Fad diets are very popular throughout the United States. There is constantly new “research” that comes out claiming that eating this is better than eating that, or eliminating this from your diet will make you lose weight fast. The more commonly heard of diets are macronutrient-focused diets such as low-carb or low-fat, food elimination-focused diets such as the Paleo diet, time-focused diets such as intermittent fasting, and food group-focused diets such as the Mediterranean diet (1). Even with just this short list of examples, it can be overwhelming for people when trying to decide which one to choose. So, which diet is the best for weight loss? The short answer is: there is no universally optimal diet to follow (1). The human body is so complex, and everyone is made differently and leads different lifestyles. Due to this, each individual is going to have slightly different needs when it comes to their diet.
As humans, we naturally desire immediate results. Therefore, these diet gurus take advantage of this characteristic and invent a unique dietary plan that supposedly helps you lose a lot weight in a short period of time. It sounds great and a lot of times people do see significant weight loss within the first couple of weeks, but unfortunately, the majority of these fad diets are not sustainable. They are usually nutritionally unbalanced and work quickly by significantly cutting back on one of the three macronutrients in attempt to create a caloric deficit (4). It is true that weight loss is achieved when calories consumed are less than calories expended (3). One of the biggest issues with fad diets is that they primarily focus on the calories consumed portion instead of stressing the importance of the calories expended portion. If you are exercising enough each day, then you are probably expending enough calories to where you can eat as much as you want and you will still be consuming less than you are expending.
Now, eating as much as you want and eating whatever you want are very different things. It is important to consume nutritionally balanced meals in order to lose weight and live a healthy life. Another issue with fad diets, as stated above, is that they tend to significantly cut back on one of the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins). Again, the body is very complex and needs certain amounts of each macronutrient in order to function optimally. The recommended dietary allowances developed by the Food and Nutrition Board for these nutrients are as follow: 45-65% of carbohydrates, 20-35% of fats, and 10-35% of protein.
Carbohydrates break down into glucose and serve as the main source of energy for all bodily functions. In fact, not consuming enough carbohydrates reduces glycogen stores and results in gluconeogenesis, the process of generating glucose from non-carbohydrate sources such as protein stored in the muscles (4). The carbs you want to be eating are unprocessed, whole-food carbs such as vegetables, whole fruit, and grains that provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals (3). These types of carbs contribute to satiety to assure that you do not overeat.
Fat is important for many reasons, including: energy production, transportation of vitamins, cellular membrane structure, protection of vital organs, and body insulation (3). Eating the right types of fats can also play a role in preventing heart disease, hypertension, and cancer (3). The types of fat that help with these things are unsaturated fats and can be found in foods such as fish or oils such as olive oil. Saturated and trans-fats are to be avoided as they increase the risk of developing health issues.
Protein’s main function is to build and repair body tissues, primarily muscle. Protein is made up of amino acids, and in the absence of sufficient amounts of carbs, amino acids are used more for energy production and less for protein synthesis (3). For those seeking weight-loss, consuming the right amount of protein also helps in achieving satiety, the feeling of being full. Complete proteins can be found in dairy and meat products from animal sources. Incomplete proteins can be found in foods such as grains, legumes, and nuts. Combining incomplete proteins such as rice and beans can form a complete protein.
The last issue to touch on with fad diets is the fact that they don’t provide long lasting effects (4). The primary reason being that the only way to achieve long-term success is to build habits, and fad diets make building habits difficult. Starting a new diet can be very strenuous and tedious. With fad diets, you are completely changing your diet overnight in attempt to break many old habits and build new ones. In his article on habit-based training, Dr. John Berardi discusses the importance of focusing on one habit at a time in order to form long lasting habits (2). An example of a single habit would be increasing your vegetable intake to three servings per day. He states that it takes a minimum of two to four weeks of constant focus in order to create one new habit. He goes on to discuss research backing this idea,“research has shown that when people try to change a single behavior at a time, the likelihood that they’ll retain that habit for a year or more is better than 80 percent. When they try to tackle two behaviors at once, their chances of success are less than 35 percent. When they try for three behaviors or more, their success rate plummets to less than 5 percent (2).”
In conclusion, if you are looking for the best way to go about losing weight, then fad diets are probably not the best solution. You are better off increasing your activity level and slowly adopting new habits that will eventually have you consuming a well balanced diet that meets the recommended dietary allowances. Simply just paying attention to the types of food you eat is a great place to start improving your health.
- Aragon, Alan, MS. “Toward Ending the Diet Wars: Which One Is Best for Weight Loss and Health?” NSCA. Web. 25 July 2016.
- Berardi, John, Ph.D. “Fitness Success Secrets: On Practicing One Strategic Habit at a Time.” Web log post. Precision Nutrition. N.p., n.d. Web.
- Clark, Micheal A., Scott C. Lucett, and Brian G. Sutton, eds. NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012. Print.
- Roberts, David C K, PhD. “Quick Weight Loss: Sorting Fad from Fact.” The Medical Journal of Australia (2001): n. pag. Web.