In a world where there’s no shortage of “miracle” diets, it can feel like there’s always a new, different eating style being touted as the next big thing for weight loss. But when it comes to weight-loss trends, it’s important to be a critical consumer. “It’s smart to do a little digging and understand what you’re signing up for before you buy into any weight-loss trend’s hype,” advises Lisa Moskovitz, RD.
That’s why we asked nutrition pros to share the popular weight-loss methods they’re loving and would like to see stick around, and the ones they wish would just go away already. Here’s what they said:
“As we have all been struggling to get through a pandemic, a lot of people have been adopting holistic lifestyle changes that not only support weight loss but also support overall well-being,” says Sarah Rueven, RD. For example, self-care practices like meditation, self-compassion and gratitude are gaining popularity. That might not seem related to weight loss, but it is.
“When we actively work to reduce stress through self-care, weight loss is often a byproduct,” Rueven explains. “Stress that is left unchecked leads to overeating and poor sleep, both of which encourage weight gain. Stress also spikes cortisol, which raises blood glucose levels and can make it harder to properly metabolize carbohydrates.” That’s why paying attention to the role mental health plays in weight loss and weight maintenance is an important and enduring trend here to stay.
Mindful eating has gained popularity in recent years and is picking up even more traction. “I love this concept because it focuses on hunger cues and overall emotional experience with food,” says Katelyn Brockmiller, RD. “With mindful eating, there’s a sense of food freedom that allows you to be aware of what makes you satisfied.” This awareness is beneficial for people pursuing weight loss; it helps them get to know themselves and their food habits better and helps avoid feelings of deprivation, which can lead to cravings and emotional eating. “You’re able to enjoy the foods you love,” Brockmiller says. The key is learning how to avoid going overboard, which is a skill many find useful for long-term weight-loss success.
“Cutting back on alcohol for the sake of weight loss is a trend I can get on board with,” Moskovitz says. “Not only is alcohol calorie-dense, but it provides little to no nutritional value.” What’s more, alcohol can spike appetite, leading to overeating during or after drinking. Replace alcoholic beverages with one of the many new zero-proof options or a fun mocktail and see how your energy levels feel; you’ll likely sleep better, too.
Incorporating more plant-based meals is a trend Dina Totosegis, RD, would like to see even more people adopt. The benefits of plant-based eating for weight loss include feeling fuller longer from fiber-rich foods, improved digestion and better management of cravings, according to Totosegis. “This doesn’t mean you have to give up meat and animal products altogether, but adding in more colorful vegetables, plant-based protein from legumes, nuts and seeds as well as substituting some meat for tofu and tempeh can be very satisfying and beneficial.”
Overall, nutrition experts are big fans of the Mediterranean diet, which has been around for ages but continues to be trendy, ranking as one of the top dietary patterns for weight loss and health year after year. “The Mediterranean diet has consistently been shown in research to be an effective style of eating to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and overall mortality,” Kenney says. Because the eating style includes a wide variety of foods like whole grains, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, beans and other legumes, nuts, herbs and spices, it’s not restrictive, Kenney points out.
“Beyond the science, this is a diet that you can live with for the rest of your life because it is very balanced and can fit most ethnic patterns,” says Julie Miller Jones, PhD, LN. “In other words, it is an eating pattern that is sustainable. It’s not a diet one goes ‘on’ and then goes ‘off’ of.”
The truth is no single diet works for everyone, which is why dietitians aren’t fond of one-size-fits-all diets and meal plans — especially for weight loss. “A healthy diet should be crafted from foods the individual likes, their individual nutrient needs and be open to adjustment,” notes Jennifer McAllister, RD.
For example, a person might do better on a lower-carb diet if they have diabetes, or they might need a diet higher in iron sources if they’re a vegetarian since plant forms of iron aren’t as efficiently absorbed as animal-sources. “People often get discouraged by trying a diet they saw on YouTube or Instagram because the diet doesn’t have the right calories, nutrients or even pattern of eating for them,” McAllister adds. This is part of why working with a nutrition pro for weight loss can be so helpful, so you can get a customized strategy. But it’s also useful and reassuring to keep in mind what worked for one person won’t necessarily work for everyone. It often takes some experimentation to figure out the dietary pattern that’ll work best for you.
By far, the weight-loss trend experts most want to see disappear is the ketogenic diet. It’s not that keto is “bad.” It’s more that it’s not a good fit for most people, especially those trying to lose weight, they say. “Keto was not designed for sustained weight loss,” explains Elizabeth Beil, RD. Keto was originally used to help treat children with epilepsy, and along the way, scientists noticed it also seemed to help some people with certain other health issues. That said, it’s achieved a level of popularity that nutrition pros say doesn’t quite line up with the real benefits of the diet.
“The long-term effects of the keto diet on health, especially cardiovascular health, remain unknown,” Rueven says. The keto diet removes nearly all carbohydrates, which means people on keto often don’t get much fiber in their diets. “Fiber, in particular, is so important for the health of our gut microbiome, which influences everything from our immunity to our mental health.” But even more importantly, severely restricting carbohydrates is unsustainable for most people, says Rueven. “Therefore, the keto diet enables a yo-yo dieting pattern that has negative impacts on physical and mental health.”
Next to keto, intermittent fasting is one of the most well-known weight-loss diet trends. But dietitians are careful to point out that while some people find that intermittent fasting works well for them, skipping meals — especially breakfast — is not a good fit for everyone. “If you exercise in the morning, have to take certain prescription medications, or notice that breakfast just gives you more energy throughout the day, start your day off with a balanced meal,” Moskovitz suggests.
For premenopausal women, intermittent fasting may be problematic because it can mess with hormones important to the menstrual cycle. “In women, luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone stimulate the production of estrogen and progesterone, which we need to release a mature egg (ovulation), to support a pregnancy and just for general health,” says Erin Kenney, RD. “Even skipping a single meal has been shown to put a stress on the hormonal system.” Individual hormonal responses to intermittent fasting and skipping meals vary between women, but this is one of the big reasons many experts are cautious about the trend.
“One of my least favorite fad diets is the carnivore diet,” says Morgyn Clair, RD. The diet itself has variations, but most often, the only foods allowed are meat, poultry, fish, bone broth, eggs and certain dairy products. That means no fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts or seeds.
“As a dietitian, this is one of the scariest diets I’ve seen,” Rueven says. “Eliminating all plant-based foods will lead to a diet completely lacking in fiber, antioxidants and certain micronutrients. This will set an individual up for vitamin and mineral deficiencies, a weakened immune system and an unhealthy gut microbiome.”
The verdict is in: the sirtfood diet does not live up to the hype. “This diet limits calories to 1,000 calories a day for the first three days,” Brockmiller says. “That’s the equivalent of eating as much as a 2 year old.” After that, you eat only 1,500 calories a day for the next four days. For many people, that’s just not enough food. The diet also involves drinking green juices and limiting solid meals during certain phases of the diet. “Diets that are this restrictive simply aren’t sustainable,” Brockmiller says.
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