Food, Health and Wellness

Harmful Effects of Fad Diets

Food, Health and Wellness Emily Woerfel

Most of us have been in a situation where we want to lose weight fast at some point in our lives. Maybe after the onslaught of holidays around December and January, (a season that’s even longer in Spain with the last official holiday being January 6th!), or the need to fit into our favorite suit or dress for wedding season, or perhaps spring time rolls around and thoughts of warm sandy beaches have us wanting to show up to the beach looking our best. When these situations come up, it is easy to be tempted to buy into an “easy” diet that promises great results incredibly quickly. But more often than not, these diets leave you feeling hungry, deprived, and frustrated as you watch an unmoving needle on the bathroom scale.

But the harmful effects of fad diets don’t stop there, and it’s important to know that if you want to lose some weight or have a healthier lifestyle, you should keep in mind that adopting the latest fad diet can cause just the opposite. Read on for the full lowdown on all the harmful effects of fad diets and why you should think twice before resorting to one.

Harmful Effects of Fad Diets

What is a fad diet?

Before we go further, let’s identify what a fad diet really is. A fad diet can be defined as any diet that becomes popular for a short period of time, just as any fad in fashion or pop culture. A few of the signs that a diet might be a fad diet are:

  • Promises of being able to work unrealistically quickly
  • Promises of incredible results
  • Being very “simple”
  • Restricting or overeating one particular food or food group
  • Claiming that the use of special vitamins, supplements, or other miracle pills will easily achieve your weight loss goals
  • Have rules that don’t allow for any alteration
  • Have no real scientific evidence to prove success

5 Harmful Effects of Fad Diets

1.    Weight Gain

Yes, fad diets are infamous for being the culprit of eventual weight gain, despite their promises for the opposite. The reason is simple–many of these diets base themselves off of severe restriction. Whether that means calories, eating only a specific food, or eliminating a food entirely. When we restrict our body of nutrients, calories, or entire food groups, we will inevitably create a feeling of deprivation and craving for it. Many people who do severely restrictive diets for short periods of time will later binge and gain all of the weight they may have lost, and then some. In addition, even if you don’t binge after a diet, many fad diets are “successful” because the weight loss you experience is actually loss of lean muscle and/or water–both which you will ultimately gain back if you go back to eating a normal diet.

2.    Poor mental health

It is now common knowledge that mental health is one of the most common health problems, and needs to be taken seriously. A common thread in fad diets is that they are practically unmanageable for the long term and incredibly restrictive, leaving no room for “mistakes”. What that means is that if a person “strays” from the diet plan they will many times feel an overwhelming sense of failure and guilt which leads to binge eating–only putting them further from their weight loss goals–and then feel depressed and overcome with low self-confidence with their body, leading to the beginning of the cycle all over again with a new fad diet. A diet that is this restrictive makes success very difficult and unattainable, leading to a higher likelihood of those feelings of guilt, dissatisfaction, and low self-esteem that take a major toll on our mental health. This process, known as “weight cycling”, is not only detrimental to our mental health but has also been seen to be associated with a higher risk of disease.

3.    Nutrient deficiencies

Popular fad diets like the keto diet and any number of others, base themselves off of being very low carb and high fat and protein diets. This can result in a low intake of fruits and vegetables which have naturally present sugars and carbohydrates. But when you eliminate those, you also eliminate their numerous health benefits such as fiber and important vitamins, which means you may be at risk of a nutrient deficiency. Deficiencies like these can lead to everything from a headache to constipation to extreme fatigue, and more.

Harmful Effects of Fad Diets

4.    Disordered eating

Not only are fad diets the type of diet that is usually unsustainable in the long term, but they can also severely affect your relationship with food in general. Many of these diets force you to think of foods as “good” or “bad”, and that is not a healthy way to look at the foods we eat, as all foods can serve a purpose, even if it is just pleasure. This can lead to harmful thinking patterns even after you’re no longer committed to a diet, in which you are seeing foods as calorie numbers or items on an imagined “forbidden” food list. For example, it is well known that sticking to foods that are low in refined sugars can have many health benefits, but many fad diets make no distinction between the sugar in a piece of cake and the sugar in a handful of strawberries–when common sense tells us they are very, very different.

5.    Decrease in exercise

Along with a well-nourished body and mind, exercise is one of the most important factors of mental and physical health. Especially restrictive fad diets leave you with very little energy to do any physical activity, and many of these diets purposely downplay the importance of exercise, or simply say it is unnecessary for the success of the diet in question.

It is a known fact that exercise helps with a number of issues ranging from everything from reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes to strengthening your muscles and bones to improving your mood and overall mental health, to, of course, weight loss. It should be an integral part of any healthy lifestyle, and a diet that says otherwise is not a healthy diet to be following.

The takeaway

When it comes to choosing a new diet or lifestyle change, you should always practice common sense. If you come across a diet that seems just too good to be true, chances are, it probably is. First ask yourself why you are doing the diet and what you want to get out of it, and really try to analyze whether or not you think that diet is going to get you there. Will you be able to maintain it long term? Do you want to? What will you have to give up and what will you gain? Health needs to be thought of in broader terms than simply weight loss, and we should place focus on a sustainable lifestyle change that incorporates a mix of healthy whole foods and exercise, over a quick fix which, in all likelihood, won’t get us any closer to our health goals.

Lastly, as always, before deciding to make a major diet change, be sure to speak with your doctor about your health goals and what kind of diet is right for you, your body, and your lifestyle.

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Emily Woerfel

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