Don’t Fall for Fad Diets
Paleo. Vegan. Dukan. Atkins. HCG. Zone. Aren’t they a mouthful? No pun intended. These diets all promise insanely good results, making people feel empowered and invigorated to take on the challenge. The problem is, they usually don’t leave you feeling empowered and invigorated while following them. Continue reading to learn more about fad diets and why they are often too good to be true.
When considering any diet, ask yourself these three questions:
Is it sustainable for the rest of my life?
Is it going to improve my health in the long term?
Does it compromise my mental sanity?
The answer is typically no, for the first two questions and likely yes, for the third.
Before we get into each diet's specifics, let's address the common theme with all of them. What you will find with every “fad” diet you encounter is that it requires limiting the types of food you eat. While having a conscious mind about what you eat is always a great idea, limiting entire food groups (unless advised by a medical professional) is usually not a good idea. Cutting out entire food groups can leave us without key nutrients we need, and restrict energy intake to levels that may be dangerous for our health. This is why they are not sustainable and can leave you feeling weak, irritable and fatigued. Restrictive intake can also put the body into "starvation mode." This disrupts your metabolism and makes it harder or even impossible for your body to maintain weight loss or lose weight in the future, leading to what's called yo-yo dieting.
Ok! Let's jump into these diets. We'll start with the Paleo and the Vegan diet, considering these are opposites in some ways, and similar in others. The Paleo diet aims to mimic what cavemen ate, which was mostly things you could find in the wild (meats, fish, fruits vegetables, nuts and seeds). This excludes whole grains, dairy, and other legumes. On the other hand, the Vegan diet restricts anything made of or from an animal. The downsides of both of these is that when you eliminate any whole food group from your diet, you are losing out on things your body likely requires to be healthy. With the Paleo diet, you are missing out on the fiber and B-vitamins in whole grains, and the calcium and vitamin D in dairy. While on the vegan side, you are missing out on sources of vitamin B-12, iron and calcium. Understandably, there are those who choose to go vegan for moral or ethical reasons and not for weight loss. It is important that they also take into consideration the nutrients they may need to obtain from other sources.
The Dukan Diet (my vote for coolest name) and the Atkins diet aim for what is called “phase training”. With the Dukan diet, you have four different phases that include eliminating carbohydrates completely from the diet, and later reintroducing small amounts in the form of starchy vegetables. The Atkins diet has an introduction phase of weaning yourself off of said carbs, and replacing them with “healthier” carb options once you get down to your goal weight. The main issue with these types of carb eliminating diets is that your body needs carbohydrates. For example, the brain's preferred source of energy is carbohydrate and we use our brains everyday to perform basic activities like reading this blog, having a conversation, and even getting dressed in the morning. Carbs should make up 45-65% of our total caloric intake and these diets recommend that they make up as little as possible. You can’t go from getting 50% of your calories from carbs down to almost nothing and expect your body to respond appropriately once you add them back. That is often what leaves fad dieters so discouraged - the rapid weight gain once even small amounts of carbs are reintroduced. Finding an appropriate balance of nutrients is key to a healthy lifestyle.
The Zone diet and the human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) diet are grouped together because they are probably the most strict. Zone dieting is about only eating carbs that minimally raise blood glucose levels. It also calls for carb counting, making sure to eat limited amounts of fat, lots of fruits and veggies, and a small amount of protein. This diet is supposed to give you dramatic weight loss results in a short period of time. Speaking of dramatic, the HCG diet is intended to help you lose around 10 pounds a week. No, that is not a typo. The HCG diet includes injections of HCG, which is thought to help preserve muscle mass and ward off hunger, while consuming a very low-calorie diet (500-800 calories per day). That’s all there is to it. You can eat whatever you want, you just can’t eat much of it. This diet severely limits your intake, which is dangerous because it puts your body in “starvation mode.” The issue with the Zone diet is that it cuts out a major food group (carbs) while the HCG diet cuts out most of the daily requirement for energy. These diets would be hard to maintain in the short term and unfeasible and potentially dangerous in the long term.
To sum all of this up, fad diets are rarely recommended by a Registered Dietitian. These diets limit things your body often needs and usually give a promise of almost immediate results. A lifestyle change does not falsely promise immediate results and is a healthier and more sustainable goal. You will find that eating a variety of foods, keeping your diet balanced and eating all foods in moderation is the way to go.
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Written by: Hilma Porter, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern