How to spot a fad diet

It seems like every five minutes on the cover of some lifestyle magazine that there is some new diet that promises outstanding weight loss results in just a matter of days. This can, especially for those who have struggled to lose weight, be tempting, however, unfortunately, these types of fad diet often result in extreme dietary practices which lead to initial weight loss but are so unsustainable that they inevitably lead to rapid, and even more, severe weight regain. This leaves people in a worse place than they were before and the unfortunate cycle continues. So how can you spot a fad diet? In CSN's experience, there are usually key factors that surround a fad diet that are telltale signs to do more research and dig a little deeper before jumping on board.

Celebrity endorsement!

First up is celebrity endorsement! Now that’s not to say the celebrity might not believe in the diet they are promoting and that it might have actually helped them lose weight, but at the end of the day, these people are not a nutritionist, dieticians or health and fitness professional. So what has caused them to lose weight may have been effective, but it is highly unlikely to be supported by science or sustainable in the long run as these tend to be crash diets that are terrible for a long term and sustainable fat loss and health. A big ‘red flag’ is if they are using their weight loss to promote their own weight loss book or it happens in just a few weeks.

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Always get multiple opinions

If you ever see a diet that claims to have some magic effect on fat loss or includes unnecessary or restriction of foods (they will usually try to justify this using some science jargon), then be aware and always get an opinion from a few people you know who are educated on such matters. In the world of social media, there is a lot of misinformation, but there is also scope to have easy access to genuine academics and experts in nutrition to get direct opinions of whatever diet it may be and it’s benefits and drawbacks… remember every diet out there has worked for someone, at some point, for some period of time, does that mean it is the best way to lose weight? Of course not.

Don't be fooled by water weight

In fad diets, this restriction of foods usually involves a restriction in carbohydrate. This is simply because by reducing carbohydrate you will deplete muscle glycogen stores, which are usually replenished by dietary carbohydrate. As glycogen also holds a lot of water, ‘bingo’ you have rapid weight loss and apparent dietary success. That’s not to say that some fat hasn’t disappeared but it will be mostly water weight... ever noticed how weight loss is really rapid in the first few weeks then slows down on these kinds of diets? That's why.

This is exactly why these fad diets often only get testimonials after a couple of weeks, so they can get the ‘I lost 8lbs in a week’ quote for their advertising before weight loss stalls. Then after the inevitable water weight regain after the person can’t stick to the diet and reintroduces carbs, then the perpetuation that carbs are bad continues, as they are the thing that causes the weight to regain and bloat and it is mistaken for fat regain, when it’s just restocking the glycogen stores and water to previous levels.

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What makes this worse is that on the ‘rebound’ after glycogen has been depleted, glycogen and water levels are temporarily increased than at the starting point of a diet and so weight often goes up higher than it was before starting, especially when combined with binging behaviour which crash diets often lead to. This also leads to the potential of increased fat gain, especially if the very low calorie and protein intake have caused some muscle loss. The person then often feels like a failure and resorts to old bad habits, in a worse physical and psychological condition than before… until the next fad diet that promises rapid weight loss comes along as a promise to be their saviour.

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The science can be misinterpreted

Unfortunately even people who are involved in the world of health and fitness and/or with legitimate academic backgrounds may also be unscrupulous and looking to make a ‘quick buck’. This is where it becomes more challenging as the use of a few scientific words or terms can, to the untrained eye, seem like it legitimises a product. This is made even more difficult as some people who create these diets do legitimately believe in their methods and some of their ideas do come from a place that is rooted in the science of metabolism.

Unfortunately, these roots are often oversimplified, misunderstood and are taken out of context and once evidence is presented that doesn’t support these diets it then becomes difficult for them, or their followers, to let go of an idea… no one wants to admit they were wrong to do they? And they will defend them to the hilt even when reasonable doubt of the mechanisms by which they are supposed to work has been introduced.

It still astonishes me how people treat their dietary patterns and will defend them, with almost the same fervour and passion as people will defend their politics or religion. But hey if it works for them, it works, regardless of mechanism, I just think that it is an odd approach to what you put in your body when you are unnecessarily restricting foods that you might enjoy for no reason what so ever!

Diet the right way

At the end of the day weight loss comes down to consuming fewer calories than you use and by restricting foods, whatever the proposed legitimacy that is exactly what is occurring, there is no ‘magic’ in this despite some claims and an attempt to legitimise certain mechanisms that may take place. This is usually focused around blaming ‘toxins’ or ‘inflammation’ or various hormones of hormonal imbalances that sound scientific but always be wary when these things are bandied about as a justification for a diet, that firstly may have no influence over such things and secondly (and more importantly) these ‘things’ are probably not actually responsible for weight gain in the first place. If on further research these markers of health are changed and this is evident in overweight people, this is likely to be a result of being overweight, not a cause of weight gain, and this is a very important distinction to make as losing weight regardless or method will improve many health markers.

Even in diets that don’t directly count calories, I would place a bet that no matter what pseudoscience they use to promote the diet and magical metabolic or hormonal wizardry they propose, it ultimately comes down to calorie restriction… and yes it might work in the short term to live on only celery or steak or to avoid gluten or carbs or fats or fructose or cholesterol… or whatever else is to blame according to the next lot of ‘science’ but is it healthy, necessary and sustainable in the long term to promote and maintain weight loss? The answer is probably no.

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Creating a calorie deficit is ultimately the key to fat loss and doing this whilst consuming a diet with enough protein, a balance of healthy fats, fruit, veg and some starchy carbs and with the occasional treat factored in, is likely to be the most effective and sustainable approach… not fad diets that create negative associations with certain foods and make fat loss a chore and impossible to maintain.

Thanks for reading,