Fad Diets: Facts and Fallacies


In one’s desire to shed excess poundage, one may resort to so-called quick-fix diets that may do more harm than good. It’s important to sort out the accurate and factual from the unfounded and erroneous claims of many of these restrictive diets.

By Joy Arabelle C. Fontanilla, MD, FACE, FPCP, FPCDE, FPSEDM

Three out of every 10 Filipino adults are considered obese.

Furthermore, obesity carries some nasty consequences such as diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver, cancer, heart disease and more. Meantime, billboards, print and social media are saturated with images of buff models and celebrities in skimpy clothes for all to envy and emulate.

It’s no wonder then that many resort to fad diets to help them lose weight and pronto! What are fad diets?

Fad diets are popular diets or diet trends that are often very restrictive, limiting intake to a few foods or an unusual combination of foods. Fad diets frequently eliminate entire food groups like carbohydrates. Some include expensive ingredients or supplements, promising rapid weight loss and other health benefits, often not backed by solid science.

Cutting whole food groups like carbohydrates could lead to a lack of vital nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.

Taking these dietary shortcuts may be quick fixes for weight but could lead to huge health problems in the long run.

How to spot bad diet tips

How can we sort the fake from the factual in fad diets? According to the British Dietetic Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, we should steer clear of diets that harp on the following:

1. No need for exercise

Physical activity is crucial for overall fitness and weight maintenance. Though reduced calorie intake is more important for weight loss, exercise plays a big role in maintaining weight loss and preserving muscle mass. Moreover, exercise helps boost mood, lower blood pressure, bad cholesterol and sugar levels.

2. Rigid regimen

Some fad diets promote avoidance of staple food like grains, dairy (e.g., ketogenic diet, Paleo Diet) or all cooked food (raw food diet), while others advocate intake of just one type of food (e.g., cabbages, chocolates, egg).

Highly restrictive meal plans can deprive you of essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals or cause health problems like kidney stones, heart disease, bone loss and bad breath, to name a few. Limited food choices can be tiresome, too, and therefore, unsustainable in the long haul.

3. Magic combination

Some diets suggest eating food combinations specific for your blood or genetic type. Others promote and/or sell purported fat-burning foods (grapefruit diet), ingredients or supplements. Most of these claims are supported by flimsy evidence like celebrity endorsements, anecdotes, a single study or studies not subjected to peer review.

4. Fast weight loss

Rapid weight loss can lead to gallstones, dehydration, malnutrition, muscle loss and electrolyte imbalance such as very low potassium levels that could lead to sudden death. Slow and steady weight drop of 1 to 2 pounds a week is usually recommended. You are also more likely to gain the pounds right back (and with a vengeance) with crash diets.

Healthy eating

Some think that to DIET is to DIE… with the letter T. But DIET need not be a dirty four-letter word. Eating healthy can be fun and satisfying, too. Here’s how:

• Eat the foods you love in small portions. Use smaller plates.
• Keep serving platters away from the dinner table.
• Fill up on fiber-rich vegetables and fruit instead of sweets.
• Keep a food diary. People who keep track of their calorie intake are more likely to succeed at weight loss.
• Eat balanced meals with a healthy variety of food from different food groups.
• Choose healthy fats such as olive oil, fatty fish, nuts and avocado rather than saturated fat from animal sources like beef or pork and trans fats from processed or deep-fried foods like french fries, fast food, biscuits, crackers and cookies.
• Pick whole grains like rolled oats, brown rice, whole grain bread rather than white rice, white bread and donuts.
• Say no to sugar-sweetened drinks.
• Stay active. Walk, bike, jog, play, swim, dance or zumba at least 30 minutes a day.

Remember, too, one diet does not fit all. Some people lose weight on a particular diet, while others don’t. Consult a healthcare professional for guidance. Basically, a diet will work as long as you stick to it. Choose a healthy one that you can live with for the rest of your life.

But chuck the pounds without sacrificing your health. You can survive a fashion faux pas but maybe not a fad diet one. If the dietary claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

“Fad diets are popular diets or diet trends that are often very restrictive, limiting intake to a few foods or an unusual combination of foods”

1. Academy of Nutrition and Dietitics. Staying Away From Fad Diets. (http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/weightloss/fad-diets/staying-away-from-fad-diets).
2. British Dietetic Association. Fad Diets. (http://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts).
3. Cleveland Clinic. Diets: Fad Diets. (http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9476-diets-fad-diets).
4. George A. Bray, et al. The Science of Obesity Management: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement. Endocrine Reviews 39: 1 – 54, 2018.
5. Sports Dietitians Australia. Fad Diets. (https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/fad-diets)

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