Fab beyond fads

Why your new fad diet can be more problematic than helpful

Food for thought if you are using food fads as a flex to fulfil your social goals

10 Feb 2023
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Why your new fad diet can be more problematic than helpful

You might’ve heard of the following diet trends in the last few years – keto, gluten-free, high-carb-low-fat, plant-based, raw-till-4, frugivore, carnivore. Many fad diets have become increasingly popular as people look for quick solutions to weight management or health improvement.

However, these diets oftentimes are ineffective at best, or outright dangerous at worst. Before you jump on the trend thinking that these diets will deliver on their promises, you may want to understand the potential risks that they may bring.

Fad diets may be ineffective

Unsustainable in the long-term

If you’re trying out a fad diet because you want to lose a few kilograms, you should know that many of these diets offer only temporary solutions. You may notice some weight loss when you are on the diet, but the weight will come back once you stop.

But staying on the diet for the long-term may not be possible either, both for your wallet and your health. Some diets may advocate for special types of food or supplements that would cost more than your average grocery staples. Additionally, some diets are highly restrictive and exclude certain food groups, which may result in nutritional deficiencies.

Lack of scientific evidence

Many fad diets are based solely on anecdotal evidence and personal opinions, and not actually substantiated by sound scientific research and evidence. In some cases, it may be a misinterpretation of scientific research too. Without adequate scientific research, there is not enough evidence to support a diet’s safety and effectiveness.

Fad diets may be dangerous

Nutritional deficiencies

Most fad diets have 1 thing in common – they are highly restrictive, whether in calories or by excluding entire food groups altogether.

Extreme diets like the carnivore diet pretty much excludes all fruits and vegetables, as well as grains and legumes. Not only can this be very expensive in the long run (produce and grains tend to be more affordable in the grocery store), but you will also be losing out on fibre-rich foods and the essential minerals that these food groups contain. Certain nutritional deficiencies show up as symptoms of fatigue, decreased immunity and hair loss, which signal a negative effect on your overall health.

Mental health harm

Fad diets and extreme dieting may trigger obsessive thoughts and behaviours around food, due to the restrictive nature of these diets. Negative emotions like stress, anxiety, guilt, and shame could lead into disordered eating patterns, or a full-blown eating disorder.

Orthorexia nervosa is a less commonly known eating disorder characterised by an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Sufferers of this condition are obsessed with only eating “pure” or “clean” food, to the extent of their daily life and well-being being negatively affected by these thoughts and behaviours.

If fad diets are not the answer, then what is?

The bad news is that there is no hidden secret, diet, or superfood that will solve all your health and nutritional concerns in a snap. The good news is that the commonly recommended advice is easily accessible to most of us, as long as we make the effort to implement these lifestyle changes.

Active lifestyle

Many of us lead very sedentary lifestyles, with jobs that require us to work behind a desk for most of the working day. We have to be more intentional in bringing back movement and exercise into our daily lives. Too much sitting and not enough moving lowers our metabolism and could result in quicker weight gain. It has also been linked to a considerably increased risk of heart attack and stroke!

We don’t all have to sign up for intense workout classes five times a week to stay active – incorporating something as simple as an evening walk after dinner is sufficient and far more doable for most of us.

Balanced diet

As for your diet, focus not on restriction, but balance. You can achieve a more balanced diet by getting a variety of foods on your plate, such as fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, lean protein, and healthy fats. A balanced diet can provide most of the essential nutrients that your body needs to function properly.

The Health Promotion Board introduced My Healthy Plate, which is an easy and accessible framework for planning healthy and balanced meals without counting calories or restricting food groups.

Consult a registered dietician

If you have any underlying health conditions or particular nutritional concerns, it would be immensely beneficial for you to consult a registered dietician. A registered dietician will be able to provide reliable nutrition advice that is unique and tailored to your needs.

Why fad diets remain appealing to us

Every few months there will always be a new diet promising a healthier way to eat, a more effective way to lose weight, or a faster way to build muscle. Fad diets continue to appeal to us because they promise a quick fix, a miracle cure to whatever health issues we are facing. Sometimes, they offer a solution to something we didn’t even know was a problem, such as diets promoting “gut health”.

A lack of knowledge about nutrition may also make us more susceptible to the marketing claims of these diets. By educating ourselves with information from reliable sources (i.e. your dietician, medical associations, scientific journals), we can improve our health and nutrition much more sustainably and safely than by following fad diets.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services.


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