According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a fad is a practice or interest followed for a time with exaggerated zeal. Since diets come and go and are often followed for a short period of time with lots of enthusiasm, I would say most are fads. You could argue that some fads are good, but if it was really that great why didn't it become part of our culture? Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between a fad diet and a lifestyle change. Take vegetarianism for example, if you decided to become a vegetarian and consult with a MD or RD to ensure you are getting all the nutrients your body needs and eat healthy, this a lifestyle change not a fad diet (full disclosure-I have been a lacto-ovo vegetarian for the past 20 years). Here the signs of a fad diet:
- Sounds too good to be true-You have been told this a hundred times, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There is no magic formula or product for weight loss so don't be fooled into thinking there is.
- Promises rapid weight loss-Anything more that 1-2 pounds/week means you are most likely losing muscle. Muscle tissue is metabolically active so less muscle means slow metabolism.
- Limited food choices-How does only eating 4 or 5 foods make you healthy and happy? It would make me bored, make me want to eat the excluded foods more and turn me into a monster.
- Excludes entire food groups-Personally, I could never imagine a life without carbs or cheese, but those are usually the first things to go on a fad diet. All foods can be part of a healthy eating plan, even one designed to help you lose weight, and it is important to include all food groups to ensure you are getting the nutrients your body needs.
- Sketchy, if any, scientific proof to support the claims of the diet-If a claim can't be substantiated, should you really put your health on the line?
- Incorporates a product, that you have to purchase, as part of the diet-The only thing you should be buying is real food.
- Rigid menus and eating times-Life is complicated enough, do you really need to add more to it by having to worry about making sure you have the right food at exactly the right time?
- Lack of an exercise component-Finding something that gets you moving is essential for a healthy lifestyle. If a diet restricts exercise, it might be too low in calories for your body handle moving.
- Stresses ease-Change is never easy so how can something be easy that challenges you to limit food, not move and not enjoy eating.
You might be wondering what the harm is in trying the latest fad. Well, besides for making you really moody, it can deprive your body of essential nutrients, weaken your immune system, increase your risk of dehydration, cause heart palpitations, and even lead to an increase chance of having a heart attack. And don't forget about the weight you will most likely gain due to the slow down in your metabolism. Will trying one fad diet cause these issues? Of course not, but repeated fad dieting can have serious complications.
The best way to lose weight is by eating a well-balanced, diet that includes all foods. If you have concerns or need a little help, contact a registered dietitian.