It’s very easy to sit here and bash ‘fad diets’ – the juice cleanses, blood group diets, paleo and so forth (there are too many to list individually here). They take the dieting world by storm over night, promoting their key specific rules, miraculous results and ‘too good to be true’ explanation. Inevitably, they are all the rage for a little while, before the criticism and skepticism seeps in… and they are replaced by the next great ‘diet solution’.
Do I think many of these fad diets are great? Absolutely not. They all have their flaws, and in the case of many, they have the exact same flaw – ‘why’ they work. Now, like any diet, all fad diets have an element of restriction – usually an exaggerated amount of restriction, but restriction nonetheless. And (again usually) it’s what they restrict specifically which is why, we are told, that they are so successful. The blood group diet has lists of specific foods for each blood group which are allowed, and which aren’t. Paleo diets forbid you from having foods which weren’t available to cavemen because, yeah… Juice cleanses only allow you to drink specific juices throughout the day, which supposedly contain all the essential nutrients you need. Clean eating prohibits you from having any processed foods, allowing you only ‘clean’ foods.
So, as you’ll see, all of these ‘magic’ fad diets work based on not having certain foods, yet they all limit different types of food – so how does that work? Well, because the actual reason they ALL work is because they ALL lead to overall calorie restriction – that is, their rules and restrictions cause you to eat less calories OVERALL, which is why any diet actually works!
My main problem with fad diets comes down to this misrepresentation of the truth, and dishonest marketing. To lose weight, we need to intake less calories than we expend on a consistent, regular basis. We also know that losing weight (when ‘overweight’) leads to an overall improvement in our health – yes, most key health markers tend to improve when overweight individuals lose weight.
So, don’t be drawn into restricting particular foods because they (specifically) are the foods damaging your health and making you gain weight. Unless you have allergies or illnesses, no specific foods have these powers. In fact, restricting entire food groups over the long-term, as many fad diets would have you do, is more likely to do harm to your overall picture of health than by eating all foods (that you at least somewhat enjoy) in moderation.
Despite the severe drawbacks and limitations of fad diets, can some of them be effective? The answer is, unequivocally, yes. First of all, they wouldn’t have become popular in the first place if they weren’t effective at what they claim to do (help you lose weight). Secondly, some of them (not ALL of them) are somewhat sustainable in the long term (for the right individual).
As is the case with everything nutrition-based, it’s all about the individual. There is no perfect diet, no one way to lose weight, and everyone is going to react to (and be able to implement) different diets to differing degrees of success. You need to find a diet (or aspects of a diet) which suit you and which complement your lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if they are somewhat ‘faddy’, if they work for you and help you progress towards your goals, then there’s no reason not to try them.
To finish, I’ll give you a few examples of when ‘Fad’ Diets may be implemented successfully:
1. Meal Replacement Shakes: this could be a great option for a working individual looking to lose a significant amount of weight. By having only two main meals per day (breakfast and dinner) and replacing their lunch / snacks with a lower-calorie, highly nutritious shake to drink throughout the day, you can cut a large number of calories with relatively little change to their overall diet. Not only that, but it can also lead to a fast rate of initial weight loss, leading to a boost in confidence and self-efficacy.
2. Clean Eating: this is an approach that can be successful for ‘work week’ dieters. Individuals who can stick to a strict approach Monday to Friday, but lose control at the weekends, can benefit from implementing a very plain, simple diet 80-90% of the time, leaving them the leeway to eat (and drink) more freely when they inevitably let loose.
These two examples show that, in the right circumstances, with the right supervision and when used with the right individual, ‘fad’ diets can be effective. There are other circumstances when other diets might work, but only when implemented with the advice of a dietician or similarly qualified individual.
At Core Training we promote a dietary approach of individual moderation. That is, we try not to prohibit our clients from eating any individual foods, but exactly the guidelines we put in place are entirely individual and vary from client to client. The key point I want you all to take away from this:
Any diet you follow needs to be based on your own individual needs and preferences. Following a diet because you are told ‘it’s great’ or ‘it works AMAZINGLY’ is not good enough justification. Forget what works for other people and find what works for YOU.