#YearOfFit – Let’s Talk Fad Diets

This post is probably the one I’ve been most looking forward to writing so far this year. I’ve done a bunch of research and interviewed people and everything, and the reason I’ve put in so much work is because this is something I feel so passionately about.

Now before I get into things, I’m just going to say that while I’m not an expert/dietician/nutritionist, I’ve studied a lot of the areas that are involved in this topic: food science, diet psychology and human biology, so I’m not just sharing opinions here. I’m also going to be using my own terminology, so let me just explain that.

Fad, of course, just means something that’s popular for whatever reason, but I’m going to be discussing the main two different types of diet that people do: restrictive diets and lifestyle change diets. Restrictive diets are just that – purposefully cutting out or restricting the intake of a certain food type or group; think Atkins, Slimfast, juicing, fasting 5:2 etc. Lifestyle change diets are the ones where you aren’t necessarily cutting anything out, you’re just looking at your diet more carefully, maybe working on a point system for foods etc. These are your classic Weightwatchers or Slimming World style.

Ok, so I’m gonna start with restrictive diets.

You’ve seen your favourite celebrity drop from a size 14 to 6 in the blink of an eye and they’re putting it all down to this new diet. Naturally, you’re intruiged, and with summer just around the corner and the thought of your bikini looming, you figure why not give it a go, right?

All of these diets offer quick results – big weight drop in a short amount of time. Now this seems great, and short-term, sure, they’ll do the job, but I’m gonna let you in on a not-so-little secret: as soon as you go back to your regular habits, all of that weight is gonna come speeding back to you, and might even bring a friend, sometimes leaving you heavier than you were pre-diet. All of the people I interviews put some weight back on, and most put it all back.

The biggest issue with RDs is that you are denying your body, which is something you should never do. You NEED carbohydrates for energy. You NEED those good fats to protect your organs and maintain a healthy metabolism. You NEED protein to repair and grow. I could go on. Now your body can go a certain amount of time working just fine if you cut back, but after a while, you’ll start noticing that you’re not on your A-game.

Now everyone’s body works differently, and this is where the effects of these diets can differ hugely. Take my mum for example. A good few years back, my mum did LighterLife – a shake based diet – and was loosing a fair amount of weight. Woo, right? Well yeah, until she started to find her hair was falling out.. Lots of my interviewees experienced breakouts, some felt sluggish all the time, I could go on.

So apart from denying your body vital nutrients (which not all of them do, but still), there are mental ramifications to these diets too. By cutting certain foods out of your life, even if only temporarily, your brain will change the way you perceive this foods, and this will generally go one of two ways. First up, and this is more common with sweeter foods, it can lead to a ‘forbidden fruit’ mentality; you can’t have it, therefore you want it even more. Hello cravings. A ‘slip up’ here will normally result in a response of – and this is a genuine thing – the ‘what the hell’ effect; ‘you’ve had one Pringle, you may as well eat the whole tube’ thinking. This mindset is NOT HEALTHY.

Alternatively, and more dangerously, it can lead to certain food having negative connotations attached to them, and this is association is most common with carbs. You’ve been ticking along on Atkins just nicely, but someone brought home a pizza and you had a slice, and now you feel horrendously guilty and you’ll spend your whole day tomorrow on a cross-trainer in an attempt to ‘atone’. This mindset is NOT HEALTHY.

We’ll move onto lifestyle change diets.

No, these diets can’t promise you a drop of 3 dress sizes in 2 weeks, but the average member can expect to lose 1-2lbs a week, which is still pretty impressive.

Notice how I said ‘member’? Well that’s because all of these diets promote a community aspect, whether it be weekly meetings, online forums or just support from other members, and this community plays a really key part in the success of the diet. Sure, you don’t have to attend the meetings to see the results, but having other people with you doing the same thing can be a real help and motivator.

So why are these diets better for you? For starters, you’re still eating properly. Yes, you might be cutting back on certain things, indulging less and watching what you eat very carefully, but you’re still eating real, balanced food. Balance is important. You might be counting ProPoints, or syns or even just counting calories, but you’re making your own choices and staying in control. I call them lifestyle change diets because over time, you’re just developing better eating habits, and the more you stick at it, the more eating better becomes a part of your lifestyle. We’re talking being healthier for life, not just until summer is over.

Talking to some people who have done these diets, they loved how they never felt that they were missing out on anything and how easy they were to stick to, compared to RDs they’ve tried. Now my interviewees did still have some negative comments about these diets. For example, one person struggled with how liberal the diet was, and due to over-eating some foods didn’t lose as much weight as she felt she could have.

But really, after reading all this, do I even need to tell you what’s best? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a hundred times if that’s what it takes: eat right and live healthy and your body will reward you. It is, first and foremost, your body, and it can look however you want it to look.

Being healthy and happy is so important, please don’t forget that.

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