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Written By: Elizabeth Fay, MS, RD, CSPCC, LD, CNSC

Registered Dietitian, Certified Specialist in Pediatric Critical Care, Certified Nutrition Support Clinician

When you hear the term ‘fad diets,’ which diet trends come to mind? You may picture low carb, high protein, high fat, low fat, and sugar-free, or you may picture a diet of shakes as meal replacements or eating single food groups only. No matter the case, fad diets have been around for many years and there seems to be no end in sight. The key aspect about fad diets that keeps them around is their shiny, new promise for change and quick results. Depending on lifestyle factors, genetics, and medical conditions, it may be unsafe for many people to follow a fad diet. We will review what makes fad diets so attractive, what leads to their ultimate disappointment, and which evidence-based methods are the most successful approach to meet your nutrition goals.

Fad diets usually involve changing the diet’s macronutrient supply in some way. Macronutrients are the group of nutrients that provide us with energy throughout our day. The three macronutrients in our diet include carbohydrates, protein, and fat. These three nutrient categories are essential in our diet to provide us with balanced nutrition and energy. Each fad diet redistributes the amount of macronutrients in some way. For example, the Atkins and ketogenic diets promote low carbohydrate, moderate or low protein, and high fat intake. Low fat diets limit fat and promote higher intakes of carbohydrate and protein. Diets with shake replacements may either have varying percentages of macronutrients or may restrict macronutrients altogether, therefore reducing calorie intake altogether. Every fad diet claims to be superior than another, but ultimately, they all operate using the same macronutrients, just in various amounts.

What makes fad diets so attractive and popular? It’s no surprise that fad diets are a multibillion-dollar industry. Fad diets offer eye-catching, but sometimes false claims that promise quick success. Fad diets not only promote weight loss, but they may also promise other outcomes such as better blood sugar control, improved cholesterol levels, and increased energy. This is an attractive choice for someone who may continue to struggle to meet their nutrition goals over and over. With the right marketing and strategies, businesses can shape a fad diet to seem like the best choice for you. Unfortunately, fad diets are often unregulated and unsafe for many people. Without the individual approach of a nutrition intervention, we all risk following a fad diet that may put our health at risk. The other attractive component to fad diets is the quick results sometimes seen up front. For example, many fad diets demonstrate quick weight loss upon starting. With that quick feeling of success, we may feel positive to continue the diet. Unfortunately, in most cases, this upfront weight loss is not fat loss, but instead water loss. This gives us a false sense of success in the beginning and may later be frustrating when we struggle to see any change in our weight down the road.

What makes fad diets fail? Many of us have either tried ourselves or know of someone who has tried a fad diet and then later stopped. Fad diets unfortunately don’t work because they offer short-term outcomes with minimal long-term success. Many fad diets are unsustainable long-term for a few reasons. First, many fad diets are unable to fit into our daily lifestyle for the long haul. For example, a parent with a large family may find themselves cooking multiple meals to meet their fad diet restrictions, but also preparing other meals for the rest of the family who does not follow the diet. Second, fad diets are difficult to implement in different settings, such as at restaurants, cookouts, holidays, and parties. Fad diets sometimes create a sense of guilt or exclusion in these social situations. Another example of unsustainability may be the cost. For the short-term, the financial aspect of a fad diet may seem justifiable but being able to afford shakes for every meal for months on end may put a strain on your grocery budget. Other diets require very specialized products, which come with a hefty price tag as well. Keep in mind that fad diets may help you meet your nutrition goal at first, but once the fad diet ends, the success reverses. For example, many people who follow a fad diet for weight loss later see all the weight gain come back after stopping the diet. This is not only disappointing, but it starts the cycle of dieting from one fad diet to the next and can have a significant impact on your nutrition and metabolism.

What does promote the best, evidence-based outcomes? Working with a dietitian is one of the best ways to know that you are receiving safe, accurate, evidence-based nutrition recommendations tailored specifically to you. It is imperative that your nutrition supports your lifestyle. A dietitian works with you to support your nutrition and wellness goals without a “start and stop” focus in mind, but instead, as sustainable recommendations to incorporate into your individual lifestyle long-term. At Nuleeu Nutrition and Wellness, we want you to learn the nutrition knowledge you need to live your best, nourished life. Nutrition interventions take work, but your health is deserving of it and the work put in can be sustainable and integrated into every aspect of your life. No more cooking multiple meals, feeling excluded at parties, or jumping from fad diet to fad diet. We want your meals to be absolutely delicious and satisfying. We want you to feel fulfilled and engaged at mealtime as you spend it with family and friends, instead of feeling distracted that you have to plan around fad diet restrictions, asking for special requests at restaurants, or feeling as though you can’t join in the cookout festivities like you hoped. The nutrition changes you make with your registered dietitian will support your goals and will be changes you keep for the rest of your life because they are successful, achievable, realistic, and nourishing!

Keep in mind that if fad diets worked, there wouldn’t be so many on the market and we wouldn’t have such a nutrition epidemic battling chronic disease. If fad diets worked, we would all be on the same fad diet together! This isn’t the case. We want you to be successful and stay successful with meeting your nutrition goals. Contact your registered dietitian at Nuleeu Nutrition and Wellness to meet your individual nutrition goals with the peace of mind that you will be receiving safe, tailored, evidence-based nutrition guidance to keep you on track!