Why to stay away from
Fad Diets

Nivine Hanach

is a clinical dietitian holding a master’s degree in clinical nutrition from the University of Nottingham (UK). Her specialty is obesity management, nutrition support therapy, medical nutrition therapy of diabetes & gastrointestinal disorders, and sports nutrition

There comes a time when many of us want a cutting-edge trick to lose weight. It could be before bikini season, a big day or after a holiday binge. We opt for the quick fix to magically burn fat and that’s when we fall for “fad diets”.

A fad diet is a very restrictive diet that sounds “too good to be true”. It may include very few food options or an unusual combination of foods, which promises dramatic weight loss in a short period of time. People are always attracted to try new and unusual things, especially when they promise results without effort.

New types of diets hit the market regularly; from low-carb, low-fat, high-protein to detox, dairy-free, coffee, vinegar diets and many more. Surprisingly, despite the long-lasting popularity of some of these, there is still no scientific evidence that supports their long-term effect on weight loss, lifestyle, and overall health.

Here are the reasons why you should stay away from fad diets:

1. You don’t want to bounce back the lost weight

If you’re aiming to lose weight and maintain it, then fad diets are definitely not the answer. The induced rapid weight loss (described as the loss of more than 1kg per week) can definitely be motivating. The problems start when you stop the diet regime and resume your old dietary habits with unhealthy food choices and overeating. Suddenly, you notice that you have regained the lost weight and sometimes gained even more. This is likely to end up in an ongoing cycle of yo-yo dieting which is associated with various health risks and psychological impacts including cardiometabolic diseases, disordered eating behaviours, and depression. Furthermore, when quick weight loss occurs, it actually targets muscle mass, bone density, water and not fat.

2. You’re not getting enough nutrients

When we decide to lose weight, we’re often motivated by changing our body rather than being concerned with our health. We forget to ask how nourishing the diet plan is and whether it supports our body’s functioning? Well, it is a big “NO” when it comes to fad diets. Limiting your food quantities and restricting certain food groups will make you miss out on key nutrients.  In a recent study, an analysis of commercial weight-loss diets showed that they were deficient in at least three micronutrients. The most common deficiencies were B-vitamins, vitamin E, Vitamin D, and calcium.

3. You’re wasting your money

If you are purchasing a product to lose weight, make sure that you’re not falling for a marketing myth. No pill, supplement, juice, coffee, or herbal tea can do magic. If you want to lose weight it simply requires setting realistic goals and making the appropriate lifestyle changes. Healthy weight loss shouldn’t cost a fortune.

4. You’re being trapped in a sedentary lifestyle

Let’s face it, we all know that when it comes to weight loss, dieting is always our go-to option rather than working out a few times a week. Dieting is easier and requires minimal efforts compared to exercising – and that is when we become sedentary. However, whether you’re on a weight-loss diet or not, physical activity is essential to your health.

So are fad diets worth the hype?

Absolutely not! Now that you know why you should avoid fad diets, let’s have a look at what you can do instead. You may have tried different diet plans, and perhaps you have even become an expert in knowing what’s healthy and what’s not. But, you’ve been stuck at some point when you felt that it was getting harder and harder to shed those extra pounds.

The first step towards successful weight loss is to forget that you’re on a weight loss diet. Jump-start your regime by putting the main focus on your lifestyle and overall health.

  • Set a list of realistic and attainable goals (short-term and long-term) that fit your daily routine.
  • Start by monitoring your dietary patterns; keep a diary of all the food you consume during the day for at least the first two weeks. Take notes of the quantity and meal time. State your emotions (e.g. were you hungry? Bored? Mad? Stressed?) and how you’d feel post meal. After a while, assess yourself to find underlying problems.
  • Try to make healthy changes one step at a time. If you decide to change your eating habits today, don’t abruptly switch to completely clean eating the next day. Instead, start by switching your unhealthy food choices for some healthier alternatives. For instance, if one of your goals is to increase your fiber intake, you can start by replacing refined grains with whole grains. A few days later, you can try adding one portion of vegetables to each meal. Later, you can add pulses to your dish and so on. With these small steps you will get used to a fiber-rich diet that helps you feel fuller for a longer time, supports healthy bowel movements, and reduces your cardiovascular risks.

Just be patient and consistent. Once you’ve created a healthy mindset, set your goals, and are ready to take action right away, make sure you consider the following simple strategies throughout your journey:

1. Watch your sugar intake

There’s clear evidence that high sugar consumption is associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. Limit your added sugar or “free sugar” intake to no more than 5% of your daily energy intake ~ 30g per day. Always choose low-sugar food choices; read the ingredients list to check for added sugar and make sure it contains less than 5g per 100g.

2. Choose healthy fats

Increase your intake of monounsaturated fats (e.g. avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds) and polyunsaturated fats (e.g. sunflower oil, canola oil, corn oil). Avoid high-fat choices (more than 17.5 g per 100 g). Choose lean meat cuts; remove visible fat from meat and skin from chicken.

3. Learn healthy cooking

It is always advisable to expand your creativity in the kitchen when starting a healthy diet. You will become more attentive to the ingredients in your dishes and portion sizes. Steaming, poaching, grilling, and roasting are easy and healthy cooking techniques as they boost food flavour and retain its nutrients. 

4. SNACK SMARTLY

Mid-day hunger is real, but it is crucial to deal with it correctly. Satisfy your cravings with a healthy snack that refuels your energy, fits extra nutrients into your diet and prevents you from overeating at mealtimes. It is always important to respond to your body’s needs. Examples of healthy snacks include 1 banana and 6 almonds; 1 toast, 2 slices of cheese, and 1 cucumber; 1 cup of low-fat yogurt and 1 apple, etc.

5. Stay active

Schedule only 30 minutes of moderate activity five times a week. Ideally, if you can build up to 60 minutes that is even better. If 30 minutes a day sounds like a huge commitment, it is okay if you split up the time into three 10-minute exercises during the day and still reap big benefits (e.g. morning: 10-minute walk, afternoon: 10-minute home workout, evening: 10-minute stretching & yoga). Always remember physical activity is a great way to boost your metabolism and prevent the loss of muscle mass.

6. Eat more plant-based foods

Research has proven the beneficial health effects of a plant-based diet. It prevents coronary heart disease, improves obesity-related inflammatory profiles, and lowers the risk of all-cause mortality. However, this is restricted to healthy plant-based options. Having said that, if you wish to try a plant-based diet (1) avoid concentrated fruit juices, sweetened beverages, refined grains, fries, and sweets; (2) eat more whole plant-based proteins such as beans, peas, lentils, quinoa, and seeds; (3) balance your plate with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to cover all the vitamins and minerals your body needs; (4) Get enough calcium from dairy-free foods such as calcium-fortified cereals, broccoli, kale, almonds, chia seeds, dried figs, and sesame; (5) flavour your food with healthy spices like turmeric, which has natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties; (6) avoid salad dressings with added ingredients like cream, sugar, egg yolk, and cheese; (7) try meal prepping, this helps you create different meals using the same ingredients and stick to your healthy diet throughout the week. Powering-up your plant-based diet will provide you with enough protein, fibers, minerals, and phytonutrients.

Lastly, when it comes to nutrition, always seek a registered dietitian’s advice. She/he will create an individualized diet for you that relies on credible scientific research, which will save you time and help you reach your goals faster.

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