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Don’t fall for fad diets

Senior man is talking to his wife in the kitchen.

Fad diets which promise fast weight loss can be tempting, but it’s important to be aware of the risk they can pose to your health. Our Nutritionist, Abir, explains how to spot a fad diet, the three most common vitamin deficiencies, mindful eating, and how our Nutritional Therapy service can help to cut through all the confusion and misinformation around healthy eating.

Disclaimer/Trigger warnings: Please seek professional advice from either your GP or a qualified Dietitian or Nutritionist if you’re struggling with an eating disorder or fluctuating weight issues. The information in this article has been sourced from trusted websites and has been reviewed by a healthcare professional.

What is a Fad Diet?

­­A fad diet is a plan without sufficient nutritional or scientific evidence that supposedly promotes fast results for weight loss goals. There are many negatives to such diets:

  • They can be restrictive, meaning you eat very few foods or an unusual combination of foods
  • You can only eat at certain times
  • The food products you buy are highly processed and often expensive
  • You may lose lean muscle mass and fluids instead of body fat, which over time can increase the risk of sarcopenia (muscle loss associated with ageing)
  • Unhealthy, viscous cycles can be formed around eating habits as hunger cues are ignored. This can result in disordered eating or eating disorders
  • Your confidence may weaken if you don’t achieve your weight loss goal in a time-frame you have set yourself

However, some fad diets can be healthy, well-balanced and sustainable, but it’s important you consult with a healthcare professional such as a Dietitian or a Nutritionist before you begin a new dietary plan. This especially applies to anyone struggling with a pre-existing health condition like Type 2 Diabetes.

But how can we recognise a fad diet from a well-balanced, healthy diet? There are some keywords and phrases to look out for.

  • Rapid weight loss – any diet that promises you’ll lose large amounts of weight naturally is likely to be unhealthy and not sustainable
  • Eliminating foods – removing an entire food group can result in a nutritional deficiency, for example following a very low-fat diet can cause deficiency in the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
  • Restrict calories – anytime you remove a significant number of calories from your diet, you’re removing fuel your body needs to function optimally. Over time, this can result in alterations to your metabolic rate
  • A ‘detox’ diet – your liver and kidneys are already working hard to detox your body daily, so adding certain foods/drinks and herbs/spices into your diet to aid the daily process of detoxification is a helpful practice to adopt. Very strict juice diets that are conducted over longer periods of time can result in fatigue, dehydration and nutritional deficiencies

What are the top three nutritional deficiencies?

The NHS reported that more than 800,000 patients were admitted to hospital with malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies in 2022 (The Guardian). Worryingly, this was a threefold increase when compared to a decade ago. If you don’t eat a healthy, balanced diet, you’re more likely to miss out on the essential micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) needed by the body.

Although you only need to consume them in very small amounts, a deficiency in any of the micronutrients can significantly impact your health. According to WHO, deficiencies in the following are the most common around the world, particularly in children and pregnant women. But what foods can help?

  • Iron deficiency (anaemia): Iron plays a vital role in making red blood cells, which carry oxygen around your body. If you struggle with heavy periods, you’re at a higher risk of iron deficiency anaemia and may need to take iron supplements as well as eating iron rich foods such as red meat, red kidney beans, edamame beans and chickpeas, fortified breakfast cereals, dried fruit and nuts
  • Iodine: Your thyroid gland needs iodine to produce thyroid hormones which helps to maintain your metabolic rate. The recommended daily intake (RDI) of iodine is 150 mcg per day for most adults. To meet this intake, eat fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy products and drink cows' milk
  • Vitamin A: Contained in foods such as leafy greens and broccoli, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables (oranges, mangoes, carrots, sweet potatoes etc), dairy products, eggs, salmon, meats such as liver, chicken and beef and cereals, rice, sweet potatoes, wheat and soybeans fortified with vitamin A. One of the early signs of this deficiency is night blindness (nyctalopia) and if vitamin A deficiency is left untreated, it can lead to vision loss

Alternate approaches to eating

Instead of a fad diet, why not try one of the below approaches to eating? As always, speak to your nutritionist or dietitian before committing to any drastic changes to your eating.

Intermittent fasting

Numerous studies are showing that intermittent fasting can have multifaced benefits on health including better insulin handling, reducing inflammation, better appetite control and more. There are different types of intermittent fasting options so speak to your nutritionist or dietitian to work out which one is best for you.  

Mindful eating

A practice which involves paying closer attention to your food and how it makes you feel, mindful eating has been shown to help reduce disordered eating behaviours such as binge eating, and support weight loss. From eating more slowly by chewing thoroughly and eliminating distractions such as your phone, to focusing on how the food makes you feel and stopping eating when you’re full – this method can be effective in making more nutritious choices too.

How our Nutritional Therapy service can help

Struggling to lose and maintain weight despite constantly feeling like you are on a ‘diet’? Feeling confused about conflicting advice on what constitutes a healthy diet? Feeling like you’re on a hormonal rollercoaster and need to find more balance in your life? Managing a chronic health condition?

Nutrition and lifestyle can have a huge impact on your health and wellbeing, so take the first step by calling our Private Patients team on 01580 363597 or filling in our online enquiry form.

Published on 29 January 2024