of eating
- Rapid weight loss is common
- Exercise is not emphasized
Why do Fad Diets Stop Working?
Often, fad diets are not sustainable in the long-term for several reasons:
- Eating a limited number of foods can become boring or repetitive
- Severely limiting food choice can omit many nutrients our body needs to function properly
- Strict rules that control the timing of eating can be disruptive to family meals and social gatherings
- Restricting eating for long periods of time can lead to excessive hunger and or binge eating
What is the Difference Between a Fad Diet and a Lifestyle Diet?
A lifestyle diet is one that incorporates a person’s unique food preferences, lifestyle, health history and goals.
Some examples of lifestyle diets that have shown to be effective are :
- The DASH diet
- The Mediterranean diet
- The Mayo Clinic diet
- Weight Watchers
What do Lifestyle Diets Involve?
Unlike fad diets, lifestyle diets include:
- An emphasis on making permanent behavioral changes regarding food
- Flexibility in food choices
- A balanced approach that accounts for your unique health conditions
- An emphasis on high-quality foods that provide essential nutrients our body needs
- A plan that incorporates physical activity
Losing weight following certain eating patterns is not a one-size-fits-all approach. If you feel motivated to try a certain diet or eating plan check with your physician or registered dietitian (RD or RDN) before you start.
How is Working with a Registered Dietitian Different?
A registered dietitian becomes your partner in health and wellness to help you do the following:
- Account for your food preferences in a personalized plan for eating
- Discover behavioral modification techniques that help you deal with obstacles and barriers to reaching your health goals
- Ensure that you have a balanced eating approach that provides your body with all the nutrients it needs to function properly
- Monitor your plan and adjust if needed to reach your goals
- Work with your other health care providers to tailor your plan to any health conditions you may have
Weight Management Techniques that Actually Work:
- Aiming for a healthy and sustainable rate of weight loss of about 1-2 pounds per week
- Self-monitoring meals with a food diary
- Incorporating regular physical activity
- Revising health goals when necessary
- Being accountable (A recent study from Drexel University emphasizes the importance of working with someone to help you be accountable for your health goals)
As a registered dietitian, I frequently have clients, friends, and family come to me asking about different dietary trends and whether they should follow them. As with many things, the key comes down to the motivation behind wanting to change dietary habits and whether you are looking to follow something because everyone else is talking about it or because you are making an informed decision that eating this way will help to alleviate persistent problems you are experiencing.
It is helpful to see if you can categorize a diet as a fad diet or a lifestyle diet. A fad diet is often a diet that restricts food intake in some way or is only meant to be followed for a short period of time for fast results. A lifestyle diet often does not restrict food intake drastically and therefore is more realistic for someone to follow for a lifetime.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that honestly, most people are never going to have to follow a specific diet to have a healthy, nutritious food intake. If you like certain aspects of a diet or enjoy making paleo or keto recipes sometimes, then great! Then you can incorporate bits and pieces and create a unique dietary style that is all your own. Changing dietary habits should always be more about what to include most often in our diet and which foods to have less often or in smaller portions for our own health and wellness goals.
Have questions about how to reach your health and fitness goals? Aren’t sure how to start making dietary changes? Reach out to Nikky via e-mail or leave a comment on the contact page!
- Wolfram, R. (2018, March 18). Staying Away from Fad Diets. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from https://www.eatright.org/health/weight-loss/fad-diets/staying-away-from-fad-diets
- Mayo Clinic. (2020, June 06). Weight loss: Choosing a diet that’s right for you. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss/art-20048466
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