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3 Reasons Why Diet Fads Don't Work

The History of Dieting Fads

Ever since the rise of sedentary jobs and weight-gain from lack of activity, people have been looking for easy, fast ways to lose weight by changing the way they eat. From the Hollywood actress-inspired grapefruit diet in the 1930s, to the Atkins low-carb diet in the 1970s to modern trends like “cleanses,” fad diets have become a powerful part of our pursuit of health in America.

But they don’t work.

UCLA once took a look at 31 different food and diet studies that lasted 2-5 years. In 2007, they concluded that 30-60% of all dieters regained all of the weight they lost, and even gained a little more! Despite nearly a century of popularity, fad diets have never seemed to make people healthier, and in fact can lead to an unhealthy obsession with weight loss rather than a focus on healthy choices.

One truly horrifying fad diet in the 1950s has experienced a recent revival: using tapeworms to induce weight loss. Just 2 years ago, an Iowa woman went to her doctor and admitted that she had ordered a tapeworm pill on the internet. The fad has even picked up traction in Hong Kong. The tapeworm diet is an extreme example of the problem with many fad diets: they may cause weight loss, but they are at best inconvenient and untenable—and at worst, truly harmful to dieters.

Reason #1: Fad Diets Offer the Wrong Kind of Weight Loss

Let’s get this out of the way: a lot of fad diets are popular are because they work—for a few weeks or months. People lose 10-15 pounds fairly quickly (just like the advertisements promise), but that’s all you receive. Your diet may be dropping weight off of you, but it may not be fat. Weight loss could be a loss of fiber, a loss of lean muscle, or even simple water loss.

That’s because fad diets are, by and large, deprivation diets. There’s no quick-fix fad diet that can promise you significant weight loss and a balanced and complete intake of nutrients. That’s why most diets you’ll hear about make a bad guy (or a savior) out of particular ingredients or macronutrients. No starches, no carbs, only grapefruit or acai berries—these are the dietary restrictions many people will subject themselves to on a run-of-the-mill fad diet.

Will eating less starch and carbs (or only grapefruit) help you lose weight? Of course! So would starvation. Subjecting yourself to strict food restrictions won’t provide you with long-term health. It will only starve your body of the balanced amount of nutrients it needs, creating long-term health problems. Be very skeptical of any diet that overemphasizes or vilifies a particular type of food.

Reason #2: Fad Diets Are Impractical

Actress and health celebrity Suzanne Somers has offered a very popular type of diet plan for years. The diet plan requires dieters to eat food in groups, and includes rules such as “if you eat food with protein, wait 3 hours before eating carbohydrates” or “only eat fruit on an empty stomach.” These rules might result in short-term weight loss, but what kind of flexibility does it provide? Is this a plan that the average person can maintain?

Most diets work because they limit the times and ways that you can eat to a very strict routine. But if your weight can only be lessened through body-manipulative and military-precise eating habits, then it’s unlikely that it can be kept up for years. Even if your diet promises some kind of freedom with what you eat, it likely restricts very heavily how much you eat—which results in the same problem.

Reason #3: Fad Diets Make Dieters More Susceptible to Weight Gain

When you suddenly deny your body the food it craves, whether it’s bread, pasta, or dairy, you’re potentially increasing your cortisol levels (based on the strength of the craving). Cortisol is the “stress” hormone, which releases glucose into the blood for immediate use by your large muscle groups. It also inhibits insulin processing, causing “insulin resistance,” the central problem of Type 2 diabetes.

Heightened cortisol levels conditions your body to develop visceral (under the muscle) fat, starves your cells of glucose, and forces your body to send constant hunger signals to the brain—which prompts overeating. Now, if you can resist your cravings, cortisol levels subside and you become more accustomed to your lifestyle, reducing your likelihood to gain weight.

Remember, however, that fad diets are meant to be temporary. Which means once your diet is finished and you reach your goal weight, you’ll begin responding to your increased cortisol with increased eating. Studies show that 83% of dieters tend to regain their weight after a fad diet, but that’s not the only problem. Fad dieting also leads to a problem known as “weight cycling,” which is when your body loses and gains weight over and over again. Ironically, weight cycling from fad diets causes your body to gain weight more quickly and easily, independent of your body’s genetics.

That means even if you lose 20 pounds every time you diet, you’ll gain that 20 back (and then some) a little easier every time. Eventually, you’ll end up heavier than you ever were while on fad diets.

So If Not a Fad Diet, What Then?

It’s like your mom and your coach always told you: eat healthy food in balanced amounts, and exercise. The point is not to lose weight—it’s to lead a life where weight naturally stays off of you because you use the energy that you intake. Your body and your lifestyle requires balance, not deprivation. If you want carbohydrates, eat complex carbs that have a low glycemic load: sweet potatoes, acorn squash, or barley (instead of rice). If you want sugar, eat fruit and yogurt, and avoid manufactured sugar products.

Honestly, weight loss doesn’t have to be dramatic to have amazing results. Just 5-10% loss of your body weight will result in a stronger heart, rid yourself of pre-diabetic risks, reduce strain on your blood vessels and posture, help your breathing, and result in a more comfortable body overall. Attempting to lose 60 pounds in 3 months will only result in weight gain.

Preparing to run a 5k or choosing to eat pineapples instead of ice cream is what will lead to weight loss, not following a strict trendy diet—and it’s more fun for you! Base your journey on health accomplishments like pushups, mile times, and strength gain, and you’ll experience more fulfilling, enjoyable, and effective weight-loss!

This article contains general information about medical conditions and treatment. This information is not to be treated as medical advice. Inquiries about your health should be consulted with a healthcare provider.

Categories: health information