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The Truth About Fad Diets

There is no miracle pill for changing body composition, especially quickly. That’s why 80% of all dieters gain the weight they lose back. This article covers the most popular fad diets and why they might not be the best choice if you want to change your body composition. 


What Are Fad Diets?

Fad diets are defined as an eating pattern or diet that becomes really popular for a short time and often promises quick and dramatic results. Fad diets typically endorse restrictive eating patterns that promise rapid weight loss or other health “benefits”. Many fad diets become popular because they offer potential for a short term result, but they are extremely unsustainable in the long term. These diets usually lack scientific backing, can be overly restrictive, and focus on certain foods or food groups while excluding others.


Examples Of Fad Diets 


The Keto Diet

The keto diet refers to ketosis, a metabolic state that occurs when your body burns fat for energy instead of glucose. To monitor that you are indeed in Ketosis, you need to test your blood sugar levels through various testing devices that can test blood, breath, or urine. The keto diet can have significant health benefits depending on the context and individual’s situation. For example, a keto diet significantly tampers down epilepsy symptoms. However, most people are on the keto diet to lose weight. However, the truth is, a caloric deficit is how someone loses weight, not because of eating lower carbs. 


Most people lose weight on the keto diet for two reasons: water loss (from eating fewer carbs) equating to weight loss, and eating more whole foods. People on the keto report being more satiated, however this is because they are eating more protein and fat. 


A medical  review of very-low-carbohydrate (including ketogenic) diets for the management of body weight and other cardiometabolic risk factors concluded that low carb diets have advantages on appetite, reduced triglyceride levels, and reduced the need for diabetes medication. One long term study on very obese people using keto under supervision to lose weight long term found that the keto diet was beneficial. 


However, the average person who is even just overweight or wants to change their body composition will find no benefit with the keto diet over another calorie restricted diet. Keto and low carb diets are extremely difficult to maintain, so the adherence rate is low. Sometimes the end result of a keto diet is to gain the lost weight back and then some.


The Keto diet is not recommended for general weight loss due to the potential high intake of saturated fats and limited consumption of nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.


The Paleo Diet 

The paleo diet is based on what our ancestors ate. Paleo tends to be more of a whole foods focused diet that includes meat, fish, eggs, fruit, sweet potatoes, veggies, nuts and seeds. Eating paleo tends to be lower carb than the average American diet.


Eating paleo is great for overall health because there is a focus on whole foods. Along with managing caloric intake, individuals eating paleo can have improved body composition while feeling better with higher energy levels. 


The Atkins Diet 

The Atkins diet works with a low carb and high protein model. An individual starts with only 20-25g of carbs per day to induce ketosis. Once an individual is in ketosis, they can bump the carb amount up to 40g or 100g a day by eating nuts, seeds, berries, and low carb veggies. Essentially, Atkins is the paleo diet without the fruit and potatoes. However Atkins promotes eating processed meat and cheese, which isn’t that healthy. 


The Atkins diet is restrictive, like keto, which makes it hard to follow. Following it also increases the potential risk of heart and kidney disease due to excessive saturated fat consumption. Saturated fat is not inherently bad, but there is a healthy balance of how much you should consume. 


The South Beach Diet 

South Beach Diet emphasizes eating food with a low glycemic index, and categorizes carbohydrates and fats as “good” or “bad”. The slippery slope with the South Beach diet is labeling certain foods as good or bad. People have a tendency to label themselves as a good or bad person depending on the good or bad food they ate. No one needs to punish themselves for eating ice cream.


The South Beach diet itself is eating foods that are nutrient dense and fiber rich like lean meat, fish, eggs, fruits, veggies. A modified version of the South Beach diet launched in 2019, the keto-friendly South Beach diet, which is even higher in fat and lower in carbohydrates and protein than the original iteration. There is little research on this diet specifically, but in 2006 a review of the South Beach Diet book found that only 33% of the 42 total nutrition claims in the book were backed by scientific evidence.


Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting isn’t a diet as much as it is a way of eating. When an individual engages with Intermittent fasting,  they give themselves a short eating window a day. These eating windows are usually 4-8 hours long. Intermittent fasting is a technique that is used to reduce calories, however, studies show that fasting is not magical for weight loss. In fact, Intermittent fasting can be unhealthy for menstruating females, as fasting can affect hormones. It can be good practice, however, to help impulsive behaviors around eating, like night snacking right before bed. 


Side Effects Of Fad Diets 

The most common side effects of fad diets include dizziness, headaches, nausea, and fatigue. This may be caused by a lack of electrolytes due to a huge reduction in sodium as you switch to a more whole food based diet. It is also more common to experience these symptoms if you are engaging in intermittent fasting. 


The Truth About Fad Diets 

We all know about fad diets because they are marketed to us; there’s copious amounts of money to be made from them, especially for the companies that make processed foods and label them as “paleo friendly etc.” Diet mogul Jenny Craig owns the rights to the South Beach diet. All of this is to say, be cautious with what you get into. Even though fad diets might seem like the logical decision for weight loss, this is because these diets have been really well marketed to seem like the logical decision.


The truth is, fad diets are restrictive, unsustainable, and don’t help people feel a good sense of their own self worth when they fall off the wagon. Who can eat no carbs for any sustained period of time? This creates the yo-yo dieting way of being (which makes money for the diets) that causes up and down weight fluctuations, a poor sense of self worth, and an uncomfortable way of living that can last for years. Putting that long term time frame of yo-yo dieting into perspective, something that is much more sustainable in the long term is what will give results that last. 


Are Fad Diets Right For You?

The basic premise of all fad diets are generally good, which is to eat mostly nutrient dense whole foods, but why do we need to have a certain diet we follow? A diet full of the proper protein amounts and whole foods with treats and processed foods here and there is a diet that is realistic, nourishing, balanced, and easy to keep. And don’t forget to throw a good strength training routine into the mix, and you’ll see your body change to the body composition you want over time that is sustainable and healthy for your body long-term. 


Want access to 3 weeks of nutrition guidance without any of the BS? Get access HERE


Want to learn more about fad diets? Listen to The Stronger Than Your Boyfriend Podcast, Episode 181: The Truth About Fad Diets 



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