Why fad diets never work

Exercise and hydration are essential for good health, along with a balanced diet. Fad diets often ignore these factors.

If you think fad diets have been popping up left and right in the past two decades, you're right. The irony, of course, is that per their nature, fad diets come and go, it seems that the "fad" of having these diets has been hanging around for far too long.

In fact, one of the first known fad diets was the "vinegar and water" diet made popular in 1820 by Lord Byron. And in fact, the low-carbohydrate diet we associate with Atkins actually originated in 1825 in a piece called "The Physiology of Taste" by Jean Brillat-Savarin, and in 1863 was again popularized with Banting's Low Carbohydrate diet.

Here are some other interesting and – frankly – weird fad diets starting in the early 20th century:

  • 1903: Horace Fletcher introduces "fletcherizing," or chewing food 32 times
  • 1917: Counting calories is born in Lulu Hunt Peters' book on dieting and health
  • 1925: One cigarette brand promoted smoking when one had the urge to eat sweets in order to lose weight
  • 1930: Dr. Stoll's Diet Aid is the first liquid diet drink
  • 1934: The bananas and skim milk diet, which is unsurprisingly promoted by the United Fruit Company
  • 1950: The grapefruit (Hollywood) diet and cabbage soup diet are born
  • 1976: Sleeping Beauty Diet, whereby individuals remained heavily sedated for many days
  • 1981: Beverly Hills Diet involves eating only fruit – in unlimited quantities – for the first 10 days of the diet
  • 1985: Caveman diet emerges as the first incarnation of the Paleo diet
  • 1986: Rotation diet means eating a different number of calories each week
  • 1994: Dr. Atkins' ever-present high protein, low carbohydrate diet is introduced
  • 1996: The blood type diet first emerges, which involves eating particular foods based on your blood type
  • 1999: Juicing, fasting and detoxification are promoted
  • 2006: Maple syrup diet, with a syrup and lemon drink
  • 2008: Banana diet, with room temperature water and a banana for breakfast
  • 2010: Baby food diet – 14 jars of baby food per day, with an optional normal adult dinner

Why fad diets never work

Though many use compelling language and ideas, most nutritionists and experts agree that fad diets just don't work. In fact, many can be downright dangerous. Here's why:

  • They often restrict consumption of a particular type of food that is essential to nutrition, and over-promote others, meaning your diet is lacking in essential nutrients. This can have negative effects on immune health.
  • Most fad diets operate by severely restricting calories. This causes your body to shut down and the metabolism to slow in order to conserve energy and resources.
  • Fad diets are a temporary food plan. They are usually completely unsustainable for the long term. Additionally, they can complicate one's relationship with food, taking all of the pleasure out of eating.
  • If you do not get enough protein from your diet, you can have muscle loss, low energy and hair loss.
  • Fad diets can interfere with one's metabolism because of their strict schedules.

How to spot a fad diet

There are many characteristics in common between fad diets, including:

  • Not recommending or including physical activity in the diet plan.
  • Encouraging unlimited consumption of particular foods.
  • Severely limiting carbohydrates or fat to unhealthy levels.
  • Promising rapid weight loss – more than 2 pounds per week, which is both unhealthy and unrealistic.
  • Promising a quick fix, like taking a pill, which requires little effort.
  • Requiring the purchase of a particular product.
  • Avoiding the mention of portion control.
  • The combination of particular foods in each meal.
  • It sounds too good to be true.

A balanced and healthy eating plan, complemented by daily cardio exercise, is always the best way to manage your weight and be healthy. If you have questions, contact your doctor, who can help you plan or refer you to a registered dietician.

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