Frustrations With Fad Diets

If you want to see steam come out of my ears, start talking about a fad diet that’s circulating on the internet and in your friend circles. What is a fad diet? A fad diet can simply be defined as a reducing diet that enjoys temporary popularity. Why do they drive me (and most other nutrition professionals) absolutely bonkers? Because they are not based on scientific evidence and they are usually not good for you! Furthermore, they make preposterous claims like, “These five foods are making you fat,” or “This food will help you lose ten pounds in ten days, guaranteed!” You know what my response is to that? Bullshit. Absolute bullhockey.

Some of the recent fads that made me laugh hysterically and fostered a strong urge to run for the hermitage:

  • Cotton Ball Diet: You guessed right—people were consuming cotton balls to keep themselves full and avoid calories. But take a wild stab at the effect that non-digestible objects have on your gastrointestinal system…
  • K-E (a.k.a. Feeding Tube) Diet: A doctor inserts a nasogastic tube and you get fed a high protein, low-calorie formula through the tube so you can rapidly lose weight. Added perks include getting to carry around a bag that contains the formula that is being dripped into your stomach over the course of 10 hours (very trendy, right?).
  • Paleo Diet: One concept that appears across the pro-Paleo literature is that our genes are still primed for a different time period—from 10 million years ago in the “stone age.” You may be thinking something similar to me—if they adapted to that time, why are these people thinking that our genes are not still adapting? Going paleo involves eating a diet low in carbohydrates and encourages cutting out grains—it essentially ends up looking similar to the Atkins (fad) diet.
  • Bulletproof Diet: Claims to be the foundation for the Bulletproof body and the Bulletproof mind: reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, etc. Looks like Paleo but better (not). The dogma includes encouraging consumption of bulletproof coffee made with special coffee beans and putting several tablespoons of butter in it. Delicious? I think not.
  • And there are so many more…

Rigid adherence to any extreme diet, be it paleo, fruitarian, atkins, or anything else, is usually never helpful or sustainable. Heck, there’s even evidence that the dietary guidelines are nearly impossible to meet. Instead it’s important to assess what your health goals are and shape your eating habits to meet those goals. For example, if you have high blood pressure then you might want to focus on lowering your salt intake. If you have an eating disorder, you have to prioritize your dietary goals and also work on handling situations that can trigger unhelpful eating situations.

That being said, it’s important to note that for many diseases and disorders there are evidence-based guidelines for their treatment. It’s verging on unethical to hand out advice that is not founded on science. Science-based practice should not be a practitioner’s personal choice—instead practice and clinical judgment need to be shaped by the evidence. Not the other way around. There is not sufficient evidence to support implementation of the paleo diet, and furthermore, what the paleo diet consists of is very fluid. I think this is mostly due to the fact that the lay media jumped on the diet and all of a sudden there are books by “experts” promoting it, but each with their own twist.

Finally, use your discretion when these fads and trends pop up. For example, if someone is telling you that heavy cream is a healthy fat—does its high saturated fat content jive with what you’ve heard before? Do you really think that putting butter in your coffee is going to make you smarter and help you lose weight? Look around at the environment and realize the effect that the surrounding situation has on your eating habits and your self-perception. We’re being hit on all sides by a relatively unhealthy, over-processed environment that is fast-paced and stressful, while also being expected to stay slim, beautiful, and young. I seriously doubt that our genes up and stopped adapting and that is the main reason we should stop eating grains and be pro-paleo. I truly believe that there is so much more at play than our genes—our bodies are remarkably resilient, and I think our guts are doing pretty freaking awesome digesting those grains, dairy, nuts, beans, and everything else we throw at it. So put on those thinking caps and don’t swallow everything you hear without critically evaluating it.

SIDENOTE #1: Eleese Cunningham wrote a brief report on the relevance of the Paleo diet to the modern age (source). Among other points, she points out the concerning trend of consuming raw milk. To put it bluntly, there’s a reason it’s pasteurized—harmful bacteria! “Minimal processing of milk by means of pasteurization kills Salmonella, Escherichia coli 0157, and Campylobacter that may be present in raw milk.”

See Also
woman preparing food

SIDENOTE #2: Y’all, I would like to point out again that Konner and Eaton postulate that our ancestors ate 70+ grams of fiber. Most people don’t get any more than 10-20, while the recommendations are 25g for women and 38g for men. There would be some SERIOUS gastrointestinal distress if people started to eat that much fiber. I’m sure our little gut flora would adapt over time, but in the meantime we’d have some fun times on the royal throne. Just sayin’…

Check out this fad diet timeline that reviews fad diets from 1820–2012!

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Have you tried any fad diets? Tweet us @litdarling.

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