Atkins, Gluten-Free, The South Beach, The Zone, Paleo.
Do these sound familiar?
It’s just a short list of fad diets you’ve probably heard at least someone talking about.
But what is it that about these food fads that keeps them coming back?
LISTEN: Why are fad diets so persistent?
Registered dietician Lori Smart with Health BC says the reason why fad diets keep popping up is because people are always looking for a new way to better themselves.
“A lot of the popularity around fad diets come from one’s own personal beliefs that this is a diet that would be healthy for them, or this is a diet that would help them lose weight,” she says.
Smart adds they seem to crop up more often this time of year, when people coming out of the winter are looking to make lifestyle changes or lose weight and are looking for a way to do it.
She says a big contributor is the internet.
“With so much information on the web it can be very, very hard to figure out what’s true, what’s not true or what’s beneficial, what’s potentially harmful.”
Smart says it’s important to remember that some of these diets are meant for people with clinical conditions, for example people with celiac disease must eat a gluten-free diet, or people suffering from cardiovascular disease might take special care about what they eat.
“It may be turned into a fad diet because others believe it’s beneficial, but they could really have a benefit for that person with the food condition.”
She says if you’re interested in trying a new diet you read about online, or have heard from a friend has tried it, it’s still best to speak to a healthcare provider, physician, dietician, or by calling 8-1-1 the nurses line.
She recommends asking questions such as:
- What do you know about this diet?
- Have you heard anything negative about it?
- Could it benefit me?
- What do I need to know?
And she says it’s important to have an honest conversation about it.
“Certain diets are okay as long as you’re aware of the things, or the nutrients that you might be missing out on if you follow that diet. Now some are just not healthy in general, but that’s why it’s always good to talk to a health care provider, especially a dietitian who has been trained in this area to help you navigate that information and then to point you to some resources that if you choose to continue follow that diet, you can do so safely.”
Smart adds this is important because it’s also a good way to prevent yourself from falling off your new routine.
“It’s usually that people start off really strong and then they end up falling back on old eating patterns,” she says.
“I’d say some [diets] are easy to follow, most are not easy to follow because a lot of them end up eliminating a food group or they become overly restrictive or they require a lot of extra work and preparation, which is why we always recommend that when you’re thinking about going on, or adopting a different way of eating, you look at something that would be more sustainable long term.”
Smart says that means if, say, you’re trying to cut out carbohydrates that you do it in steps, set yourself small goals, and work out a pattern that you can stick to.
As for the future of fad diets? She says it doesn’t look like they are going anywhere.
“The food industry, the nutrition industry, all of these things keep coming up, so there’s all these new and better ways of doing things,” she says, but adds that is constantly being mixed with opinions and people’s personal beliefs.
“What I would hope is that there’s more information available so that consumers and individuals can make informed choices about what they want to do with their own diet and lifestyle and then seek out advice and help from a health care professional.”
But Registered Holistic Nutritionist Bridgette Clare raises caution, warning there’s a never ending supply of new fad diets, not all of them created equal.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. They promise weight loss in seven days, or thirty days, or it’s the new miracle, that sort of thing that’s simply isn’t the truth,” she says.
Clare says the key is a well-balanced diet that isn’t restrictive to the point of being uncomfortable.
“The reason being is that even if you were to stick with it for say thirty days or sixty days especially if you’re cutting out entire food groups, it’s not sustainable, it’s not teaching you positive eating habits or teaching you about new and exciting foods, it’s far too restrictive to keep going long term.”
Clare says she hopes to see a transition from restrictive fad diets to more people adopting more balanced diets built around whole foods.
“It almost feels like it needs to be crazy for people to buy into it. Like it needs to be something way more complicated than just eating a balanced, varied diet with a focus on more plants and more veggies.”
Clare says that’s tough with the competition between fad diets, each trying to distinguish itself from the others with some special feature.
She recommends the “Whole 30” diet, which she says could be seen as a fad diet but boils down to fit with her core principles.
“[It] has such a great back bone, really just focusing on eating more whole foods. It does require some restrictions; eliminating dairy I believe and sugar and that sort of thing, so it might not be sustainable in the long term but of all the diets I’ve seen, it’s the one that has the most holistic sustainable view to it.”
Clare says if you’re looking for a magic pill or magic diet, you’re out of luck.
But she says if you do plan on trying a fad diet, do your reading, see if it really will help your body, and make sure you are still getting balance in what you eat.
“Tune into your body and if it doesn’t work for your body – don’t do it.”
With fad diets having a start date, it can either set you up for a success or you will inevitably revert back to old habits.
Clare says it’s often best just to create lifestyle changes by making one small difference at a time and build on positive eating habits, rather than straining your mental well-being by focusing on an end date.