It’s a fact: fad diets are here to stay. From Lord Byron’s popular diet of potatoes drenched in vinegar (stomach problems, anyone?) to the grapefruit diet and cleanses, there’s always a new “it” diet. Believe me, I know how enticing it is to believe that there is one answer to being healthy, and that it has eluded scientists and nutritionists all these years. Of course we all want a simple solution to our eating and weight issues that doesn’t involve the boring message of “moderation” and “physical activity,” but does that actually exist? Or, are there benefits to giving up on fad diets?
Yes, there are! Here are the benefits to going fad-free:
1. YOUR WEIGHT LOSS AND WEIGHT MAINTENANCE WILL BE REALISTIC AND SUSTAINABLE
Ditching fad diets will allow you to focus on tried-and-true methods for weight loss: energy balance. This means balancing the calories you consume with the calories you burn from exercise. I know it’s not new and exciting, but it’s the only method that has been proven by science to be helpful for realistic weight loss and long-term weight maintenance.
Fad diets may help you lose weight, but they’re a short-term fix. Consider this: If the only calories you consume in one day is 400 calories of green juice, sure you’ll lose weight. You might even maintain that extremely low calorie intake for a few days, but sooner or later, you’ll feel the effects of consistently under eating: dizziness, headaches, fatigue and hangriness. The negative feelings can erode your willpower, and you’ll eventually go back to eating as you typically would. And those pounds will come right back.
When you say no to fad diets, you can start examining your current eating habits and make a commitment to swap them for healthier ones. Forming healthy eating habits are a long-term commitment, which you can’t make if you’re yo-yo-ing from one fad diet to another. In addition, “weight cycling” (aka yo-yo dieting) may have detrimental long-term effects on your health, as some studies say it may increase your risk for certain health conditions like high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
2. YOU’LL GET ALL THE NUTRIENTS YOU NEED FROM A BALANCED, VARIED DIET
Many of the fad diets require you to cut out key food groups, which can set you up for deficiencies in certain nutrients. When you embark on a cabbage soup diet, and this is all you eat for an extended period of time, there’s no question you’ll be missing key nutrients.
Even less extreme fads like going on a gluten-free diet for weight loss can make your nutrition less optimal. How? Swapping a whole-grain, gluten-containing cereal for a rice-based, gluten-free cereal can reduce how much B-vitamins and fiber you’re getting. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat a nutritionally adequate gluten-free diet; it means you have to be aware of pros and cons of the particular fad diet.
Whatever it is that you are shunning from your diet, think about the consequences from a nutrition standpoint because there usually are consequences. Something gets left behind or replaced and you don’t want it to be nutrients that are critical to your health like protein, vitamins and minerals. Without the confinement of a fad diet that forces you to leave something out, you can be free to enjoy a variety of foods as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
3. YOU’LL GIVE YOURSELF A CHANGE TO HAVE A HEALTHY, HAPPY RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
By letting go of fad diets that propagate food fears, you will be embracing a healthier relationship with food that is more inclusive. You’ll be happier because you don’t have to worry constantly about what you can and can’t eat. What does that look like? It means eating a balanced diet most of the time, and enjoying all foods in moderation, including a slice of that apple pie you love, without feeling guilty. You’re able to do this because you know how to deal with minor setbacks.
Like all relationships, a healthy relationship with food takes time, and it’s never too late to start. If you’re a chronic yo-yo-dieter, the first step to fixing your relationship with food is to say no to fad diets.
Waiting for a magic bullet to keep you healthy and at your desired weight is like waiting for Santa Claus. Instead, replace that fantasy with solid habits of healthful eating and regular exercise. You’ll soon be on your way to a fad-free life forever.
-Sarah Romotsky, RD, is the Director of Health & Wellness at the International Food Information Council