Fad Diets: Potential Dangers & Alternatives

Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Ever think that a miracle diet sounds too good to be true? Well, it probably is. In this lesson, we'll take a look at the potential dangers of fad diets, and what to do instead to lose weight the healthy way.

Fad Diets

Heloise wants to lose weight, but she's not sure how to do it. She hears about different diets all the time: the grapefruit diet, liquid-only diet, part-time fasting, low-carb/high-protein, high-carb/low-fat… But which is correct? There's a lot of information out there, and Heloise is confused!

Heloise is running into a problem with fad diets, which are diets that promise rapid weight loss. Fad diets are so-called because they often become popular for a while and may go in and out of vogue over time. However, they're usually based on dietary restrictions that are either unhealthy or not supported by nutritional science.

How can Heloise know whether something is a fad diet? Well, they usually sound too good to be true. If she ever hears that the pounds would melt away, if only she'd do just one thing, she should be skeptical.

To help Heloise understand weight loss and fad diets better, let's look at the potential dangers of fad diets and what she should do instead of jumping on the latest diet bandwagon.

Dangers

Heloise isn't sure why fad diets are bad. After all, if it helps her lose weight, who cares if it's a fad?

There are some problems with fad diets, though. For one thing, fad diets usually don't provide long-term weight loss. Even if Heloise loses a few pounds on a fad diet, she'll more than likely gain the weight back as soon as she goes off of it. In part, this is because fad diets often severely restrict calories, and also because most weight lost on fad diets is water weight.

In addition, some fad diets can increase a person's risk for certain chronic diseases and disorders. Depending on the diet, it might reduce or eliminate nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables, which help fight off chronic conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure. If Heloise is on one of those diets, she might find out that she's lowering her body's ability to fight off chronic diseases.

Another issue with some fad diets involves ketosis, which is the normal state of using fat instead of carbs for fuel. It's perfectly normal for a person to enter ketosis, during which ketones are released into the blood. However, with prolonged ketosis (which can occur on some diets), ketones can build up the blood. This can cause dehydration and, in severe cases, can complicate diabetes. (It's not likely that prolonged ketosis will lead to diabetes, but if people already have diabetes, it can complicate their condition.)

Finally, fad diets can cause a person's metabolism to slow down and other vital functions to be compromised. These are signs of starvation, and if calories on a fad diet are too severely restricted, the body can go into starvation mode. That's not good!

Alternatives

Bearing all the potential dangers of fad diets in mind, Heloise is better off avoiding them. But what should she do instead?

First of all, she should involve her doctor in her weight loss. Doctors know their patients and can help them choose a healthy eating plan and realistic weight loss goals. They can also make sure that a patient's diet plan isn't likely to cause problems with existing conditions.

Heloise should also shoot for slow, steady weight loss. Depending on her size, it's likely that she won't want to lose more than two pounds a week, and she might want to lose far less than that. People who lose weight slowly are more likely to keep the weight off long-term, so that's the best option.

It's also important for Heloise to eat a variety of foods to cover nutritional bases. Any diet that eliminates important food categories (like carbs or fat) is not likely to lead to good health. Instead, focusing on getting lots of fresh produce, healthy fats, and lean proteins can help Heloise make sure she's eating healthy.

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