Combating fad diets

Commentary by Yvette Theriault, Clinical dietitian, Evans Army Community Hospital

FORT CARSON, Colo. —The prevalence of obesity and other conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, combined with overexposure to ideal body forms seen on social media, has stimulated peoples’ interest in dietary management and weight reduction. These trends have individuals looking to attain a certain weight or body type by using methods that claim to be easy. As a result people are more susceptible to try various fad diets that claim to aid in losing weight very fast.

A fad diet is defined as a weight loss nutrition regimen that promises dramatic outcomes over a short period of time. They can be easily identified because fad diets often exclude entire groups of food, promote large quantities of supplements and promise fantastic overnight results.

These diets should not be mistaken for healthy nutrition, even if they claim to be based on science, because they are not always supported by scientific evidence. These diets are misleading and could potentially present greater harm than good. Combating fad diets is necessary if individuals are to embrace healthy dietary plans facilitating safe and sustainable weight management.

Before exploring how to combat fad diets and encourage healthy diet plans, it is important to be familiar with some common fad diets, and why they are unhealthy and potentially harmful. These include low-carbohydrate and high protein diets, such as the grapefruit diet; the high-fat and high-protein diet; and low-protein and low-fat diet.

The low-carbohydrate and high-protein diet is popular for its low intake of energy from carbohydrates and swift weight loss. However, it is harmful given the rapid weight loss is primarily due to immediate body water loss, as well as loss of muscle rather than fat. It is also associated with health concerns such as constipation and low nutrient and calorie intake; hence a lack of energy and overall fatigue.

The high-fat and high-protein diet has been associated with higher generation of toxic waste products that exert pressure on the kidneys, particularly when an individual is dehydrated. Such diets further increase the risk of sleeping disorders and heart disease.

Low-protein and low-fat can increase the risk of inadequate intake of high-quality protein and essential minerals such as zinc and calcium. These fad diets can also have serious emotional consequences such as dieting obsession and relentless calorie counting.

The above overview of fad diets indicates it requires individuals to cut out some food groups entirely, which leads to nutritional imbalances. As a result, these diets do not produce sustainable changes. Some diets may help a person lose weight short-term, but adversely affect their physical and emotional well-being long term. Therefore instead of going for the quick fix promised by a fad diet, it is important to adjust daily dietary tendencies and physical activity plans. This is the safest way to effectively lose and maintain healthy weight.

Until there is scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of fad diets, it is important for individuals seeking to lose weight to consume a well-balanced diet. This includes carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and fats, while managing portions consumed and ensuring proper hydration. Good nutrition also focuses on consuming more vegetables and fruit, high-quality protein foods, such as lean meats and legumes, and avoiding processed fats and refined sugars.

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