What You Should Know About the Long Term Effects of Fad Diets

Fad diets: there’s a chance you’ve tried at least one. They’re the diets that rise to quick popularity based on the promise of fast weight loss. And they’re usually created by someone with no medical background. We see them all over – from TV commercials offering huge losses or websites and social media posts touting the benefits of easy weight loss. The problem is, they’re not usually sustainable over time and can have some negative effects.

“One of the hallmarks of the fad diet is cutting out entire food groups,” said Rebecca Bradley, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, the Clinical Nutrition Manager at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. Atkins cuts out carbs, Paleo diets omit dairy, and there are plenty of other examples.

Fad diets can offer an easy way to think about dieting – ‘If it’s dairy, I won’t eat it’ – but it hinders your body’s ability to get balance from food. In the short term, you might lose weight, but in the long term, you could strain your organs and muscles because they’re not getting all the right nutrients. For example, high protein diets can lead to dehydration and eventually gallstones or kidney stones – definitely not one of the features they talk about in the ads.

Time-stamping is another feature that’s often seen in these fad diets.

“If it has a preset timeline, it’s probably not built for the long run,” Bradley said.

It’s fine to do Whole 30 for a month; it can help you understand what you’re eating and what you’re cutting out. But once that month is over, many find themselves slipping back into old habits and regaining weight they had lost.

Yo-yoing weight loss can have a big impact on your health. Say, for instance, that you cut a load of calories and shed a handful of pounds. Great, right? Well, not always. Some of the weight you’re losing is likely muscle mass. However, if you subsequently gain that weight back, there’s a good chance you’re adding back fat, not replacing the muscle you lost. Over a few cycles, this can mean you’re essentially dieting away your muscles and then packing on fat, leading to less energy and strength and potentially slower results in future diets.

Physical side effects aren’t the only problem. “People very often equate what they eat with morality,” Bradley said. “If they ate something that wasn’t in their plan, they think they’re a bad person.”

Emotions play a big part in why we eat and how we eat, but when those emotions turn negative, it starts to affect how we think about ourselves. If you had ice cream, you’re not a bad person. But all too often people begin to stress themselves out about their perceived weaknesses or underlying faults which can lead to – you guessed it – more stress eating, making the process even harder.

What you need is a diet that is sustainable. Know what you’re eating, learn when you have cravings and plan full meals that incorporate the nutrients you need.

“Look for diet planning support that doesn’t charge for information,” Bradley said. “Websites ending in .org or .edu tend to be a good place to start.”

Work with your Lahey Health physician to make lifestyle changes that work for you.


*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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