Whether it’s Weight Watchers, the Keto diet, Atkins, or intermittent fasting, diet culture is all around us. No matter where you look, social media platforms are claiming that they have the best weight loss diet for you. Today, we shed light on what the weight-loss industry doesn’t want you to know. Learn how to spot diet culture red flags, nutrition buzzwords, plus, dietitian-approved tips to reach your health goals sustainably.
What Is a Fad Diet?
To keep it simple, a fad diet is a trendy, heavily marketed diet that provides dramatic results. You might be thinking— how do I know if something is a fad diet?
Here are Some Red Flags to Keep an Eye Out For...
1. Promises Dramatic Weight Loss
We’ve all heard it before…“How to Lose Weight FAST for Vacation!” or “10 Things You Can Do to Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days!”. Sounds almost too good to be true, right? That’s because it is. We totally get how this could be intriguing but believe us when we say that there’s NOTHING healthy about rapid weight loss.
2. Specific Food Diets
Take the Maple Syrup Diet for example, where you can probably guess—you consume only maple syrup for days on end. Sure you might lose some weight, but that's because you’re literally starving yourself! Not to mention, food is meant to be enjoyed. I don't know about you, but this sure doesn't seem enjoyable to me.
3. Major Food Groups Are Cut Out (Carbs, Protein & Fat)
We see this happening right now, with the Ketogenic Diet, given that carbs are almost non-existent. This diet was actually intended to help manage seizures in young children with epilepsy, but with today’s diet culture and society’s obsession with fat loss, people started using it as a means to lose weight.
4. Major Calorie Restriction
If a diet suggests only consuming 1,200 calories per day, it’s probably not the best one to follow! Studies have shown that food deprivation can lead to irritability, cravings, overeating at our next meal, and poor blood sugar control.
5. Nutrition Buzzwords
Superfoods, detoxes, juice cleanses, clean eating…the list goes on. If you’re a day one WWHC follower, you know how we feel about these over here. These are all marketing strategies to convince you to buy certain products or diet plans. Don’t fall for them! If you haven’t done so already, you’ll want to read our blog post highlighting the worst trends in the detox market this year.
Cons of Fad Diets & Why They Don’t Work
Now that you know how to spot fad diets, let’s explore some of the potential health risks and common concerns associated with them.
1. Feeling Sluggish & Exhausted
To feel energized and maintain optimal body function, you need to consume a baseline amount of calories per day. Everyone’s needs are unique and calculated based on personal attributes. This is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). As we mentioned earlier, most fad diets rely on restriction and elimination. So you can probably guess how this could interfere with your body’s ability to function properly.
2. Getting Stuck in the Restrict-Binge Cycle
If you’ve ever tried to follow a restrictive diet, chances are you know exactly what it feels like to constantly be thinking about the “bad” foods you can’t have. It’s easy to become obsessive over food when we deprive our bodies of calories and the freedom to eat intuitively. Cravings are a normal part of human behaviour. Going against this sets us up for the restrict-binge cycle. We may feel like we failed a diet when in reality, our bodies just aren't designed to function this way.
3. Having to Choose Between Your Social Life or Your Diet…
Sure, you might see some results from dieting at first, but many of us will have a hard time maintaining those lifestyle changes if we’re miserable! Food is more than just calories in, calories out. It also plays a huge role in our social lives. Imagine going on vacation and not being able to eat the delicious food offered at the resort? Or skipping out on the surprise cake your friends got you on your birthday?
How to Reject the Diet Mentality
At this point, you might be thinking, how am I supposed to reach my health goals then? The reality is that nutrition is not black and white. What works for you might not work for someone else. We need to develop healthy habits that work for our own unique lifestyles. To begin making these changes, here are a couple of starting points:
1. Become an Observer of Diet Culture & Recognize the Risks
The next time you come across a social media post, article or diet program, I encourage you to practice making informed observations. Try reading it from a critical lens and recognize those nutrition buzzwords we discussed above. When you’re cautious about the information you trust, you’ll be less likely to buy into marketing claims and more likely to trust your own intuition about your food and body needs.
2. Avoid the Extremes & Set Realistic Goals
Goal setting is an effective way to reach your health goals, however, setting unrealistic goals can be detrimental to our health journey. Fad diets are often restrictive and promote the ‘all or nothing’ approach, which leads to unbalanced diet and weight. Not to mention, it can cause you to think about those “forbidden” foods even more, and sets you up for a binge. My advice – focus on what you can add rather than take away. Outlook and mindset can be powerful for determining sustainability. So, rather than saying “I need to stop eating pizza” try saying, “I’m going to add more fibre-rich vegetables to my diet” or “I’m going to drink more water.” One has a negative connotation, while the other focuses on positive habits to add to your routine. You might also find that by adding more fibre or protein into your diet, it might fill you up more and you may naturally have less of the pizza anyways. But remember, it’s still totally okay to eat pizza!
3. Be Kind to Yourself & Practice Positive Self-Talk
Diet culture often drives us to label ourselves as a failure for lacking “discipline” when it comes to eating. Thinking that you need to have self control around food is essentially a diet in disguise. When you restrict your favourite foods and “fail” because you ate them, you’re characterizing yourself as a failure for simply enjoying delicious food. This is your reminder that you didn't fail your diet; the diet failed YOU. Fad diets aren’t designed to be sustainable so it’s important to be kind to yourself on your journey to rejecting the diet mentality. This process can take time and requires constantly checking in with yourself, but we can celebrate that it’s a journey to food freedom rather than another strict diet.
Wanting to lose weight is normal, and we totally support you; however, approaching it from a diet culture framework just isn’t effective. Immediate results don’t always equate to health, you’ll likely be back at square one shortly after. I know science isn’t always as buzz-worthy or cool but guess what? It actually works. If you’re looking to embark on a weight loss journey, we strongly encourage you to do so alongside the support of a registered dietitian.
What are your thoughts on fad diets? Have you tried any?
Any success? Let us know below!
This article was written in collaboration with Jenn Zubair, a third-year nutritional science student, and RD2B.