Gluten-free, Paleo, the China Study, Atkins, Keto and many other diets have plagued the Dietitian and Sport Dietitian community for years. Of course it’s easy for a Sports Dietitian and a Dietitian to be able to spot a fad diet when we see one, that’s what we’re trained to do. We’re trained to be skeptical of the “newest and greatest” thing that will promise a life changing effect just by adding a magical ingredient to your daily intake, or if all of a sudden one macronutrient is the culprit of all your health problems. However it’s the rest of the population that can fall prey to these fad diets which is our ultimate concern because it’s easy to understand why people would be victims of these sacks with the multiple promises and shortcuts of a healthier lifestyle. But to empower everyone out there, we’re going to explore how to spot a fad diet.
Firstly, it must be recognized that there is no unanimous defined answer as to what a fad diet actually is. But Crowe (2014) reports that if a diet has any of the following claims that it is likely a fad diet:
· Promises of fast results
· Cuts out or restricts specific foods or food groups
· Is only concerned with short-term changes and does not address long-term lifestyle adjustments
· Has strict rules
· Encourages pills, supplements or products that you are dependent upon
· Makes claims based on individual testimonials or a single study
Now with Crowe’s list being exhausted, there are of course exceptions to his rules. There are always outliers, like the Gluten-free diet for those people actually diagnosed (by a doctor!) with Celiac disease, or a lactose-free diet for someone that is actually diagnosed with lactose intolerance. Basically what I’m getting at here is that a self-diagnosis is not accurate.
The truth is that fad diets can negatively affect athletic performance and health. This happens due to nutritional advice being given that isn’t scientifically sound. Some fad diets are so restrictive that only a few foods can be eaten that do not provide adequate nutrition, in turn causing the body into a state of catabolism, or muscle break down, in order to stimulate weight loss. At this point it should be further recognized that the real goal of weight loss is actually fat loss, not just weight. Crowe (2014) goes on to discuss the appeal towards these fad diets due to the promise of dramatic results over a short period of time. But review of most fad diet shows rapid weight loss related to rapid water loss, which leaves you with smaller and poorly functioning muscles while the fat remains.
So there you have it, some guidelines on how to identify a fad diet. It isn’t that hard, often what I ask people is “can you see yourself doing this for over a year? 5 years?” The answer is often no, which should also be your answer on whether or not you should try the diet. Also, remember where this information is coming from. Often times a new diet fad is started by someone completely unqualified to deliver nutritional advice to begin with (eg. Beyonce's INSANE Cayene pepper diet and ANYTHING coming from the mouth of Doctor Oz - read my last post to better understand my lack of respect for this man and his unethical and hocus-pocus Nutritional recommendations).
Remember that there is no shortcut to health and weight/ fat loss. Attempting fad diets causes something called a yo-yo effect where your body becomes so used to rapid and unsustainable weight changes that it makes it harder for sustainable weight loss to occur later on. So go with the tried and true methods for weight loss, diet and exercise. Sure it’ll take some time, but always remember, Rome wasn’t built in one day and any weight loss journey is like a flight of stairs, you have to take it one step at a time!
Crowe, T. (2014). Are fad diets worth their weight. Australasian Science, 35(1), 18-19.