We’ve all heard the term ‘fad diet’: It’s about the diets that become popular when movie stars ‘tell all’. They usually claim to offer massive weight loss in the shortest possible space of time and exclude one or more of the essential food groups.

There’s been the low-carb diet, the high-protein diet, the grapefruit diet, the grape diet and the soup diet. Their promises all look tempting: After all, who wouldn’t want to lose five kilos in just one week? But how do you know what will work and whether or not the diet is healthy? This guide should help you spot a fad diet – and encourage you to manage your eating plan in a healthy manner.

Do fad diets work?

While many people do lose weight when following a fad diet, the weight loss is usually temporary and could be harmful to your body. Much of the initial weight loss is often water, which is regained as soon as you start eating properly again.

Some diets encourage the consumption of certain foods while removing others from your eating plan. Instead of changing your metabolism (the way your body breaks down food to make energy) or encouraging your body to burn fat, these strict food restrictions simply do not provide enough calories for anyone to function normally. In addition, many of the diets do not provide enough vitamins and minerals which can lead to problems like anaemia (low iron in your blood) and osteoporosis (a bone-thinning condition that causes your bones to break easily, due often to a lack of calcium).

It’s also vital to remember that many vitamins and minerals rely on other vitamins and minerals in order to be absorbed properly by the body, so starving your body of one food type may create problems in other areas.

Deprivation

Most of these fad diets are hard to stay on. This means that you can’t stick with them for long and once you stop following the diet, you will probably gain back the weight you lost. For example, most people who lose weight on the low-carbohydrate diet gain all their weight back within one year.

The other problem is what deprivation does: Have you ever felt like eating an entire chocolate cake the minute you’re supposed to start your new diet? Humans are like that! The moment we feel ‘deprived’, something in us will rebel – and we usually end up eating a lot more than just a sliver of cake that may have taken the craving away without much damage.

A fad diet may leave you feeling deprived. A healthy eating plan shouldn’t. So, how do you spot the fad diet? Ask yourself a few simple questions:

  • Does this diet promise that I will lose an unrealistic amount of weight in a short amount of time? (Anything over 1kg-1.5kg a week may be unrealistic and could be unhealthy)
  • Does this diet insist that some foods/food groups are completely off-limits?
  • Are there ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods listed in this diet?
  • Do I have to buy the food at a special shop?
  • Does this diet tell me that I do not have to exercise to lose weight?
  • Is this plan temporary or is it something I can do for life?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, you may just have spotted a fad diet! Advertising that promotes these diets is often very convincing, drawing you in and making you believe that excessive weight loss is easy using their product. In fact, this type of weight loss plan is really just a quick fix and often a very unhealthy way to lose weight. Ask yourself this: If it was as easy as the ad says, would so many people around the world be going through a tough time trying to lose excess weight?

Healthy weight management

There are far healthier ways to manage your weight than the quick fix offered by fad diets. We lose weight by burning more calories than we consume, so our first effort should include trying to add in some calorie-burning activities into our day while eating healthier and less fattening foods. Be sure not to restrict your calories too much, or too fast.

Talking with your doctor or a qualified dietician or nutritionist will help – and it’s something you should always do before making massive changes that will affect your health. Simple ways to fit exercise into your day include:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Park your car further from the entrance to the shop
  • Join a gym
  • Join a sports team or a dance team
  • Go for a 30-minute walk with your family or friends
  • Get an exercise buddy who will encourage you to walk/dance/take a yoga class

You can also make some simple changes to cut back on the amount of calories you eat:

  • Eat breakfast: This will prevent you from getting too hungry during the day
  • Choose water or low-fat milk. Drinks like soft drinks and fruit juice are loaded with sugar and empty calories
  • Pack a fruit snack instead of buying chips or chocolate
  • Choose whole grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, and high-fibre cereal – whole grains are more filling than refined grains
  • Choose lean meats like chicken and fish or vegetarian sources of protein like beans and tofu over fatty, processed meats
  • Eat a serving of fruit and/or vegetable at most meals and for snacks (strive to eat five to nine portions of fruits/vegetables a day)
  • Watch your portion sizes: Eat until you are comfortably full and give your brain 20 minutes to discover that you’ve eaten!

How do I know if a diet is healthy?

The best way to successfully lose weight is to make small changes that will fit into your lifestyle. An easy way to ensure that a weight loss programme is healthy and right for you is to see if it includes the following:

  • A balance of healthy foods from all five food groups (whole grains, fruits, veggies, lean proteins, low fat dairy and healthy fats)
  • Regular exercise or activity
  • Appropriate portion sizes
  • Regular meals and snacks
  • Some of your favourite foods
  • Flexibility to fit your schedule
  • Foods you can find easily in restaurants or at social events

Remember to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Choose foods from all the colours of the rainbow to get important nutrients for your body! It’s okay to eat fun foods and treats once in a while. Portion control is key if you tend to overeat and adding at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to your routine will help you to lose and maintain your new body weight.

Remember that a nutritionist or dietician is trained to help you design a healthy weight loss plan that’s customised for you. He or she will consider the foods you like and dislike and come up with suggestions for meals and snacks that enable your body to function optimally. Bottom line: If fad diets worked, we’d all be super-slender!

Resource: Australian Corporate Wellness Online Health Portal: HealthIQ

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