It’s no secret that weight loss is a popular goal among many people today. Even though obesity rates do continue to climb, it seems as though we’re turning a corner; as more people than ever are starting to get interested in health, fitness, and flexible dieting.
Along with this increased interest, we’ve also seen a rise in the number of products, services, and other items aimed at helping people reach their weight loss goals. A great tool, for instance, is the IIFYM macro calculator.
And while there are a lot of great things that have come from this fitness boom, one of the most detrimental, confusing, and outright harmful things to come out of has been the rise of fad diets.
Diets, Dieters, and Fad Dieting
According to the dictionary, the main definition of the word “diet” is, “the kind of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats”. So, to get all technical on you, we all have a diet; it’s the food we eat.
But somewhere along the line, the meaning changed from “having” a diet, to “being on” a diet; where you’re intentionally restricting your food for the purpose of weight loss.
And it’s this shift in perspective that I believe has caused us to stop looking at “a diet” as something that should be better understood in order to improve our overall health, and instead, has caused people to start looking at it as something to fear.
The Fad Diet Evolution
With the rise of bodybuilding in the 70s and 80s, so too came a rise in the popularity of strength training, working out, and getting in shape.
However, where a bodybuilder was concerned with “having” a diet that supported not only muscle growth but also increased energy and overall health, the general population – most of whom were more concerned with losing weight and looking skinnier – adopted diets as something you needed to “be on” in order to reach their goals.
Much of this coincided with the “low-fat” craze of the 80s and 90s. As waistlines began to expand, and cardiovascular disease increased, the health industry needed a plan of attack.
And since fat is what’s found in blocked arteries, while also containing high amounts of cholesterol, this became the natural scapegoat.
When diets are this restrictive it drains your willpower and your energy. It forces you to think of food in terms of “good” and “bad” – a dangerous mindset to fall into.
Since then, fad diets have evolved to include such things as very low-carb, paleo, clean eating, the HCG diet, cleanses, detoxes, and much more.
In this article, we’re going to take an in-depth look at fad diets, why they are so harmful to our health and our fitness goals, and how to structure a “diet” that is right for you.
But before we do that, we first need to define what fad diets actually are, and why they are complete garbage.
What Is A “Fad” Diet?
While there’s no official definition of a “Fad Diet”, they do share a number of characteristics, including promoting weight loss, promising dramatic results, and being unsustainable.
The nature of fad diets can lead to a number of problems:
One of the biggest problems with fad diets is that, by their very nature, they aren’t sustainable. Fads are movements that come and go, and the same is true of fad diets.
Think about it; if a fad was popular, it would stick around. And then it wouldn’t be a fad. Well, the same is true of diets. If a diet worked; if it was sustainable, enjoyable, and helped people lose fat, then it wouldn’t be a fad. It would stick around, unlike these fad diets.
If you can’t stick with a diet long enough to reach your goals – or you can’t transition into a lifestyle that allows you to maintain after you reach your goals – then the diet doesn’t work.
They’re Too Restrictive
The biggest reason why a diet may be unsustainable is that it’s too restrictive (a popular theme among fad diets). Fad diets often severely limit your food choices; with these foods often being the ones you enjoy most. When diets are this restrictive it drains your willpower and your energy. It forces you to think of food in terms of “good” and “bad” – a dangerous mindset to fall into.
For a majority of people, they can only restrict themselves so long before they fall off the wagon, crash, binge, and undo most of their progress.
This leads to the next reason why fad diets don’t work; they don’t teach you how to eat.
Fad diets have a common theme in that, they ban certain foods, while only allowing you to eat certain others. In essence, they tell you what to eat and what not to eat; instead of teaching you how to eat.
The problem with this is, what happens when the diet ends? What do you do?
Say you’re following a low-carb diet. Your goal was to lose 20 pounds and congrats, you reached it! Now what? Are you just suppose to go without pizza, ice cream, donuts, and all the other delicious carby-foods the rest of your life, just to maintain your progress?
No. That’s stupid.
Unfortunately, fad diets don’t teach you what to do when you reach this point; so what most people do – through no fault of their own – is immediately stop following the diet, thinking, “Okay, I hit my goals, so the diets over.” and reintroduce the foods that were banned.
And as a lot of you reading this probably know, that’s a recipe for disaster; as most often end up undoing all of their progress; sometimes even ending up worse off than when they started.
Last, but not least, fad diets can be dangerous.
Unfortunately, when it comes to nutrition, there is no blanket solution that works for everyone. That’s why we evaluate each client separately when creating a Macro Blueprint.
Sure, someone may have success on a very low-carb diet plan, but for others, just jumping into a fad diet without knowing the specifics of how it could affect you, could be harmful to your health.
Breaking Down Popular Fad Diets
Now we’re going to break down some of the more popular fad diets that you’ll come across.
The HCG Diet
I don’t like to admit this, but this is a fad diet I fell victim to early in my fat loss journey.
HCG – or human chorionic gandotropin – is a hormone found in the early stages of pregnancy. Actually, it’s the hormone that results in a positive pregnancy test.
HCG is also used to boost fertility in both women and men.
Somewhere along the way, however, it became the belief that HCG also contains metabolism-boosting, and hunger-curbing properties as well.
The HCG diet requires the participant to take HCG drops daily, while maintaining a 500 calorie per day diet, for 3-6 weeks.
Now, considering the average person burns about 2,000 per day, where do you think the weight loss is coming from? The HCG, or the massive daily calorie deficit?
In fact, multiple studies comparing HCG injections to placebos have shown that it’s the ultra-low calorie diet responsible for the weight loss; not the HCG.(1)(2)(3)(4)
Another huge problem with a calorie deficit that large is that you’re likely to see drastic reductions in muscle mass, in addition to fat. This is going to cause your metabolism to slow down even quicker.
Lastly, not only does HCG do nothing for weight loss, the plan could potentially be dangerous. Not only are the ingredients unregulated and unknown, but the massive calorie deficit can lead to feelings of fatigue, headaches, severe hunger, and possible depression.
These aren’t so much as diets as they are all-out assaults on your body, but I include them here anyway because they are ridiculously popular.
Basically, these “diets” require you to not eat anything for anywhere from a few days to upwards of a week.
Our bodies are way ahead of us when it comes to this. Think about it, if our bodies weren’t able to “detox” themselves, we wouldn’t be able to function, or even survive.
The only foodstuffs you can consume during this time is some liquefied combination of fruits and vegetables or some sort of powder (which you usually have to buy from whoever is promoting the program…shocker).
The food we eat plays a role in how our body functions. When you stop eating food and replace it with low-calorie shakes and drinks, your body is going to react accordingly.
You’re going to be miserable, tired, cranky, hungry and just not pleasant to be around.
We’re Always Detoxing
Detoxing is also unnecessary.
Our bodies are way ahead of us when it comes to this. Think about it, if our bodies weren’t able to “detox” themselves, we wouldn’t be able to function, or even survive. Our digestive tract, colon, kidneys, liver and even skin all play a role in expelling unwanted waste from our body.
If you really want to “detox” naturally, without having to purchase expensive drinks and put yourself through hell, try increasing your consumption of lean protein and colorful fruits and vegetables, while decreasing your consumption of highly processed foods.
Whole foods such as animal protein, fruits, and vegetables help rid the body of toxins, so cutting these out of your diet makes absolutely zero sense.
Which is why we suggest balance with our clients and set up their Macro Blueprints geared towards sustainability.
These types of diets can appear to provide promising results; sometimes upwards of ten pounds lost in just a few days. But what do you think’s going to happen when you remove solid food from your diet?
Often this “weight loss” is nothing more than just water, and as soon as you add solid food back to your diet plan, you’ll gain it back.
Very Low-Fat Diets
While very low-fat diets aren’t as popular as they used to be. Unfortunately, there still are a large number of health professionals that recommend them to their patients, even though no long-term studies have shown any benefits of a very low-fat diet.
First, by its nature, a very low-fat diet discourages the consumption of some perfectly healthy foods, namely animal proteins. Because many animal proteins are naturally high in saturated fat and cholesterol, the low-fat crowd demonized them because cholesterol and saturated fat were supposedly bad for our health.
But in reality, there’s nothing to fear from these. In fact, the cholesterol in eggs and other animal proteins has been shown to have a positive effect on HDL or “good” cholesterol levels.(5)
Low-Fat, But Not Healthy
The second problem with a low-fat diet is that it encourages the consumption of unhealthy foods. When the low-fat craze started, food companies jumped at the chance to market low-fat foods to consumers.
Yet, the problem is when you take all the fat out of something it winds up tasting terrible. So companies replace the fat with lots of refined and highly processed sugars which can jack up the calories. Not exactly a great trade.
Lastly, very low-fat diets are closely associated with low testosterone levels. Fat is needed to produce testosterone.(6) Low testosterone levels are associated with decreased muscle mass, depression, decreased libido, and an increase in body fat.
According to the American Heart Association, fat should make up no less than 15% of your total daily caloric intake. However, recent research suggests that optimal fat intake falls between 20-35% per day.(6)(7)
As you can see, there are many negatives to a very low-fat diet, while very few, if any positives. And while the low-fat craze isn’t as popular as it once was, the amount of “low-fat” products you still see on store shelves shows that not everyone gets it; proving the low-fat fad isn’t over quite yet.
That’s it for Part 1 of our article on Fad Diets. Stay tuned for Part 2; where we’ll talk about some more popular fad diets that, while they offer promising results, may not be right for you.