Written by Victoria Laios (APD)
Today’s society is obsessed with weight loss – people want a quick fix solution, in order to lose those extra kilos. As a Dietitian, I have witnessed first-hand many of my clients’ ongoing struggles with their weight. Not only does it affect someone’s physical health, but also their mental and emotional well-being. Fad diets are being strongly perpetuated in the media – they particularly target vulnerable people, who have tried multiple interventions and have not yet seen changes. How do we combat this issue? In particular, how can we make people see fad diets for what they really are?
So what is a fad diet?
A fad diet is one that :
- Promises fast weight loss without any scientific basis.
- Often eliminates core food groups and does not provide a wide range of important nutrients.
- May provide short-term results, however is difficult to sustain in the longer term.
Fad diets are not recommended for a variety of health related reasons. The initial weight loss in a fad diet is mostly water and lean muscle . When food intake is reduced, the body breaks down muscle instead of fat to meet its energy needs. Breaking down muscle is not ideal because it slows down a person’s metabolic rate – when the diet is stopped, the body can regain fat at a quicker rate . Let’s not also forget that these diets can promote unhealthy eating behaviours – people are at great risk of developing negative relationships with food (click here to read more about the Dieting Epidemic).
Popular trending diets
Whilst there are many fad diets widely available, here are some popular ones trending within the media:
The Paleo Diet is based around the types of foods, presumed to have been eaten by early humans. It primarily consists of meat, fish, vegetables, fruits and nuts. The diet excludes dairy, grain products, legumes and processed foods .
The evidence – some studies have reported beneficial effects on blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides when following a Paleo Diet . However, these studies are poor quality and findings were not independent of weight loss . Many people also dropped out of the studies, claiming that the diet was difficult to adhere to . Therefore, there is currently no strong evidence to support the use of a Paleo Diet for weight loss and disease prevention.
Main Concerns – following a Paleo Diet is not recommended for the following reasons :
- Eliminates dairy, legumes and grains – these foods provide us with beneficial nutrients and have a satiating affect. Excluding these foods from our diet can result in nutritional deficiencies including Calcium, Vitamin D, Protein and B Vitamins.
- Excludes carbohydrates, which are a primary energy source for our bodies– carbohydrates contain important vitamins and minerals, assist with weight management and keep our digestive system healthy.
- Promotes saturated fat containing foods such as butter and coconut oil – these foods are harmful to health and can increase our risk of heart disease.
- Too much consumption of meat products can be problematic – fatty off cuts and processed meats are linked with higher rates of colon cancer.
The 5:2 Diet
The 5:2 Diet (also known as “intermittent fasting”) involves eating normally for five days a week then restricting your caloric intake on the remaining two days, to 500 calories (2,000kJ) for women and 600 calories (2,400kJ) for men .Developed by Dr Michael Mosely, many people believe that the 5:2 Diet is an effective solution to weight loss and improving overall health .
The Evidence – recent findings from Austin Health and Melbourne University indicate that the 5:2 fasting diet works. However, it is no better than a standard reduced kilojoule diet . The study found that both diets resulted in an average weight loss of 5.3-5.5kg, over a 6 month period . Participants following the 5:2 diet reported feeling hungrier within the early stages. However, weight loss slowed down at the 3 month period for both diets . Therefore, lifestyle interventions need to be sustainable to achieve long-term weight loss success.
Main concerns– despite there being weight loss benefits with “intermittent fasting”, the 5:2 diet is not recommended as it :
- Only provides a short-term solution to weight loss and is difficult to adhere to – people are likely to revert back to old dieting habits and regain the weight.
- Very restrictive in nature – food intake is limited to 500-600 calories on the two fasting days. This can impact people’s energy levels and ability to carry out daily activities such as driving, working and exercising.
- Not suitable for children, pregnant women or people with diabetes – intermittent fasting can increase the risk of hypoglycaemia or low blood glucose levels.
- There is no definition around “eating normally” – on the five days, food intake is unlimited meaning that people can overindulge or binge-eat.
Lemon Detox Diet
The Lemon Detox diet is a 10-14 day cleansing program, which involves consuming six to nine glasses each day of a lemon detox drink – this mix consists of syrup, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and water . In addition, the diet includes a sea salt drink in the morning and laxative senna tea in the evening . It is designed to be a low-kilojoule diet that claims to cleanse your body naturally of toxins, whilst providing rapid weight loss .
The Evidence – this diet is taking the world by storm and is particularly popular amongst young women. However, the diets principle of following a detox plan to help our body eliminate toxins is not supported by medical science . The human body has its own detoxing system – our lungs, liver, kidneys, immune system and gastrointestinal tract all play a role in removing and neutralising body toxins .
Main concerns – the Dietitians’ Association of Australia have rated the Lemon Detox Diet as the worst fad diet going around. Here are some main concerns of the diet [5, 6]:
- It is very low in energy and deprives the body of essential nutrients – the body goes into starvation mode, and carbohydrate stores in the muscle and liver become depleted.
- Weight loss is unsustainable in the long-term – weight lost as part of the diet is fluid and carbohydrate. When the diet is finished, the weight is likely to be regained once normal eating is recommenced.
- During the detox period, no foods are allowed to be eaten and it is recommended that exercise should be avoided.
- Can experience symptoms of – tiredness, lack of energy, persistent hunger and stomach/bowel upsets.
As you can see, there are lots of misinformation on the internet around dieting and effective weight loss. Remember that weight loss is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach, unlike protested in fad diets. Effective weight loss begins with general healthy eating, moderation of those “sometimes” treat foods and also regular exercise.
So the next time you consider “dieting” “detoxing” or “cleansing”, please seek expert advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian. Our Accredited Practising Dietitians’ at Eat for Wellness can provide you with a more individually tailored approach, and assist you to achieve your weight loss goals.
- Dietitians’ Association of Australia. Fad Diets. [internet page]. [cited 2016 Jun 3rd]. Available: http://daa.asn.au/for-the-public/smart-eating-for-you/nutrition-a-z/fad-diets/
- Dietitians’ Association of Australia. Paleo Diet. [internet page]. [cited 2016 Jun 3rd]. Available: http://daa.asn.au/for-the-public/smart-eating-for-you/nutrition-a-z/paleo-diet/part-1-the-paleo-diet-what-is-it/
- Mosely, M & Spencer, M. The 5:2 fast diet [homepage on internet]. [updated 2016]; [cited 2016 Jun 3rd]. Available: https://thefastdiet.co.uk/
- Dietitians’ Association of Australia. Media Release: The battle of the diets – 5:2 or reduced kilojoule? 2016. May 20th.
- Health Direct. Diet Reviews – Lemon Detox Diet [internet page]. [cited 2016 Jun 4th]. Available: http://www.healthdirect.gov.au/diet-reviews
- Crowe, T. Thinking Nutrition – Thinking of detoxing? Time to think again. [internet page]. [updated 2012 Oct 11th]: [cited 2016 Jun 4th]. Available from: http://www.thinkingnutrition.com.au/time-to-rethink-detoxing/