Are Fad Diets Dangerous?
We hear it in the media all the time. We read it on the Web. We read it in books. We hear it or read it in interviews. Fad diets are dangerous, or at best, something to be avoided. They won’t deliver on their promises. They are simply theories with no scientific basis to back up their ideas. The only evidence that supports a fad diet is anecdotal. We can’t help but fear fad diets, because that’s what we’re told.
We’re told a sound diet can withstand the test of time, is backed by expensive and time-consuming scientific studies (funded by the food or pharmaceutical industries), and is well balanced. We’re told that everyone needs to eat lean meats, whole grains and other complex carbohydrates, healthy vegetable oils, five servings per day of fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.
So that’s what we do. Like children, we just go along with whatever those we have set up to be authorities over us tell us to do. And we stay fat! Why? Because we fear fad diets.
We don’t trust in our own ability to research and analyze a diet’s ideas, personal testimonies, and scientific basis or background. We don’t have time to do that, or we just don’t care enough to put forth the effort required to discover the truth. We don’t create our own workable weight-loss program because it’s easier and brings less conflict if we just go along with what the media, food industry, drug companies and current medical thought of the day wants us to believe and do.
Obesity Statistics for the U.S.
The federal government recently released its latest statistics (2011) on adult obesity. Rates vary from a low 20.7 percent in Colorado to a high of 34.9 percent in Mississippi. These statistics are for adult obesity only, which is currently defined as a BMI greater than 30. They don’t include those who are simply overweight, and they don’t include young people who would boost the statistics up another whopping 17 percent.
Since obesity is associated with serious health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, the problem with the nation’s tendency towards higher obesity percentages each year is a serious concern. In fact, most medical authorities call the problem a crisis or epidemic. Yet, we continue to stomp on viable weight-loss solutions such as the low-carb movement because we consider these nutritional approaches a fad diet.
Fear of Fad Diets Keeps Us Fat
Many people who preach against fad diets find it difficult to imagine why anyone would want to cut an entire food group out of their meals and snacks. These individuals fear fad diets because they can’t relate to people who have insulin resistance, diabetes, carbohydrate cravings, or food allergies and sensitivities. Even physicians often see the elimination of wheat products, potatoes, beans and corn as nonsensical restriction.
For that reason, low-carb programs such as the Atkins Diet or even low-fat, heart-healthy low-carb programs such as the South Beach Diet aren’t viewed as long-term solutions for the nation’s obesity problem. Despite scientific studies to the contrary, many continue to voice their concerns and fears about the potential health risks of restricting certain foods they believe are healthy, even though wheat products, potatoes, sugar, low-fat dairy products and corn actually aggravate or contribute to metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and allergies.
This fear of so-called fad diets keeps us fat. It keeps us stuck within a diet mindset that causes us to cycle “on” or “off” of a low-fat, low-calorie diet every few weeks or months as enthusiasm dims because we believe that’s the best way to lose weight. We’ve been told not to listen to those who have lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off for years, even reversing their medical conditions in the process, because it’s only anecdotal evidence. The truth is, it doesn’t match up with what the anti-fad diet advocates want you to believe and do.
Is a Low-Carb Diet a Fad Diet?
Despite our best efforts, fewer than 25 percent of those who attempt some form of standard weight-loss program actually reduce their calorie intake and increase their activity level as currently recommended. Of those who do manage to lose some weight, very few are able to maintain those losses. These diet failures mirror the same accusations tossed at so-called fad diet plans. Reasons for quitting vary, but most people who experiment with low-fat, low-calorie diets find them too restrictive and difficult to follow.
The sad truth is that all diets are difficult to follow because they require change. That change isn’t a specific downside to just low-carb diets. Change is mandatory for any weight-loss program to produce lasting results. However, with the rising costs of obesity-related health care, an increasing number of studies have been done over the past several years attempting to discover alternative approaches to traditional dieting methods.
Along with discovering that restricting carbohydrates improves HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and your A1C numbers, the most recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that a diet similar to the Atkins Diet increases your metabolic rate. When the diet focused on chicken, beef, fish, eggs, cheese and some fruits and vegetables – rather than starchy foods such as potatoes, breads, pasta and corn – study participants burned 300 calories more per day than those following a typical low-fat diet. Even those who followed a plan similar to the Mediterranean Diet were able to burn an extra 150 calories per day.
These were maintenance diets, because that’s what the study was focusing on, but the findings are useful even for dieters because they contradict the notion that a low-carb diet is simply a fad diet. More and more studies are discovering that a low-carb approach to overweight and obesity is a viable nutritional alternative to traditional weight-loss methods. While there certainly are fad diets that are dangerous and need to be entered into only with high-quality medical supervision, a typical low-carb diet is not a fad diet.
What is a Fad Diet?
For the most part, a fad diet is an eating program that’s currently popular because it’s been reported to work well. It’s based on anecdotal evidence and personal testimony rather than scientific studies. Generally, these fads enjoy short-term popularity and quickly die out because they are no more sustainable than traditional low-calorie diet programs.
Dieters who have a pattern of jumping from one diet fad to another are generally looking for quick weight-loss solutions to their overweight or obesity. When the latest fad doesn’t produce the results they were looking for, they drop the diet and move onto the next one. Since many dieters don’t understand the permanent changes essential for maintaining weight losses, there is always a new diet that catches their eye and sparks their hope.
Low-carb diets are often lumped into that category despite the fact that they’ve been around for over 100 years, have a multitude of followers, and even scientific backing that proves their nutritional and health value. Even so, anti-fad diet advocates continue to insist that low-carb diets are dangerous, unhealthy and need to be avoided. Many of these voices are backed by the food, pharmaceutical or diet industries who want to push their particular agenda, but sometimes, anti-low carb advocates are just normal folks who either haven’t done their research properly or wish to push the type of diet program that works best for them.
As a category, fad diets are nothing to be afraid of. They are simply weight-loss diets that have worked well for someone. Sometimes, these diets are extremely low in calories or suggest you limit your meal variety to just a handful of foods such as bananas and milk. Other fads focus on particular health problems such as a malfunctioning hypothalamus, insulin resistance or diabetes. These weight-loss programs are designed to address, heal and help dieters recover from or manage their health problems. They are not necessarily fad diets, no matter what the media, book, Web page or interviewed specialist you’re listening to decides to label them.
Finding the Right Diet Plan
For the most part, we fear fad diets only because the media and certain health professionals have gone out of their way to make it so. Because of the consistent repetition that we hear almost daily, the term “fad” no longer means popular and trendy. It no longer means the diet of the day, or even the year. Today, a fad diet is considered bad, short-term and something to be avoided if you have any sense.
While that may be true for some weight-loss programs, if I’d stayed away from the Atkins Diet and believed what the advocates are currently saying about low carb’s sustainability and potential for heart disease, I’d still be obese and probably a diagnosed diabetic by now. For that reason, no one can tell you which diet is best for you.
People can share their experiences. They can share what they’ve discovered through their own research. They can share what they’ve learned by watching others. However, even scientific studies are limited in their overall scope because they can only reveal how a particular group of individuals reacted to a particular set of diet limitations. Those participant reactions won’t necessarily be the same for you. Your particular metabolic defects, health issues, lifestyle and hereditary tendencies all play a role in the outcome.
The most important aspect of finding the right diet plan for you is embracing a program that addresses your health issues, offers foods you enjoy eating, and leaves you feeling satisfied and happy. Whether that’s a so-called fad diet or one that’s more traditional doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you find a diet plan that works for you, and then you stick with that plan for the rest of your life.