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.