Most people know that quick fix diets are not effective, yet often still look for the next best approach. There are countless diet programs out there, each claiming they are the best, quickest, etc. Keep in mind diets can be disguised as many different things, but generally they fall under the following categories. Here are our thoughts on them.
Despite carbohydrates being our primary source of energy for our brain and our cells to function, one of the most common diets out there is the type that demonizes this essential macronutrient. This type of diet is on a pendulum- in some diets carbohydrates might be restricted (ie. the Atkin’s Diet) while in others the carb intake is so low that the body is forced to use ketones for energy (ie. the Ketogenic Diet). Regardless of the specific diet, you are encouraged to cut out a spectrum of nutrient dense, high fibre foods (grains, dairy, fruit, starchy vegetables and pulses) for the trade-off of short-term weight loss, which is most likely water weight and potentially lean muscle mass depending on the length of time the diet is followed. If you are considering this type of diet with all of the hype it’s been getting, ask yourself if it’s something you can realistically do the rest of your life. Most likely, the answer is no.
Most people believe that the equation for weight loss is to increase energy expenditure and decrease energy intake, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. To name a few, genetics, socio-economic factors, stress and even our body’s efforts to keep us alive are all important factors to consider. Restricting calories overall forces the brain and the body into starvation mode. Ultimately, your body doesn’t know the difference between a famine and a diet. Given that your body isn’t getting what it needs to function, cravings will be high and your body will encourage you to scavenge for food, pulling you out of this diet. When the body is exposed to a higher number of calories, it wants to store to protect you against the next ‘famine’ or in reality, the next diet. This usually results in weight cycling, which has been associated with higher risk of health issues long term.
Supplement/Single Food Focused
The best way to describe this trend is that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Examples of this type of diet include the cabbage soup diet or a no added sugars diet. To put this diet into perspective, no one food can add or take away from your health, period. Focusing on a single supplement or a single food to support your health just doesn’t make sense, because we know that health is multifactorial. What you decide to put in your body is truly just one piece of the puzzle. This type of diet will yield similar results to those previously discussed: most likely short-term weight loss due to the fact that you are purposely restricting something or are over-consuming a low-calorie food, like cabbage. You will probably be extremely hungry, as your body most likely won’t be getting what it needs. An important point to bring up here is that so much focus is placed on physical health, and very little focus is placed on mental health. Conscious restriction or rules around what you can and cannot eat can have a much bigger influence on your health than whether or not you do or don’t eat a certain food.
From the era of the master cleanse to the ever so popular detox tea market, most of these diets claim to improve bowel health, boost energy and immunity, remove toxins from the body and of course initiate weight loss. I’m sure you aren’t surprised, but there is little evidence available that supports the idea of cleansing. Unless you have a health condition, your intestine, lungs, liver and kidneys are designed to remove waste from your body every day. You simply don’t need a cleanse or detox to do that. These diets may include some form of a laxative, fasting altogether or following a restrictive diet, and/or taking in large volumes or juice or fluids- which may be unsafe, especially when followed for longer periods of time. This is a perfect example where someone swings from one end of the pendulum to the other. Instead of relying on a detox or a cleanse, work on incorporating small changes into your everyday and you probably won’t feel the need to drink juice for x number of days or take a laxative to feel good.
The reason intermittent fasting (IF) has become so popular is because it claims to help people lose weight quicker, which seems to be a goal for most people now days. However, there is currently no research that supports this idea. Individuals who try out intermittent fasting may restrict through alternate day fasting (ADF) or time restricted fasting (TRF). Simply put, I believe that IF doesn’t teach an individual anything about health or listening to their body. The only guidelines are around timing, and not about how you are treating your body during those times. A common complaint among human based studies was high levels of hunger. Basically, this type of diet encourages you to ignore your hunger and fullness cues, which could damage someone’s relationship with food and their body over time. There is a high dropout rate among IF studies, probably due to the fact that its extremely restrictive. It’s important to remember that although we eat to fuel our bodies, food is also meant to be enjoyed and celebrated. Thinking about how these diets would impact your social interactions is essential.
Aside from the fact that there is minimal research on these diets that supports sustainable weight loss past 1 year, the best thing you can do is reflect on why you feel that you need to change your body size. Keep in mind that in a lot of cases, shrinking your body through some type of restrictive diet and overall health are not the same thing. Remember that partaking in any type of diet can lead to negative health outcomes, not only physically, but mentally as well. Think about whether your goals are purely to change your body size, or to improve your health and well being.
Revive Wellness is a team of passionate and evidence-based Registered Dietitians specialized in nutrition and wellness coaching for the Edmonton area.