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Fad Diets

Why Don’t Diets Work?

When it comes to diets, there is a lot of information available and this can make it difficult to know what is best when we’re trying to lose some weight or make more healthy choices. Diets that promise rapid weight loss and easy solutions can seem appealing when we’re starting our weight loss journey, but there is no quick fix when it comes to long-term weight loss; and some diets can be damaging to our physical health as well as our relationship with food. Fad diets only offer a short-term solution to weight loss, as they can’t be sustained in the long-term. As soon as you stop following a diet and revert to old eating habits, it is very likely any weight lost will be regained.  

What are Fad Diets?

Fad diets are diets that promise rapid weight loss or health improvements with no scientific evidence to support the claims made. These diets often encourage consuming certain foods, eating at certain times, cutting out or demonising a specific food group or buying expensive ingredients/supplements in order to achieve your goals. 

Social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok are flooded with new diets and quick ways to lose weight. This advice usually comes from people who aren’t qualified, don’t offer any evidence to back their claims and often, get paid to promote a certain product or company. Make sure you are only following advice from qualified, reputable sources and be wary of anyone recommending a specific product or selling something.  

Physical Health

Being overly restrictive with our diets or cutting out certain foods can make it more difficult to get all the nutrients we need for our body to function well. The risk of nutritional deficiencies can increase when following a diet, but this risk depends on the type of diet followed and the severity of it. Consuming a very low number of calories can also lead to a number of physical symptoms such as tiredness, weakness, muscle wasting, weaker immune system, weak bones and increased risk of injury when exercising. 

A lot of popular diets such as Atkins and Keto encourage cutting out carbohydrates. Low carbohydrate diets often result in some initial weight loss, but this can be mostly attributed to fluid loss. When we reduce our carbohydrate intake, we deplete our stores of glycogen. Glycogen is stored in our liver and muscles with water. This means that when we start to use our glycogen stores this water is also eliminated which can make our weight drop quickly on the scales. However, this loss of fluids is not a loss of body fat. 

Restricting our carbohydrate intake can also reduce the fibre in our diets leading to constipation. Carbohydrates are also our bodies main source of energy, restricting carbs can cause tiredness, weakness and low mood.  

Many people that follow the keto diet report flu like symptoms to begin with- such as fatigue, headaches, nausea, dizziness, and diarrhoea this is more commonly known as the ‘keto flu’.  Many pills and supplements promoted for weight loss or ‘detoxing’ are just laxatives with clever marketing. Using a laxative when not to treat constipation can cause diarrhoea, dehydration and can affect the absorption of nutrients.  

Mental Health

Diets often take a very ‘all or nothing’ approach to healthy eating- where only certain foods can be eaten to be successful and if we eat anything ‘bad’ then we have ‘failed’. However, this is unrealistic, and our diets don’t have to be perfect every single day. We need to follow a healthy diet for the most part but having occasional treats doesn’t mean we won’t lose weight. This approach can often be damaging to our relationship with food.  

Research suggests labelling foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ can increase cravings, leading to overeating when these foods become available again and consuming more calories than we need. Similarly, restrictive eating can increase food cravings, heighten emotions around food and increase pre-occupation with food.  

Veering off plan or not achieving our goals can also lead to feelings of failure and guilt, which in turn leads to overeating, weight gain and giving up with the diet we’re following. After a while many of us will start a new diet causing the cycle to repeat again.  

The rigid rules of diets can make it hard to enjoy food or socialise.  Overly restrictive diets can also lead to fatigue and increased irritability. This can make it more difficult to follow a healthy lifestyle especially when it comes to socialising or exercising. This in turn can make following a diet very isolating. Restricting intakes is also often a trigger for binge eating.

The Diet Cycle

If diets don’t work, what does?

The best way to achieve lasting weight loss is to make it a lifestyle change. Work on achieving healthy habits that you can build into your current lifestyle and maintain these in the long term. You could start by picking 2 or 3 small changes you can implement into your day. Once successful, add more or build on the ones you have already adopted.  

  • Eat a balanced diet with lots of fruit, veg and high fibre foods
  • Be aware of your portion size (use a smaller plate to help)
  • Eat foods that you enjoy (even if less healthy) on occasion
  • Listen to your bodies hunger cues and stop eating when you feel full
  • Eat regular meals
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Moderate your alcohol intake
  • Consider you activity levels
  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep
  • Find ways of coping with stress

Remember, there is no quick fix. Slow and steady weight loss over a longer period of time is the most effective way to lose weight.

Making changes will not always be plain sailing and no one has a perfect diet 100% of the time. Life will throw us challenges that might set us back for a while, but that’s ok. Have a reset, reflect on what happened and think about ways you could manage it better in the future.  

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