People will often try ANY fad diet to lose weight. A fad diet is any weight-loss plan that promises quick and easy weight loss (through what is generally an unhealthy, unbalanced diet). Many people prefer to try the quick fix instead of making the effort to lose weight through long-term changes to their eating and exercise habits, even if they know that they are difficult to follow long-term and generally do not result in long-term weight loss. Fad diets are popular because they give people the instant gratification of quick weight loss.
Why do they result in quick weight loss? In most cases it is because they are low in calories. When you eat less your body will initially still be burning the same amount of energy, so the deficit will come from your own body stores (but not necessarily the fat stores). But as time goes on your body will adjust how much energy it uses in a day to be in line with what you are eating, and so the weight loss will slow. This is generally when people start feeling very hungry, grumpy and energyless. Your metabolism has now slowed down (i.e. your body is using less energy than before). When you stop eating as per the fad diet and start with your old eating habits again your metabolism will not jump back to its original rate. This is why the weight (plus more) comes piling back on.
It is easy to be seduced by the promise of quick weight loss, so how can we make sure we don’t fall for one of these fads? Watch out for these red flags which indicate that the weight-loss plan is possibly a fad diet:
- The diet promises fast weight loss. Anything more than 2-4kg per month is generally considered too fast
- The claims sound too good to be true
- The diet’s recommendations seem extreme, specifically very excessive reductions in food, excluding or severely restricting food groups (carbohydrates being the most common), ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food labelling
- The diet has rigid rules
- The diet promotes ‘magic’ foods or combinations of foods
Your health can be damaged by following fad diets. Long term fad dieters generally struggle with their weight for most of their life. Because they are either ‘on’ or ‘off’ a diet their weight is constantly going down and up. This yo-yo weight cycling is very unhealthy for the body and it increases the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and osteoporosis. Eliminating whole food groups can also cause nutrient deficiencies over time. Diets that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates often lead to the production of excess uric acid and calcium oxalate, which can cause kidney stones or gout. Energy levels are also often a problem with these diets. And to top it all off, these diets play havoc with your head, making you focus on numbers as opposed to health.
So how can you get out of the fad dieting rut? The most important thing is to get out of the psychological hold of needing quick weight loss or wanting to weigh x, y or z. Reassess your goals and look at why you want to lose weight. Is it because you have an event coming up or because you want to feel better in your clothes again? Or is it because you want to have good energy levels and not get sick?
Once you have determined the why, you can start looking at the how. The way that you eat should work for your lifestyle and incorporate the foods you enjoy and work well with your body. What you eat should not make you miserable and feel deprived (although many people believe this is what it means to eat healthy). Choose a good variety of low processed foods for maximum nutrient gain. Eat regularly, starting early. Eat lots of vegetables and fruit. Learn what it means to be (body/ stomach) hungry and satiated. Drink plenty of water. Learn how to handle mouth hunger (eating just because). Limit added sugar. And don’t focus on the number. If you can let the scale go you will be much more likely to get out of your fad dieting habits.