When you want to lose weight or be healthier, finding the perfect diet plan can be daunting. Here’s what you need to know about fad diets.
By Kristen Smith, Contributing Writer
When does the urge strike for you? New Year’s Day? Late spring? Before your high school reunion? After having a baby?
Whenever it happens, one thing is certain: finding the right diet when you want to lose weight or be healthier can seem like a huge decision.
There are so many options out there, each claiming to have the answer you need. Paleo/primal, vegetarian, Mediterranean, vegan, THM, Whole30, South Beach, blood type, WAPF… the list goes on and on!
Talk about confusing.
But if you want to lose weight, or simply want to improve your eating habits to feel healthier, I have a secret for you that might just make the whole diet decision a little easier.
They’re all likely to give you the same results.
Say what? Yep. It really doesn’t matter what you choose.
A Little Help from the Research
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Back in 2013, two nutrition and weight loss experts published an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), summarizing the findings of multiple studies and meta analyses (research studies that compare the findings of many other studies) and commenting on them.
Their goal? To put an end to the diet debates. Because if anything is clear so far in the research, it’s that no diet is superior to another.
As much as different diet creators might disagree, there’s no evidence that any one diet will bring significantly greater weight loss results than another.
One of the authors published a follow-up on her own blog and quickly shared the numbers from the diet comparisons. When various fad diets were put head-to-head, there was either no difference in weight loss or a difference by a couple of pounds.
There really is no magic formula.
What Fad Diets Can and Can’t Do
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You might be wondering what exactly makes an eating plan a fad diet, and the definition is somewhat wiggly.
Fad diets tend to be restrictive, eliminating some healthy, natural foods entirely, like grains, animal products, or specific foods. They are typically based off of a book that claims to have the answers for your dietary woes and gives you a plan and framework to follow. Sometimes they’re promoted by a person with influence. And they typically have a name that distinguishes them from other ways of eating.
(To be clear: eliminating certain foods from your diet because of allergies or intolerances is not a fad diet. It’s listening to your body and honoring its needs.)
Fad diets aren’t necessarily bad. You just may not need one at all.
Here’s the thing: there is no one diet plan that will work for everyone. The diet that will work for you is the one you can actually stick to and enjoy for the rest of your life.
The researchers mentioned above found through their studies that the best weight loss results are experienced when people stay on their plan long term, even when the plans are as different as Paleo (lots of animal products) and vegan (no animal products at all).
They all have the potential to help you reach your goals and make peace with your body.
So it isn’t really which plan you follow. It’s how long you stick to it.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is a lot of money to be made by coming out with the next best fad diet. Approaching fad diets with a little bit of skepticism isn’t always a bad idea, either.
How to Decide What to Eat
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You might feel relieved to know that the diet plan you choose doesn’t matter so much as how faithfully you stick to it. Unfortunately, it might also feel a little difficult to decide what exactly to eat if no perfect plan exists.
As an herbalist, I like to keep it simple and encourage people to stick with whole foods (you know, the unprocessed kind found along the outside edges of the grocery store) that you enjoy. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, both raw and freshly cooked. Try eating some fish and beans. Drink water instead of soda, and keep the sugar and white flour at a minimum.
And mostly? Don’t stress. Food should be a friend that’s enjoyed, not an enemy to be feared.
Oh, and there’s always room for chocolate cake. Always.
But what if you happen to follow a fad diet and you are happily seeing the results you want from it? Awesome! That means you’ve found the eating plan that you enjoy and can follow longterm. You’ve got your sweet spot, and as long as no health issues arise from your diet choice, there’s no need to change course.
Finally, if you think that a more restrictive diet would be right for you, like one that eliminates grains or animal products, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about it. Some health conditions don’t do well on certain diets, and if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s really important that you get all of the healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates that you and your baby need.
Don’t worry about finding that perfect diet, momma friends. Just find the one that works for you.
Great article Kristen, very informative and encouraging. Thanks for sharing.
So glad you found it encouraging, Cathy!
Amen and amen! I would mention that if you think you have an intolerance or allergy to check that past your doctor as well. Just because you cut something out for a while and end up with an upset stomach when you add it back does not mean you have a real intolerance. I live in East Asia and whenever we first get back to the States we end up with digestive complaints when we eat cheese. We aren’t cheese intolerant, per say, our bodies just have to get used to it again. After a month or so we are fine. Allergy and intolerance diets have become a fad as well. Make sure you are dealing with the real thing before you cut out something nutritious.
I find that extremely interesting, especially since I’d always heard Asians generally don’t tolerate dairy well. That’s a striking example on how the environment influences our gut flora (and therefore our overall health).
What about alcohol? Do you experience similar things?
I hadn’t really thought of the external (Asia) environment influencing us as much as just our internal (not eating cheese) environment changing things. I wonder if the external environment has anything to do with it. I’ll have to ask some of my Asian friends living in the States if they have better dairy tolerance there. Alcohol intolerance seems to be a genetic thing. I don’t drink, but the few times I’ve had a glass of wine for medicinal purposes I’ve not had the same alcohol-intolerance symptoms that are common in Asians. My non-Asian friends that do drink don’t seem to develop problems once they come to Asia.
“For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:4-5)
By the way, the Mediterranean diet is not a fad; we’ve been eating like that (more or less) for thousands of years, and I’m certainly thankful to have grown up in a place with this sort of eating standards.
Having said that (and in agreement with the post), I’d say that we all have different nutritional needs according to geographical location and physical demands. I’m all for healthy traditional eating, but I wouldn’t dream of walking up to some Inuit one day and say “Hey peeps, get a load of this tomato and olive oil salad and live on it for the rest of the summer”, the same as one wouldn’t think of going to the Tuareg and try shoving some Yorkshire pudding down their throats!
Actually, I’m thinking both would be fun experiments.