Marketing gimmicks trick people into trying out harmful fad diets: Dieticians

14 January,2024 09:20 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Aakanksha Ahire

In an attempt to achieve that slim and flat belly, we often fall prey to fad diets. Dieticians say they might do more harm than good. We explore why

While following a fad diet may lead to initial weight loss, most of these diets are not sustainable in the long term and can be detrimental to overall health.

Key Highlights

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Fad diets don't help. Dieticians and nutritionists have been saying this for far too long. Yet, social media, marketing gimmicks, and the obsession to look a certain way continue to trick many individuals who want to lose weight.

Following a fad diet or not, each one of us tries to follow a certain diet that helps us align with our fitness goals. However, not all of us succeed in achieving the desired results. We sat down with two nutrition and diet experts to gain relevant insights on the harmful effects following fad diets can have on our health and tips to adopt a healthy diet.

"Fad diets are temporary, trendy eating plans that often promise quick weight loss through specific food restrictions or exaggerated claims," says Vidhi Chawla, dietician, and founder of Fisico Diet and Aesthetic Clinic. She adds, "They are generally not considered a healthy or sustainable way to manage weight.

"Quick fixes seldom provide lasting results. While following a fad diet may lead to initial weight loss, most of these diets are not sustainable in the long term and can be detrimental to overall health," explains Tanya Mehra, certified child nutritionist, nutrition and yoga practitioner.

Misconceptions around fad diets
These days, looking for quick fixes is common across all factors in our lives. The same is true in the case of weight loss. Chawla says, "People are drawn to fad diets due to a combination of various factors. Some most common reasons include the promise of rapid results, societal pressure to look a certain way, and the allure of simplicity in adopting these methods."

Adding to this Mehra says, "Misinformation, social media influence, clever marketing gimmicks and the desire for a ‘magic bullet' to lose weight contribute to the appeal."

The appeal to lose weight in no time is so strong that most people often neglect the importance of sustainable practices. People believe that fad diets offer a quick and easy solution to weight loss. They also believe that cutting out entire food groups from a daily diet can yield benefits and that one-size-fits-all diets work for everyone. Many people also wrongly assume that rapid weight loss equals improved health and that fad diets offer long-term solutions.

People often overlook the importance of balanced nutrition and assume that extreme restrictions will lead to better results.

The ill effects of fad diets

There are many health risks associated with following fad diets. Chawla and Mehra list down the common ones:

1. Nutrient Deficiencies: As fad diets often require eliminating entire food groups of a specific kind, be it salt, fibre or carbs, they can cause an imbalance in nutrient intake that is important for optimal health. This can result in deficiencies of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

2. Muscle Loss: Weight loss caused due to fad diets often comes from water weight and muscle mass rather than fat loss. Losing muscle can negatively affect one's metabolism and overall strength and also cause fatigue.

3. Metabolic Changes: Fad diets also lead to low-calorie intake which can slow down the metabolism. Hence, when one chooses to go back to normal eating habits, the body may store more calories which can lead to rebound weight gain.

4. Disturbed Digestive System: Fad diets cause the body to make sudden and extreme changes in dietary or eating habits like excessive consumption of certain foods or severe restriction of other foods. This can give rise to multiple digestive problems.

5. Psychological Impact: Following a fad diet can cause deprivation and indulgence, leading to the development of an unhealthy relationship with food. As a result, one can experience feelings of guilt, and anxiety, and in some cases, few may also develop eating disorders.

Types of fad diets to avoid
There are quite some fad diets that have gained popularity among many weight loss enthusiasts. Experts say it is best to not follow them.

1. The Atkins Diet: This one is a low-carbohydrate diet high in saturated fats, low in fibre, and lacking essential nutrients.

2. The Lemonade Diet or Master Cleanse: A liquid-only diet, this one lacks crucial nutrients and leads to nutrient deficiencies. It mainly relies on a liquid diet of lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper.

3. The Cabbage Soup Diet: It involves consuming large quantities of cabbage soup and a specific list of other foods for seven days. This diet is severely restrictive and nutritionally inadequate, causing muscle loss and fatigue.

4. The Baby Food Diet: It involves incorporating baby food into an adult's daily eating routine. It requires one to substitute regular meals with baby food, leading to nutrient deficiencies.

5. The Blood Type Diet: As the name goes, it involves eating foods depending on your blood type. It lacks a scientific basis, and the food restrictions may lead to nutritional deficiencies.

6. The Tapeworm Diet: Extremely dangerous, this Involves ingesting tapeworms to reduce nutrient absorption. This diet poses serious health risks.

Difference between healthy and fad diets
"Diets that promote extreme restrictions, eliminate entire food groups, or lack scientific evidence should raise red flags," says Chawla.

Mehra seconds, "Diets that promise rapid, drastic weight loss, or lack essential nutrients are generally futile or harmful."

Healthy diets are characterised by balance, variety, and sustainability. It's crucial to choose a diet that aligns with individual health goals, promotes overall well-being, and is sustainable in the long run.

Sustainable weight management involves balanced nutrition, portion control, and regular physical activity.

Healthy diets safe to adopt
Both Chawla and Mehra approve these healthy diets:

1. Mediterranean Diet: Known to follow traditional eating habits, this diet emphasises eating fresh, whole foods, lean proteins, and healthy fats. It is known to offer various health benefits.

2. DASH Diet: DASH stands for ‘Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension'. It is designed to lower blood pressure and focuses on the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy.

3. Plant-Based Diet: It consists of eating plant-derived foods, promoting overall health. This diet also requires one to exclude animal products. It promotes the consumption of a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds for holistic health.

4. Flexitarian Diet: This healthy diet combines the consumption of plant-based meals with occasional meat. An approach like this helps one strike a balance in one's daily diet.

5. Paleo Diet: It attempts to mimic the diet of early humans who mostly consumed lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables.

Easy healthy diet all can follow
Focus on balanced meals, incorporate a variety of whole foods, control portion sizes, and stay hydrated. Avoid extreme restrictions and prioritise long-term sustainability over quick fixes.

If you wish to follow a healthy diet without knocking on the door of a dietician, here are some tips to follow:

1. Research Thoroughly: Understand the chosen diet's principles and potential risks.
2. Balance is Key: Ensure a variety of foods (carbs, fibre, vitamins, etc) to meet the body's nutritional needs.
3. Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues. Don't do anything that your body refuses to accept
4. Monitor Progress: Keep track of how the body responds and adjust as needed.

Besides focusing only on diet, include regular physical activity, ensure sufficient sleep, manage stress through relaxation techniques, and foster a positive mindset. Adopting a holistic approach contributes to overall well-being. Limit processed foods and sugary foods.

Seek professional guidance
Nutrition professionals assess individual needs, provide personalised guidance, and develop sustainable eating plans. They offer evidence-based advice, monitor progress, and address specific health concerns, ensuring a comprehensive and tailored approach to nutrition.

Individuals should consider consulting a dietitian or nutritionist when:
1. Struggling with weight management
2. Dealing with specific health conditions
3. Seeking guidance on balanced nutrition
4. Planning dietary changes, such as adopting a new lifestyle or managing chronic illnesses

Fad diets are known to follow a one-size-fits-all approach, ignoring an individual's health conditions, metabolism, and nutritional needs. What works for one may not work for another.

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