August 04, 2016

Fad Diets: Risky or Rewarding?

In part one of this three-part series on fad diets we explain what fad diets are and provide you with a well-rounded perspective on what these kinds of lifestyle changes can have on your health and well-being.

Let's face it; fad diets aren't always the silver bullet to transforming your health and body to the way you wish it to be. While some are in one day and out the next. Others have followings who are practically religious in their dedication and commitment to particular meal plans and the specific ingredients, they insist you use. And the media—revels in it. Always abuzz with 'what's in', 'what's hot', and 'what's not'.

While fad diets can carry a number of health risks, such popular eating plans can also open up new worlds of possibility, not to mention flavor, to explore and experiment with. Whether it be for yourself or to try out with friends and family.

If past trends are anything to go by, the proliferation of fad diets isn't going away anytime soon. That said, before undertaking any diet program, take note. It's important you make sure you've done your research on what healthy eating looks like, for you, to equip yourself to think critically and to make sensible, body-conscious decisions about the fad diets everyone is talking about.
"Allow yourself to safely and healthfully explore fad diets only to integrate the best parts into your own eating plan."

What Are Fad Diets?

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, fad diets are considered as “short-term quick fixes that actually set many dieters up for weight-loss failure.” They, however, remain as popular as ever constantly springing up and into the mainstream media regardless of the bad rap fad diets receive among nutritionists, dietetics, and doctors.

They're everywhere! And it can seem like people in your social groups is giving some new diet a go every other week. Friends tell you about a trendy new cafe on the corner that serves up fancy green juices that they now just 'can't live without'. Your family swaps stories of gorgeous recipes from Pinterest over dinner. While Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are bursting with heavily-filtered images of the latest "superfood" meal trends.

Sound familiar?

Be a Smart Fad Dieter

Sure, some of these diets can seem especially appealing—and why not! The food may look delicious, it sounds healthy, the meal plan looks easy to follow, and the celebrities endorsing it rave about how they lost weight, got healthier, have more energy, and to back it all up—they look damn fabulous!

Unfortunately, though, more often than not, these cookie-cutter eating plans result in long-term health problems that can dramatically affect you physically and mentally down the track. Short-term, it may seem like a great quick-fix but, as an informed, smart dieter, understand—there's a dark side.

Fad Diets. The Dark Side

One of the primary issues with fad diets is the 'one-size-fits-all' mentality. The reality is, a nutrition "guru", who's never met you, has designed an eating plan claiming if you stick with it, you'll achieve the same results.

The obvious problem with this is the intimate knowledge and uniqueness of every one us. The combination of different body types, physiological structures, genes, allergies, and other types of human anomalies not only makes you a strangely complicated and weirdly beautiful being but, a very distinct and unique one.

Understand that, your body is a finely-tuned metabolic machine. The more you stress it with incomplete diets and too little fuel, the more it will complain, resist, and protest. It's like putting diesel into a petrol engine car. While you might get some mileage out of it, ultimately, it's not going to do the engine any good. So, ignoring the bodily cries of "this doesn't feel right for me" will cause breakdown further down the track.

Experiment Sensibly

By all means, I'm not discounting the benefit fad diets can bring. I'm simply saying when experimenting with a diet program, tread with care. As The National Eating Disorders Association found, alarmingly, half of teenage girls and a third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control methods—some of which are endorsed by diet fads.

Particularly risky methods, not adopted sensibly, can strip away the nutrients your body needs, and any weight loss will likely come back as your body moves to absorb everything it can to try to correct the nutritional imbalance.
"Worst of all, unhealthy diet habits can quickly spiral into a full-blown eating disorder before you even realize it's happening."
How prevalent are eating disorders? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, three percent (1.3m) of American teens have an eating disorder. Don't become part of that statistic.

Fad Diets. The Fun Side

There is a flip side to the risky and potentially dangerous parts of fad diets, mind you. Experimenting with dietary fads can sometimes, in one way or another, be a positive influence on your life. For example, diets can:
  • Introduce you to new delicious taste sensations.
  • Teach you to cook new recipes using different ingredients you may have never used before.
  • Get you outside of your culinary comfort zone.
  • Provide you with a sense of accomplishment as you hit your goals.
  • Open up opportunities to bond with friends and family who are trying, or wanting to try, the same thing.
  • Break out of a diet rut.
  • Get you to a healthier weight, whether that means gaining or losing weight.

Choose Your Plan

With so many fad diets out there—where do you even begin? A good starting point is to think about what it is you're hoping to achieve with a dietary change.
  • Are you trying to drop a few pounds for an upcoming event in your life? Then, you could take up an intensive one or two week plan to slim down fast.
  • Are you aiming for the long-term goal of crafting the healthiest, happiest version of yourself? If your current diet isn't producing the results, then, you might need to rethink where you're at and consider making some tweaks or a complete dietary overhaul.

Fad Diets Done the Smart Way

Whichever diet plan you choose, remember, don't mindlessly follow fad diets to the letter. After all, these cookie-cutter meal plans weren't designed with you and your individual needs, specifically, in mind.
"Instead, do what you can do to adapt the best parts of the trends that work for you and that meet your nutritional goals"
Educate yourself. You've made it this far, so I hope you've learned something or helped you spark an idea you can take away that will put you on the right path. But, don't just take my word for it. Continue your exploration and read up on what a healthy diet looks like and compare it to the fad diet you're contemplating on taking up.

The knowledge you build up by doing research and instilling some critical thinking will enable you to play safely around with your eating plan, which, like everything in life, is always going to be a work in progress.

Beware, though. A diet where all you consume is lemon juice and cayenne pepper isn't likely to give you the nutrients you need to function, let alone—live well.

See also: The Best Fad Diets with Healthy Diet Hacks.

So, I encourage you, wherever possible, aim to create healthy lifestyle changes. That is, instead of blindly following what everyone else is raving about. Decreasing the amount of junk food you're eating and replacing it with fresh, healthy produce is always going to be a healthier, more moderate way to diet. Take the best parts of the fad, maybe some mouthwatering recipes for exotic new foods, mix and match, and use them as a springboard for your health journey. Along the way, you'll learn a lot about yourself. What your body needs, what foods you love, and how to bring balance to your plate and, in turn, your well-being. I'll meet you in part two—Turning Weight Loss Fads into a Fast Healthy Slim Down!