In Part 1 of this article, we discussed the rise of fad diets, what makes a diet a “fad”, and some of the more dangerous and unhealthy fad diets out there.
Today, in Part 2, we’re going to talk about some of the more popular fad diets out there. Now, these diets have provided some people with encouraging results; but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should run out and try them.
(Side note: If you haven’t obtained your dieting macros yet, check out the IIFYM macro calculator. It’s time you started a sustainable diet!)
Let’s talk about why…
Very Low-Carb Diets
Now things are about to get interesting.
Low-carb diets are still extremely popular. And for good reason; they do help a lot of people lose weight. But this isn’t necessarily the magic of not eating any carbs at work, but rather – like any other diet that helps you lose weight – simple caloric restriction.
Much like very low-fat, low-carb diets lead to weight loss because you are effectively eliminating an entire macronutrient group from your diet. See, nothing magic.
And while I personally find very low-carb diets to be unnecessary, they do work for a lot of people for many different reasons.
The main reason low-carb leads to weight loss which is simply caloric restriction. Cutting out a whole macronutrient group from your diet leads to a drastic cut in calories as well; maybe even up to half in some people.
The Shift to High Protein
Considering the typical American diet, high in fat, carbohydrates and low in protein, it’s no wonder the low-carb fad has had some good results.
Another reason for the success of low-carb fad is that these diets are typically high in protein.
High protein diets have shown to be the most effective diets when it comes to fat loss for two reasons. One, protein provides you with a high level of satiety. It takes the body longer to digest protein so consuming more protein will leave you feeling fuller, longer.
Second, protein has a high thermic cost, meaning it takes the body more calories to digest it than any other macronutrient. Therefore, the more protein you eat, the more calories your body will expand while digesting it.
Good…But Good Enough?
And while the low-carb fad does have some positives, they are far outweighed by the negatives. I’ll start with the obvious…carbs are delicious! Seriously, why would you want to live your life without carbs?
Carbohydrates make up some of the best foods out there, so if you can include them in your diet while still losing fat, why wouldn’t you?
In complete seriousness though, the main reason people fail at diets is they are either too restrictive or don’t provide enough variety. Low-carb does both.
(Including carbs in your diet while losing fat is beautiful, your Macro Blueprint will do just that!)
The second problem with low-carb is that people often do not take calories into account. Many popular low-carb books and programs boast about how by eliminating carbs from your diet, you can eat as much protein and fat as you want and not have to worry about counting calories.
That’s wrong. Completely, and utterly, wrong. Which is why it’s included in this fad diets series.
Fad Diets Love to Blame Insulin
The thought process behind it is this: carbohydrates have the greatest effect on insulin levels. High levels of insulin (continual elevation) prevent the body from burning fat.
Therefore by eliminating carbs from your diet, you keep insulin low and will burn fat all the time.
The truth, however, is much different. First, carbs aren’t the only macronutrient that has an effect on insulin; protein will raise insulin levels too. Secondly, low insulin levels are not the driving force behind fat loss, calorie balance is.
So it doesn’t matter whether you are low-carb, high-carb or medium-carb, if you are not in a negative caloric balance, you will not lose fat.
Carbs Are Vital For Performance
Third and probably most important, carbs provide the fuel you need for great workouts and help keep your body’s hormones functioning properly.
Carbs are converted to glycogen in the body and are stored in the muscles to fuel workouts. The more energy you have during a workout, the better your performance, meaning the harder you can work and the more calories you’ll burn.(9)(10)
…just like low-fat and low-carb diets, paleo requires you to omit entire food groups on the unproven notion that they are “bad” or “unhealthy”.
Carbs also prevent the body from trying to convert amino acids into energy (which leads to muscle breakdown) by providing the body with an energy source by which to draw from during recovery.(11)(12)
Carbs have an effect on your thyroid and various hormone levels in your body too. Low-carb intake can lead to a decrease in T3, which is an important hormone in the regulation of your metabolism. Basically, low levels of T3 can cause your metabolism to slow.(13)(14)
Low-carb can also cause testosterone to drop while increasing your stress hormone cortisol. This is a recipe for disaster, as high levels of cortisol combine with low testosterone will lead to greater fat storage.
While popular low-carb diets like Atkins or Keto can provide some initial success; they unnecessarily rob your body of its preferred source of energy, while also encouraging the consumption of highly-processed, low carb foods, and offering no distinct advantages over simple caloric restriction.
“Ideally your macronutrient breakdown should be balanced to support your bodily functions without sacrificing your sanity.”
The bottom line is, while low-carb has shown to be effective when it comes to fat loss, it can be difficult to sustain and could negatively affect the way your body functions.
Going low-carb isn’t anything magic. If you like carbs, you don’t need to eliminate them from your diet just to lose fat. There are plenty of better ways to go about it that don’t involve suffering or extreme deprivation; such as a flexible dieting approach.
The Paleo, or caveman diet, has become extremely popular in recent years.
If you’ve never heard of the Paleo diet, the basic idea is to have your diet emulate that of our Paleolithic ancestors. To be true to the Paleo diet, if it wasn’t available to our ancestors, we shouldn’t eat it either.
That means that since foodstuffs such as dairy and grains weren’t around then, we shouldn’t consume them either. The basis for this is that this is the way our bodies were genetically designed to eat.
There are several things wrong with this assumption but we’ll talk about that in a minute. First, let’s talk about some of the good aspects of Paleo.
On the surface, the concept of Paleo is good. In order to follow the diet, you can only consume foods that were around when our Paleolithic ancestors roamed the earth. This includes things like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and animal protein. All of these are foods you should be consuming anyway and are healthy.
The consumption of these foods also increases satiety, which is another positive. One thing that Paleo has going for it, compared to other fad diets is you are less likely to be hungry while eating paleo because of the quality of food you eat. One reason many diets fail is
One reason many diets fail is that people are constantly feeling hungry. Any diet that staves off feelings of hunger is likely going to be more successful.
Positives < Negatives
Much like other fad diets, however, the positive aspects of the Paleo diet is a short list.
The biggest problem with the paleo diet is the notion that if our ancestors didn’t eat it, we shouldn’t either.
Again, this is completely, and utterly, wrong.
First of all, this is like saying that we shouldn’t brush our teeth just because toothpaste and toothbrushes weren’t around in the Paleolithic era. The logic that just because something was or wasn’t available should dictate whether it is “good” or “bad” is flawed.
So things like dairy and grains, which are full of vitamins and nutrients, are bad, but processed foods like Paleo bread, paleo cookies, paleo bars, and paleo protein powder are fine?
“Instead of dealing with nonsensical diets, reach out to our coaches to help dial in your dietary needs.”
Second, there wasn’t one specific Paleo diet. Our ancestor’s diets varied based on the region they were in, what food was available and what time of year it was.
Plus, food today doesn’t even closely resemble what it did thousands of years ago, due to genetic modification and manipulation.
Third, just like low-fat and low-carb diets, paleo requires you to omit entire food groups on the unproven notion that they are “bad” or “unhealthy”. Any diet that puts a ban on certain foods and requires you to deprive yourself of foods you may love isn’t going to work in the long run.
Like I said, the concept of paleo is great. Where the diet falls short however is its use of flawed science to perpetuate a style of eating that is outdated and really can’t be replicated. And any that forbids perfectly healthy foods while tries to sell you highly processed “diet friendly” versions should raise some eyebrows.
Fad Diet Examples
This is another very popular diet, especially among fitness enthusiasts.
Clean eating can mean different things to different people, but the general rules of clean eating are that “clean” foods should be: Minimally processed, and have a high nutrient density.
To take it a step further, foods like lean meats, healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains should be prioritized while highly processed foods should be minimized or eliminated altogether.
Now, a diet consisting of whole, nutrient-dense foods is going to have positive effects on your body and your health in general, including increased satiety, more energy and less inflammation.(15)
…when making money is based on people’s ignorance, or using cherry-picked data to sell a product becomes commonplace; that’s when I have a problem.
A number of processed foods in the typical diet has been linked to a number of diseases and health issues. By minimizing these foods, you will help improve cell function, fight disease and just feel better in general.(16)
Now, like Paleo, clean eating is good in theory. Yet, it also suffers from some of the same pitfalls that Paleo does.
Draped In Ambiguity
First off, what exactly does “clean” mean?
Of course, it’s going to mean different things to different people and is impossible to define. The bigger issue with this, however, is regardless of how you define “clean”, it will ultimately come down to labeling foods as “good” or “bad”, “clean” and “dirty”.
This thought process is the cornerstone of fad diets. Clients following our programs are able to move away from this detrimental thought process.
The truth is, no one food is going to cause you to store more fat, just like no one food will help you lose more fat. Fat loss is about calories in vs. calories out.
This leads into the second pitfall of clean eating. People who are eating “clean” often don’t concern themselves with caloric intake, falsely believe that if they only eat “clean” foods that they cannot get fat.
However, if your daily caloric maintenance level is 2,500 calories, and you’re eating 3,000 calories each day, it doesn’t matter if those calories are coming from chicken and broccoli or McDonald’s, you will gain weight.
The Perpetuation of Fad Diets
While the health and fitness industry has always been a big market, the rise of the internet has helped it grow exponentially.
No longer are people just restricted to getting their information from their local trainer, or the pages of a magazine. The online fitness industry has allowed clients and trainers alike, to reach people that they wouldn’t have been able to, not that long ago.
But with the good, comes the bad.
The internet has allowed many so-called experts and gurus to make a living selling products/services that benefit them more, monetarily, than it benefits their clients, physically.
And this includes fad diets.
From the downright dangerous fad diets such as the HCG diet, or cleanses and detoxes, to ones based on bad science like low-fat or paleo, every fad diet has one thing in common: people are making money off it.
Now, I’m all for capitalism, and the freedom to earn a living. Yet, when making money is based on people’s ignorance, or using cherry-picked data to sell a product becomes commonplace; that’s when I have a problem.
Profit Before Health with Fad Diets
And it’s not the client or consumers fault. They just want to lose weight or be healthier. It’s the fault of the individuals who’re supposed to be helping people, who instead seize the opportunity to make a dollar, at any cost. When they use their position of authority within the industry to sell things that people don’t need, or can’t benefit from.
And that’s why it’s important that clients and consumers of health products educate themselves, and don’t just take everything at face value.
“That’s the beauty of flexible dieting/IIFYM, it allows for multiple interpretations without unnecessary restriction.”
Yes, there are some diets like low-carb, paleo, or clean eating, that when done correctly, can benefit fat loss. However, the marketing and perpetuation of “extreme measures for extreme results” has sullied what are otherwise sound nutritional principles.
There are a lot of great people, doing great things, and helping a lot of people in this industry. But there are also those out to make a buck, regardless of how it’s done, or if they’re actually helping anyone.
Don’t just assume because something worked for someone else, that’s it’s good for you too.
It’s best to have a program that is tailored to your variables, such as a Macro Blueprint.