Dishing the Dirt on Fad Diets Part 2 – Why Do They Never Work?

In the second part of our fad diets feature, we continue to explore the effects of trendy diets and some common dietary mistakes to avoid.

Raw Foods Diet – Not Quite Rabbit Food

This diet is all about eating food in their natural state. Supporters believe that the cooking process destroys many of nutritional benefits inherent in food. This diet allows you to eat as much and as often as you want, so long as you restrict your intake to raw, vegetarian items or foods cooked or heated to no more than 48 degrees Celsius.

The emphasis on fresh produce and avoidance of processed foods may be a plus, especially in managing chronic conditions such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes, but the diet lacks nutrients and is difficult to sustain. It also fails to provide critical nutrients such as vitamin B complex and iron, among others. Chewing on carrots and nuts may be fun the first couple of weeks, but it might get boring after a few months. Further, cooking actually kills harmful bacteria, makes some food digestible and even boosts some nutrients. Indeed, many vegetables either cannot be eaten raw (try eating a broccoli like an apple!) or require heat to bring out their nutritional properties. Not to mention that there is also a chance of food poisoning consuming raw foods.

Alkaline Diet

We described the alkaline diet in our previous post. The main idea behind it is eating foods that aim to alter the pH balance of your body, mainly by avoiding meat, gluten, refined sugar and dairy, foods known to produce excess acid in your body purported to cause symptoms such as muscle cramps and brittle bones. Fruits and vegetables, soybeans and tofu, certain types of seeds, nuts and legumes are encouraged.

The first problem with this one is that the level of effort required to sustain it is high as you might be required to cut out a variety of foods you’re used to, such as wheat and other gluten products, meat, alcohol and caffeine. Second, it also promotes the exclusion of some healthy foods, particularly crucial fats and proteins. The scientific basis for altering your pH levels to help reverse symptoms caused by acidity is also rather weak.

The Double Ds – Detox Diets

Detox diets vary, but they typically guarantee to purge your body of toxins and help you shed excess fats. It consists of a period of fasting, following a rigorous diet of fruits and fruit juices, raw vegetables and water. Some even involve herbs and supplements in combination with colon cleansing fluids (known as enemas) to empty the intestines.

Evidence that detox diets eliminate toxins from the body is scant, especially since our bodies are quite effective at filtering and removing most ingested toxins on its own. Detox diets may make you feel revitalised largely due to the elimination of highly processed foods that have high amounts of fats, salt and added sugar.

Getting a green light from a health care provider is usually necessary for this diet. Moreover, it may limit the intake of protein and require fasting that can cause lethargy and fatigue. Long-term fasting may lead to mineral and vitamin deficiencies and colon cleansing with an enema can lead to several side effects such as bloating, cramping, nausea, and vomiting.

Fad Diets You Can’t Believe Exist

  • The Grapefruit Diet – This one involves eating between 800 to 1000 calories and one grapefruit a day, which contains a fat-burning enzyme. Not only can excessive amounts of grapefruit cause a build up of acid on an empty stomach, chemicals in the fruit can also interact with the Pill, causing blood clots.
  • The Hallelujah Diet – Based on the Bible chapter Genesis 1:29, the diet is restricted to fruit and seed bearing trees, unpasteurised foods, without any meat. Whole food groups are cut out, leading to nutritional and vitamin deficiencies. Additionally, unpasteurised foods can be dangerous due to an increased risk of food poisoning.
  • Crazy for cabbage – From eating steamed cabbage to cabbage soup, this all-cabbage fad diet helps dieters shed mostly water weight. Once the diet is stopped, the weight is usually regained. It may also cause gastrointestinal problems and light-headedness.
  • The Baby Food Diet – Nope, that wasn’t a typo. This diet advocates eating 14 jars of baby food a day, followed by a ‘grown-up’ meal. Dabblers include Jennifer Aniston and Lady Gaga. Consuming such bland, pureed and processed food lacks fibre, potentially having an adverse effect on your digestive health. Moreover, weight loss is not guaranteed since baby food is not necessarily low in calories.

Avoiding Mistakes

Decisions on eating healthier food does not necessarily mean you have to obsessively count your calories throughout the day. Becoming engrossed in counting calories and restricting our food intake can lead to you becoming increasingly confused as to what it means to be healthy.

Some common diet mistakes (and their solutions) include:

  • Skipping meals or severely restricting your food intake. Although this may seem like a quick weight loss strategy, this can slow your metabolism and lead to long-term weight gain. Most importantly, never skip or skimp on breakfast as doing so might lead to excessive snacking and overconsumption later in the day.
  • Avoiding fats. A common misconception is that consuming low-fat foods is “healthy”. In reality, such foods contain high amounts of sugar to compensate for the lack of flavourful fats. This excess sugars can unknowingly lead to weight gain. Opt instead for healthy fats such as avocados, seeds and nuts, olive oils, fatty fish and even full fat cheese and yoghurt.
  • Eating only low-calorie food or focusing only one food group. Chomping down only vegetables and fruits and avoiding carbs or proteins might initially seem like a good idea but in reality they leave you feel unsatisfied or the need to binge. Meals comprising of fibre rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains, healthy fats and proteins provide fullness and keep us from needing to reach for that post-dinner slice of cake.
  • Not practicing portion control. You’ve finally cut out refined food and switched to healthier alternatives. Hurrah! But remember, just because it’s healthier that doesn’t mean you can gorge on it. Eat smaller portions of healthier food that leave you feeling fuller and satisfied for longer periods of time.

A one-size-fits-all “best diet” approach is unrealistic as it not only causes health problems but also psychological ones. Categorising foods into “good” and “bad” can lead to feelings of guilt, shame and low self-worth when the “rules” of a diet are broken. Practice instead healthy eating habits and remember a simple rule of thumb – everything in moderation…with the occasional treat of course!


Photo credits: Pixabay



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