How to know which diets work and which are fads

In 2020, the U.S. diet market was worth a whopping $71 billion, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. With so many options and differing opinions about what constitutes a healthy diet, it can feel overwhelming to break down all the information and decide what will work for you.

A fad diet is a trendy weight-loss plan that often promises dramatic results in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, they rarely deliver on their promises and can actually lead to weight gain over time. What’s more, fad diets can be dangerous to your health. There are things to look out for as you research diets that will work for you to help determine if it’s a fad or if the diet is one that will lead to healthy weight loss over a period of time.

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How to spot a fad diet

Fad diets almost always claim that you will lose weight very quickly (more than 1 or 2 pounds a week) and that you can lose weight without exercise. Fad diets commonly limit certain foods or food groups that contain carbs or fat or claim you need to eat certain foods combinations, which make it impossible to eat a balanced diet.

These diets also sucker people in by using before-and-after photos of people who claim to have lost large amounts of weight on the diet instead of spending time on the mechanics of why the diet works, backed up by doctors or registered nutritionists. If you think about these diets, it would be hard (read: Impossible) to stick to them for any length of time. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Why are they so bad?

Depriving your body of certain foods can lead to lost nutrients, hormone imbalance, and a reliance on only certain food groups that can lead to other health issues like high cholesterol.

What’s more, diets like Keto, Whole30, and Atkins, while they do offer weight loss, are nearly impossible to sustain over a long period of time. Your body needs a variety of foods in order to maintain healthy functioning. Eventually, when you fall off the diet, you may end up actually eating more of the foods you were trying to avoid because you’ll crave them.

Fad diets can lead to yo-yo dieting and an ongoing restrict-binge cycle over time, which can cause weight gain and feelings of failure or guilt when you aren’t successful. The truth is you were never set up for success in the first place.

balanced diet foods
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What should you do instead?

The key to losing weight is burning more calories than you consume. Find a diet that’s full of healthy proteins like chicken, fish, and lean meat coupled with fruits, vegetables, and limited saturated fats and sodium. Saturated and trans fats come from partially hydrogenated oils and can often be found in fried food and pre-packaged items.

Additionally, you should limit the amount of sugar in your diet. High-sugar foods (often found in convenience or pre-packaged food) are high in calories but low in nutrients, which end up not keeping you satisfied for long. Before you know it, you’ll be back at the fridge looking for something that fills you.

Finally, drinking plenty of water every day, watching your portion size (you can read nutrition labels to find a correct serving size), and moving your body every day will get you to a healthy weight that you can maintain.

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Give yourself grace

Losing weight is a commitment. It’s not something you should do without thoroughly researching what works best for your body and consulting with your primary care physician in advance. Pick something that offers variety in the foods you like and give yourself some grace, as there will be days you fall off the wagon or don’t do everything “perfectly.”

Understand that losing weight and getting healthy takes time. Fad diets may offer immediate weight loss, but because they aren’t easy to stick to, you’ll eventually gain the weight back, and that can lead to a lifetime of being on and off diets, which is no way to live. Fuel your body with good foods, exercise, get enough sleep, and drink water. Not only will you see the pounds melt away, but you’ll also know you’re doing something good for your overall health.

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