We should never have to put our body through unnecessary stress when it comes to dieting and weight loss. As tempting as it may sound with the words of ‘miracle’ and ‘quick fix’ claims, diets are simply not sustainable and are often unrealistic and may potentially pose harm to our overall health in the long term.

What is a fad diet?

A ‘fad diet’ is a prevalent dietary pattern to combat weight loss quickly. People are drawn towards ‘fad diets’ as the assumption as often they claim to be a miracle cure for weight loss. Research shows there has been a jump in dieting in the past couple of decades. The issue with ‘fad diets’ is that there is a lack of scientific evidence to back up claims which don’t adhere to principles of nutrition and biochemistry and can be expensive.

Following ‘fad diets’ can be detrimental to our health, nutritionally not adequate, involves cutting out food groups, rapid weight loss, includes calorie deficits, not backed up by science, promotes short term adaptations, hard to sustain, and can be harmful for those with chronic diseases. Some common ‘fad diets’ include Atkins, Ketogenic, Paleolithic and Detox diets (1).

When it comes to our diet and eating habits, no one size fits all. Healthcare professionals will always aim to support appropriate healthy eating weight loss plans, that are bespoke to individual clients, and will avoid these so called ‘fad diets’ which tend to stem away from scientific dietary guidelines (2).

Who can we trust for nutritional advice?

When you start cutting out foods it can pose harm to our body causing a cycle of weight loss and weight gain. This may have psychological implications and affect our relationship with food and our overall mental wellbeing. 

We should stay away from diets that promise a miracle cure for weight loss for example, diet pills, any diets promoting rapid weight loss like fasting, avoiding certain food groups such as carbohydrates, replacing foods with unnecessary supplements, detox and avoidance of foods and food combinations, diets based on claims and personal success stories, diets focusing on unrealistic quantities of food, and diets focusing on eating primarily one type of food e.g., cabbage soup diet. ‘Fad diets’ can be extreme as they can promote avoidance and limitations of foods.

The media has a huge impact on the way we perceive body image and diet culture. Unlike other healthcare professional titles, the term nutritionist is not protected. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist who may be unqualified, be no expert in nutrition, and provide treatment for nutritional issues that are not backed by research e.g., colonic irrigation.

What we can do is see a registered nutritionist or dietitian for dietary advice or see your GP in the first instance, instead of reading the internet for the latest ‘fad diets’ which we know may be detrimental to our health and have no scientific backing (3). 

An important factor to consider with the popularity of so-called ‘fat diets’ whilst they may reduce total calorie consumption in a drastic manner, they may also result in insufficient micronutrient consumption and can often be expensive to buy. Globally millions are spent on weight loss products that claim to promote miracle effects on weight loss (4). 

So, how many of us actually stick to our New Year’s Resolutions? 

Research portrays that one quarter of people don’t stick to their new year’s resolutions after about a week, and one in ten are likely to maintain their goal for the year. Following the enjoyment of the Christmas period many of us may focus on cutting down on food by reducing our calorie intake, alcohol, and more exercise in the new year; but in an extreme manner. The goals for the majority are vague and large e.g., losing weight or giving up a food group. Research shows that setting small sustainable goals is the correct direction with an end point e.g., compete in a charity walk (5).

As there are a lot of false claims on these so-called ‘fad diets’ and ‘quick fixes’ which can also lead to return of poor habits, it’s advised we move away from the diet quick fixes and focus on smaller, more sustainable lifestyle changes and mindset shifts. (6). 

‘Fad diets’ can be a common new year’s resolution including teatoxes, diet pills and appetite suppressants and they should be avoided secondary to many having harmful side effects e.g., diarrhoea and fatigue. Setting small goals and losing weight gradually is easier to maintain but also effective and safe when done under supervision from a dietitian or registered nutritionist (7). 

A November 2021 UK statistics survey shows that UK consumers chose losing weight, eating healthier, and exercising more as their new year’s resolutions (9). Whilst it’s great that many of us start making healthy lifestyle changes in the new year, we don’t need to give things up. Rather than focusing on anxiety around a so-called ‘new year diet’ it’s more practical to always start a healthy balanced diet focusing on ways we can improve our overall health in small simple ways which includes not going to extreme lengths and excluding foods (10).

What is the best diet?

We all want to lead a healthy happy lifestyle without having anxiety about calories and food. Overall research shows that smaller goals over a period of time is a sensible way to improve our overall health and maintain it. Any diet should be safe, effective, nutritionally sufficient, culturally acceptable, and affordable, as well as long term compliance and maintenance to weight loss and done under supervision by a registered nutritionist or dietitian. Currently there is lack of evidence to support certain popularity of some diets for long term weight loss and weight maintenance, for example low fat diets or low carbohydrate diets or high protein diets. These diets may be beneficial short term however long term there can be associated health risks causing more harm than good to our health.

A report in The Lancet shows that a poor diet causes more disease than physical inactivity and the public are submerged with contrary messages on achieving a healthy weight through calorie counting and ‘fad diets’. Messages around diet, exercise, and their link to obesity and type 2 diabetes have been allured. In addition, celebrity sponsors of sugary drinks and correlation of junk food and sport should be put to a stop as the advertising of these nutritionally deficient products is not scientific and can be misleading (8). 

One of the most effective pillars to achieving long term weight loss and improving health is changing to a healthy dietary pattern focusing on individual food choices and lifestyle habits. Reducing processed foods, lowering saturated fats, sugar and salt in our diet whilst focusing on including a variety of fruit, vegetables, and wholegrains along with behaviour change and motivation. This may be beneficial to our health and weight loss goals, when done steadily and slowly. Research suggests that incorporating high quality fats such as olive oil, oily fish, nuts and seeds, and carbohydrates, along with a healthy balanced diet can aid weight loss and prevent lifestyle diseases including diabetes and coronary heart disease (11).  

Some dietary patterns which lead to positive health outcomes include the Mediterranean diet, which has been linked to lowered risk of non-communicable diseases. The Mediterranean diet is seen as a healthy way of living focusing on including plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds and legumes with moderate amounts of dairy, fish and low amounts of red meat and using olive oil as a source of fats. Following a Mediterranean diet has been linked to longevity, lower risk of cognitive deterioration and improved risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes (12). 

Summary

Whilst January may be a fresh start for the nation and new year’s resolutions are high, by the end of the month many of us no longer adhere to it as we are focussed on self-examination and future insights and abstaining from temptations. For some, sticking to New Year’s resolutions may be a challenge due to the pressures they perhaps put on themselves to meet these goals that are often unrealistic and not sustainable in the longer-term (13).

When it comes to weight loss instead of resorting to a ‘fad diet’ that can be ineffective and unrealistic long term, the best approach is to focus on improving your overall lifestyle involving slow and steady changes for long term maintenance. Here are a few ways to combat the ‘fad diets’ (14):

  • Make small, more realistic and sustainable goals focusing on ways to improve your health and wellbeing, can lead to more positive, healthier changes. 
  • Add more fruit and vegetables to your dietary intake
  • Keep hydrated by drinking more water
  • Increase your physical activity levels e.g. 10 minute brisk walk
  • Focus on what you can include in your diet instead of excluding foods
  • Swap an unhealthy snack for a healthy snack e.g. vegetable crudites with hummus
  • Work on your evening routine to ensure you get enough sleep
  • Take up a new skill or hobby that you enjoy
  • Include more wholegrains and fibre in your diet
  • Don’t give up what you enjoy and allow yourself space to enjoy improving your health and wellbeing and maintaining small succinct goals long term
  • See a registered nutritionist or dietitian to support you with your eating habits

References

(1) https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2022.960922/full

(2) https://www.alpro.com/healthprofessional/uk/updates/2014/05/fad-diets-scientific-credibility-or-just-popular-myth

(3) https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/fad-diets.html

(4) Are long-term FAD diets restricting micronutrient intake? A randomized controlled trial (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/fsn3.1895)

(5) https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/0/keep-new-years-resolutions-2022/?WT.mc_id=tmgoff_psc_ppc_dsa_news&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgtOa-MuK_AIVEdTtCh1mxgLJEAAYASAAEgIzJ_D_BwE

(6) https://www.diabetes.org.uk/about_us/news/poll-fad-diets

(7) https://www.bjfm.co.uk/nhs-warning-against-fad-diets-as-people-start-new-year-resolutions

(8) It is time to bust the myth of physical inactivity and obesity: you cannot outrun a bad diet (https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/49/15/967)

(9) https://www.statista.com/statistics/1084782/most-popular-new-year-s-resolutions-in-the-united-kingdom/

(10) https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/news/behind-the-headlines/new-year-diets

(11) Defining the Optimal Dietary Approach for Safe, Effective and Sustainable Weight Loss in Overweight and Obese Adults (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6163457/)

(12) https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/culturally-adapting-the-mediterranean-diet-pattern-a-way-of-promoting-more-sustainable-dietary-change/7EA0B485444C108EC977035DE7513386

(13) https://www.bps.org.uk/psychologist/are-new-years-resolutions-waste-time

(14) https://www.gov.uk/government/news/healthy-new-year-s-resolutions-bogof

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