Gluten-free, Paleo, the China Study, Atkins, Keto and many other diets have plagued the sports nutrition community for years. Of course it’s easy for any Dietitian to be able to spot a fad diet when we see one, that’s what we’re trained to do. We’re trained to be skeptical of the “newest and greatest” thing that will promise a life changing effect just by adding a magical ingredient to your daily intake, or if all of a sudden one macronutrient is the culprit of all your health problems. However it’s the rest of the population that can fall prey to these fad diets which is our ultimate concern. It’s easy to understand why people would be victims of these sacks with the multiple promises and shortcuts of a healthier lifestyle. But to empower everyone out there, we’re going to explore how to spot a fad diet.
Firstly, it must be recognized that there is no unanimous defined answer as to what a fad diet actually is. Crowe (2014) reports that if a diet has any of the following claims that it is likely a fad diet:
- Promises fast results
- Cuts out or restricts specific foods or food groups
- Is only concerned with short-term changes and does not address long-term lifestyle adjustments
- Has strict rules
- Encourages pills, supplements, or products that you are dependent upon
- Makes claims based on individual testimonials or a single study
Now with Crowe’s list being exhausted, there are of course exceptions to his rules. There are always outliers, like the Gluten-free diet for people diagnosed with Celiac disease, or a lactose-free diet for someone that is diagnosed with lactose intolerance. Completing medical testing and being properly diagnosed is extremely important. A self-diagnosis is not a true diagnosis and highly frowned upon in the Dietitian and sport nutrition community.
The truth is that fad diets can negatively affect athletic performance and health. This happens due to nutritional advice being given that isn’t scientifically sound. Some fad diets are so restrictive that only a few foods can be eaten that do not provide adequate nutrition, in turn throwing the body into a state of catabolism, or muscle break down, in order to stimulate weight loss. At this point it should be further recognized that the real goal of weight loss is actually fat loss, not just weight. Crowe (2014) goes on to discuss the appeal towards these fad diets due to the promise of dramatic results over a short period of time. But review of most fad diets show rapid weight loss related to rapid water loss, which leaves you with smaller and poorly functioning muscles while the fat remains.
Also, remember where this information is coming from. Often times a new diet fad is started by someone completely unqualified to deliver nutritional advice to begin with (eg. Beyonce’s INSANE Cayene pepper diet and ANYTHING coming from the mouth of Doctor Oz). Think about what those individuals are getting out of what they are promoting. Chances are it’s likely not global health, but potentially a profit for themselves.
So there you have it, some guidelines on how to identify a fad diet. The next time you come across a new diet or trend that peaks your interest, ask yourself “can I see myself doing this for over a year? 5 years?”. If you are thinking of jumping on the fad diet train, chances are it won’t be sustainable, and you will get frustrated and revert back to your old ways. A much more realistic and often more successful approach is choosing one thing in you diet and focusing on improving that specific thing. Be it fluid intake, omega 3s, your recovery meal, if you choose one thing to work on and incorporate it into your already existing routine, chances are it’s more likely to stick long-term versus a complete overhaul of your current diet, which most fad diets tends to do.
Remember that there is no shortcut to health and weight/ fat loss. Attempting fad diets causes something called a yo-yo effect where your body becomes so used to rapid and unsustainable weight changes that it makes it harder for sustainable weight loss to occur later on. So go with the tried and true methods for weight loss, diet and exercise. Sure it’ll take some time, but always remember, Rome wasn’t built in one day and any weight loss journey is like a flight of stairs, you have to take it one step at a time!