It may be tempting to jump on the latest diet bandwagon to help drop some extra weight, but it is important to understand the risks and why you’re better off avoiding these fads.
These days, all you have to do is turn on the TV, log onto social media, or eavesdrop on a group of friends socializing to learn about the latest and greatest fad diets guaranteeing the miracle cure for shedding those extra pounds once and for all.
But those promises, alluring and tempting as they are, more often than not come at a price - and as it turns out, a pretty low rate of lasting success.
Find out what makes a fad diet, why these diets are not sustainable, how to spot one, and why you should stay away.
The not-so-hidden dangers of fad diets
Fad diets are not without their risks for all of their bold weight-loss claims. These diets promise quick weight loss without considering your body's nutritional requirements to function correctly.
Most fad diets are not backed by science and can be associated with severe health outcomes when followed long-term.
For starters, diets that are low-carb/high-protein can tax the kidneys by creating excess nitrogen in waste products and can also lead to kidney stones, kidney failure later in life, and bone loss due to a calcium imbalance.
Low-protein/low-fat diets may compromise immune system function and hinder proper wound healing, whereas high-protein/high-fat diets can boost the risk for heart disease, colon cancer, and sleep disorders.
Diets that promote extreme calorie restriction can lead to conditions like anemia, malnutrition, fatigue, weakness, and dizziness, and can run the risk of developing malnutrition and reduced kidney function.
Eliminating certain ingredients or certain food groups can deprive you of protective and beneficial nutrients like fiber, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Beware of yo-yo dieting
So-called “yo-yo” dieting, sometimes referred to as weight cycling, happens when several failed dieting attempts result in a pattern of weight quickly going up and down and is associated with several harmful physical and emotional consequences.
Extreme weight loss followed by rapid weight gain may stimulate cortisol production, raising the risk of intense mood swings, hormone imbalance, fatigue, and weight gain.
Rapid weight loss is mostly due to lost water weight and muscle, not fat, and can lead to constipation, fatigue, and poor nutritional intake.
Yo-yo dieting can negatively impact emotional well-being as well, causing depression, food obsession, calorie counting, and distractibility. People who diet chronically are more likely to overeat, experience low self-esteem, and suffer from eating disorders.
Interestingly, research shows that people who heavily restrict their diets are at an even greater risk of putting on pounds. So in effect, a yo-yo diet could be a pretty solid predictor of future weight gain.
Why fad diets are doomed to fail
It is a sobering reality that despite the very best of intentions, most dieters who succeed at shedding weight are confronted with a disappointing weight regain within a year.
What makes people who diet so prone to failure?
Aside from disruptive life-altering events like pregnancy, quitting smoking, getting married, enrolling in college or university, and mourning a loved one, research shows that a lack of knowledge about food and nutrition may primarily be to blame. Not knowing the basics of food quality can, not surprisingly, lead to poor quality diets and higher consumption of fast food, which can directly result in weight gain.
Weight gain also boils down to the human challenges surrounding restriction.
Overly strict diets are simply challenging to stick to, requiring an adjustment in lifestyle and extra preparation and effort. In addition, some dieters find their plan to be too costly or too monotonous and unappealing in their food options.
At the end of the day, most people who restrict the way they eat end up reverting to their previous eating habits - and gaining all their weight back in the process.
How to spot a fad diet
Hundreds of fad diets exist today with the same promise: an effective solution for your weight problem.
Although fad diets span the gamut when it comes to their food and drink offerings and restrictions, they share many of the same characteristics that are easy to spot. So make sure to be on the lookout for these telltale signs of fad diets to know what to avoid.
A fad diet will:
Guarantee quick weight loss, usually more than 1 or 2 lbs. per week.
Claim you can lose weight without any physical exercise.
Cut out entire food groups or emphasize eating only certain foods, leading to a nutritional imbalance.
Rely on before-and-after pictures to convince the public of its validity.
Include celebrity or nutrition experts’ endorsements to advertise.
Base simple health claims on complex medical research.
The reality, of course, is that lasting weight loss entails a committed and encompassing lifestyle, not a quick fix. Safe and healthy weight loss should be slow and steady and can be achieved by reducing your calorie and fat intake, increasing your fiber intake, boosting your physical activity, and improving your relationship with food. This means learning about what drives your eating behaviors and finding healthy coping tools aside from turning toward food when stressed. Setting goals and actively tracking what you eat daily can also help keep you on track and motivated to slim down and keep the pounds off.
There is no shortage of diets that claim to be the answer to weight loss, but the truth is that most of these “fad” diets are shown to simply not work for the majority of people who follow them. Unfortunately, there is no easy magic bullet when it comes to losing weight. But we do know that a sustained lifestyle that consists of watching how much you eat, lowering the intake of your daily calories, improving the nutritional quality of your foods, and incorporating regular physical activity will most likely set you up for weight loss success in the long run.