How many times have you made a New Year’s Resolution to “lose weight” or to follow a diet to try and be healthier and quit by the time January was over? How many of you had done that already this year? If this is you, it is not your fault. In fact, our society’s focus on “fad diets” and “quick fixes” has become a big money maker for large supplement companies, big name TV doctors, and of course Instagram models who want to convince you that following their plan will make you look like them. The issue with this is, is that the majority of these plans are not maintainable and do not take in to account the individual and what is write for you or your body. In this post, I want to discuss a few reasons why these plans fail, can be detrimental to your health, and some options of what you can do to truly be your healthiest self.
Why Fad Diets/Quick Fix Products Fail in the Long Run:
- Fad diets exist because they have worked for SOME individuals to achieve weight loss goals quickly, at least in the short term. The issue is, as studies tend to show, the weight generally comes back on in the long run, usually at least to the individual’s original weight, if not above and beyond their original weight. Fad diets, while they may have some small or short term studies, also do not have long term studies to prove the benefit long term.
- Fad diets are generally based on restriction. Whether it is time restriction, food group restriction, or significant focus on calorie restriction by tracking calories, restriction is an underlying theme. There are a few issues with a focus on restriction and clear reasons why you feel like you are “just losing will power” (hint, this isn’t an issue with your willpower, it is more than likely tied to physiological and psychological triggered by the undesirable restrictions within the diet).
- When there is physiological restriction on the body, the body will eventually start telling you that you are missing something, whether that appears as low energy levels, cravings, or moodiness. All food groups (Carbs/Fruit, Protein, Fats, and Vegetables) have a specific benefit for the body, so if you restrict or eliminate one food group, while your body can sometimes compensate to a degree with other food groups, you are forcing your body to run on less desirable and efficient source of fuel. For example, if you had to get a message to someone in another state or country as quickly as possible, you would send a text message/make a phone call/or send an email before you would write them a letter. While the information would get there in a hand written letter, it would take significantly longer to complete that communication and may result in the receiver not getting the information in the time needed.
- When there is psychological restriction within a diet, this ties into that childhood mindset of “well you said I can’t have it so now I want it more.” Eventually this can trigger binge eating for many individuals. Additionally, this can trigger a cycle of “binge eating” followed up by guilt and either, additional restriction or guilt-based binge eating.
- Quick fix products such as weight loss supplements, “skinny coffees,” etc. tend to go to the extreme other direction compared to the restrictive diets. “Don’t change a thing and just use our product and you can reach your goal.” There is a flaw with this as well. First of all, these products tend to be expensive and hard to financial maintain over the long term (and required to take consistently to maintain results). Additionally, the results tend to only be shown in half-way decent studies or have been promoted in a way that extrapolates half-truths from the research they have done, again not exploring long term results or safety.
Why These are Actually Potentially Detrimental to your Health:
- New Year’s resolutions related to health goals by focusing on weight loss as the primary goal tend to lead to a phenomenon many of us know as “Yo-Yo Dieting.” Some studies have shown that yo yo dieting or weight cycling have the potential to cause increased risks of heart disease and potential decreases in longevity. Does this mean you should just give up and not care about your health? Absolutely not, but a different approach needs to be taken.
- Fad diets, many times, by restricting one food group, or a certain eating time, tend to lead to overdoing other food groups or making consistently less healthy choices within those other food groups or eating times to “make up” for what you are missing. Many times, even if you are able to lose weight this way in the short term, you actually begin to see certain lab values such as cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood glucose spike or maintain these high levels resulting in negative overall health effects. In addition, extreme restriction can lead to nutrition deficiencies resulting in hair loss, fatigue, heart problems, loss of menstrual cycle, osteoporosis, mood problems, and gut imbalances.
- Many times, quick fix weight loss products fall under the supplement category. While some supplement companies have worked hard to do elective research and purity testing on their products, it is not required, so many companies do the bare minimum to get their product on the market and making money. This means that these products are likely not tested on individuals with health problems for safety purposes, may have significant negative side effects, and safety is largely unknown. In addition, even if they result in weight loss, again, you may be left with poor lab values due to a lack of behavior change.
- These New Year’s resolution “diets” and advertising are a significant trigger that have led to disordered eating or eating disorders for many individuals. A hyper-focus on food as an indicator for happiness when it comes to body image is not beneficial for anyone. Food should be able to be incorporated in a balanced way in our lives where we can enjoy food and social experiences around food comfortably, while allowing ourselves to find a balance with the food we choose. Please be aware, that falling in to this diet culture does not only have a negative effect on just the person falling into it, but on your children as well. Many times these diet cultures mindsets can lead individuals toward anorexia, binging and purging, binge eating disorders, or even orthorexia.
Now if I Shouldn’t Be Doing These Things, What Should I Do Instead?
- Balance, moderation, and individualization. Not everyone is the same and therefore, a generalized solution does not work for everyone. Working with a Registered Dietitian/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to come up with an individualized plan that fits your specific needs, while focusing on hydration, variety, and including the foods you enjoy in a healthful way (physically and mentally) without promoting a hyper-focus on counting calories, grams, or weight. While they may be helping you promote weight loss or gain, the primary focus should be on creating a healthy relationship with food and your body. **If you are aware that you have a disordered relationship with food, working with an eating disorder informed or specialized Registered Dietitian, as well as, an eating disorder specialized therapist is recommended (feel free to contact us with any needs or questions about this).**
- Intuitive eating is a great method when your body provides clear hunger and satiety signals. Many times if we have engaged in significant “dieting” our signals may not work how they were originally designed. This being said, sometimes by learning the difference between physical and emotional hunger and starting with a baseline eating structure, you are able to redevelop those physiological hunger and satiety cues and can later begin to eat intuitively and adjust from your baseline needs to suit how you are physically feeling that day.
- Make sure food is no more than 15% of your brain space on an average day. If food is all you think about, it will not allow you to succeed in your goals and will lead to increased stress, likely causing you to shift in the opposite direction of your goals. Use your food brain space to make mindfully aware choices when you cook/do groceries/walk into the kitchen/go out to eat, but not to over analyze your decisions or judge the decisions you made.
- Incorporate exercise you enjoy! This helps boost endorphins, makes your body feel good, and promotes overall physical health and longevity. DO NOT choose exercise purely for the focus on calorie burn/weight loss. This can lead to over-exercise, injury, burn out, and is a disordered behavior.
- Discover non-substance/food-based ways to manage your stress. Reading a book, going for a walk, listening to music, taking a hot shower or bath, breathing exercises, or anything else that you really connect with.
- Get enough sleep! While sleep needs vary from person to person, ensuring that you feel well- rested when you wake up in the morning and listening to your body when it’s time to go to sleep at night helps your body heal and recover. Additionally, by getting enough sleep, it decreases the chance that your body will provide you with false hunger signals to make up for lack of sleep related energy.
- Learn to love your body at every stage of the process. Even if you are not feeling your healthiest, being able to love the body you have been given and honor it by fueling it adequately, enjoying time with friends and family (even if it does involve food), providing it with movement you enjoy and appreciating it no matter what place you are it because it is the body you have. If we always focus on changing our body to make it “better” we will never achieve the body we want, we will always want more or better, so love what you have been given and provide it with what makes your body and mind feel best.
This post has provided some of the reasons why fad diets for New Year’s Resolutions’ health goals don’t just fail, but can be detrimental to your health, and some ideas of what you should do instead. I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, or feedback!
Wishing you health, happiness, and self-love,
-Ricci-Lee Hotz, MS, RDN
Denver’s Dancing Dietitian
A Taste of Health, LLC
“Improving Quality of life one bite at a time”