Danger Diets

People are always on the lookout for the next revolutionary diet: an easy way to lose weight fast. But experts say these fad diets don’t work in the long-term.

Sarah Yandow, campus dietitian at SUNY Plattsburgh said that quick-fix diets are unsustainable. Dieters start by losing water weight and usually gain it all back and then some.

“A lot of them aren’t backed by scientific research and a lot of times you’re eliminating an entire food group or you’re cutting calories very drastically. There might be a period of fasting, and sometimes they encourage you to purchase expensive supplements or detox teas,” Yandow said. 

“These are all very unnatural ways to go about weight loss and they can, and usually will, result in weight loss, but it’s a very short-term, unhealthy way to lose weight.” 

The word diet has taken on a negative connotation since “fad” diets came around in the early 2000s. The term diet can be defined as everything a person eats; however, diet is now associated with the drastic lifestyle changes people make in order to lose weight.

Fad dieters heavily focus on their intake of calories and lose the idea of which calories are bad or good as well. Although it is important to be mindful of how many calories are consumed within a day, calories is a measurement of how much energy can be gained from eating food.

One of the most popular diets is the Ketogenic, or Keto, diet. This diet was designed by Dr. Russell Wilder in 1923. Wilder originally came up with the idea for this diet as a treatment plan for people prone to seizures, or those who have epilepsy. This diet has also been proven to help neurological diseases like Alzheimers, Parkinson’s disease and autism spectrum disorder.

Photo by Total Shape on Unsplash.

In a study conducted by George Calhill, it was observed that the keto diet can promote higher metabolic efficiency. However, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition proves that the effects from this diet vary greatly from person to person, therefore, making the Keto diet inconsistent in weight loss. 

Another popular diet that peaked in the early 2000s was the paleolithic or paleo diet. Introduced in 1985 by Melvin Konner and Boyd Eaton, this diet is based upon eating foods that were only available during the stone age.

This diet claimed that it was capable of treating various diseases, including: obesity, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. This diet restricts the intake of processed foods, dairy and legumes and allows the free consumption of lean meats, non-starchy vegetables and fruits.         

Based upon a study conducted by the International Journal of Exercise Science, there have been signs of significant weight loss within the first 10-12 weeks. This is from a loss of water weight as a  result of the low amount of carbohydrates being consumed. 

Most studies about the Paleo diet are based on short term cases but one study, performed by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, followed patients for two years. The results from this were weight loss and reduction of waist circumference, but the effects were much greater at six months rather than 24 months, proving that the effects of this diet are short term. 

This diet is not only expensive to maintain, there have also been adverse health effects related to the lack of whole grains and dairy products. It has been proven that the lack of these certain food groups leads to micronutrient deficiency as well as leaving dieters with less than 50% of needed calcium per day.

A diet that has gained much more popularity recently is intermittent fasting. This diet revolves around scheduled eating rather than more traditional diets that focus on calorie intake. People following this diet go through a period of little to no food consumption followed by a short period of regularly scheduled meals.

There are several different types of intermittent fasting, including: periodic fasting, which involves fasting for two days then eating regularly for five days; alternate day fasting, in which the dieter eats normally every other day; and time restricted eating, which allows the dieter to eat within an eight-hour window every day.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology that followed dieters who participated in alternate day fasting for 15 days reported no change in weight, and very little after 22 days. In a different study published by the British Journal of Nutrition, it was observed that there were changes in weight in participants in certain variants of intermittent fasting.

A short-term study found in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism, expressed concerns for possible long-term health issues that coincide with long periods of fasting such as an increase in free fatty acids, a decrease in insulin sensitivity and acute glucose-stimulated insulin response.       

One of the most well-known fad diets is the detox diet. Diets and regiments involving removing unnecessary toxins from the body date back to Greek, Roman and Native American cultures. These diets can include intermittent fasting, juice cleanses and calorie restrictions. 

Detox diets are most associated with fad dieting because these are the diets that claim the user can lose significant weight in short periods of time by following a crazy regiment or buying a certain product. These diets have increased the market for commercially sold diet solutions. 

Juice diets are one of the most popular detox diet methods. Photo by PLANT on Unsplash.

In a study published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, detox diets ultimately fail to get rid of the toxins within the body. Almost all ignore the science behind the body and what is necessary to detox. The human body naturally expels toxins through our sweat, therefore, there is no dire need to take up one of these diets. 

Since commercially sold detox diets are relatively new, there are few reliable studies released on the long-term effects of detox diets. Although, a study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, shows as little as 20% of dieters successfully complete the full length diet and even then, weight loss has been found to be short-term. 

These diets are unsustainable and leave the dieter lacking vital nutrients which can lead to serious health problems. The government does not regulate the ingredients in commercial detox diets which can lead to the consumption of harmful ingredients. 

Instead of trying to find a quick solution to a lifelong problem, it is suggested to find sustainable healthy alternatives. Having balanced plates that incorporate healthy amounts of every food group including fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy has been proven to lead to long term healthier lifestyles. 

SUNY Plattsburgh’s Professor of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences Dr. Andreas Stamatis expressed the idea that not everyone’s the same so those looking to lose weight should be wary of such diets. Fad diets are all over social media with “experts” giving quick fixes, and that’s why they have become so popular, but if one is serious about losing weight it is best to consult a medical professional about diets that promote gradual and sustainable weight loss.

Exercise is important in maintaining healthy weight loss. Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

A person’s daily diet changes based upon their specific needs, but a great place to start research on healthy diets and weight loss is at My Plate, a program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  

Therefore, it may be time for fad diets and diet culture to take a step back. The healthiest way to achieve long term weight loss and a more sustainable lifestyle would be to eat the right amounts of nutritious food that provides long lasting energy, combined with regular exercise.

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