When was the last time you felt that your waist shrunk just after going on a juice cleanse? Crash diets and fads are all around you. A new diet trend keeps popping up every other day on the internet and social media makes it extremely difficult for people to differentiate between what they see online and common sense. Trends are advertised in such a way that they “look healthy” but creep in with harmful health effects on your body over time and worsen your relationship with food.

You tend to give into crash dieting in the hope to look a certain way and feel fitter again. What you fail to realize is that weight loss or getting back on track for a healthy lifestyle cannot happen overnight and there is no quick fix to it. It takes time, patience, and a lot of effort and dedication.

What is a “Fad” Diet?

A fad diet is a diet that claims to be a one-stop miracle to improving your health. Fad diet is a trendy weight-loss plan that promises dramatic results. 

Most fad diets are advertised for weight loss and are based on theories and misinformation which lack scientific evidence. They are a trap! Fad diets usually are based on macronutrient requirements and the micronutrient adequacy is rarely assessed.

Know Your Ideal Macronutrient Requirements

Carbohydrates, fat, and protein are called macronutrients. They are the nutrients your body needs the most for releasing energy and to maintain the body's structure and systems.

Fad diets can be tricky to understand when they look too good to be true. Such diets play around with the macronutrient distribution- a completely low carb or high-fat diet. 

Knowing the ideal macronutrient distribution would help you eliminate diets that do not support a balanced and healthy eating pattern.

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches, and fibers (also known as roughage, which is the part of plant-based foods that keeps your digestive system healthy) found in fruits, grains, vegetables, and milk products. They perform several key functions. Carbohydrates provide you with energy for daily tasks and are the primary fuel source for your brain's high energy demands. Your daily diet should contain about 45–65% of carbohydrates.

Protein: Proteins are the building blocks of your body’s tissues and are a source of fuel for your body. It allows metabolic (chemical) reactions to take place and coordinates bodily functions. Your diet should contain protein between 10–25% daily. Protein is found abundantly in lean meats, poultry, fish, and dairy products.

Fats: Dietary fat, also known as fatty acids, can be found in foods from both plants and animals. They are essential to give your body energy and to support cell growth. They also help protect your organs and help keep your body warm. Fats also help in the production of important hormones (chemical messengers that help you carry out body functions).  

Dietary fats are classified into good and bad fats. It is recommended to eat good, unsaturated fats (healthy fats). Foods that are rich in healthy fats are cheese, dark chocolates, whole eggs, chia seeds, virgin oil, nuts, avocados, fatty fish, etc. Your daily diet should contain around 20–35% of fats. 

Now that you know your daily macronutrients requirement, you will better be able to understand if a fad diet is the right one for you. 

Here are 6 Fad Diet Trends You Might Have Come Across:

1. Ketogenic diet or Atkins Diet

A Ketogenic or Atkins diet is a high fat (55–60%), moderate protein (30–35%), and extremely low carbohydrate (5–10%) diet, which forces your body to undergo ketosis to build up ketone bodies in your bloodstream; which means that the body uses its own fat-burning system to use fat as an energy source. 

Even though such diets help in the elimination of processed and packaged food products that could be high in added sugars, they lack fiber and essential vitamins and minerals coming from whole foods. This leads to excess protein and fat consumption, which could be a load on the kidneys, liver, and heart in the long run.

2. Cabbage Soup Diet

Cabbage soup diet requires that you eat large amounts of cabbage soup for seven days. During that time, you can also eat certain fruits and vegetables, beef, chicken, and brown rice, according to a set schedule. 

This diet is generally considered a fad as it may help you lose a few pounds quickly but you’re more likely to lose water weight and muscle mass, rather than pure fat loss. Apart from extreme calorie restriction, this diet lacks essential nutrients and may result in flatulence or bloating (a buildup of gas in your intestines).

Water weight is the extra water being held in your abdomen, arms, and legs, that make you look and feel fat. Muscle mass includes the weight of the muscles in your body that includes all the smooth muscles, skeletal muscles, and water contained in the muscles.

3. Gluten-free Diet

Gluten, also known as prolamins, is a collective term that refers to many different types of wheat proteins. It is naturally found in certain cereal grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye. 

For someone who has Celiac Disease (an immune reaction to eating gluten) or gluten intolerance, keeping gluten-containing food products off the shelves is the best way to preserve your health. But if you’re someone who is going gluten-free just to get a beach body, then sticking to gluten would be equally good for you. 

Going gluten-free eliminates highly processed foods like cakes, muffins, buns, etc., which can help to shed pounds and this is because you are cutting out junk calories and not gluten. ‘Gluten-free’ foods often contain added fats or sugar to make the food more palatable, so it’s best to keep your hands off them too, in case you’re not intolerant.

4. Meal Replacers

Meal replacement drinks can be an easy, on-the-go alternative when you’re too lazy to make a nice, hot, wholesome and nutritious meal. But will they inculcate life-long healthy eating habits in you? Sadly, no. 

Teaching yourself how to meal prep, cook, eat healthy while ordering food and follow a diet that fits in with your lifestyle makes the most sense. We’re sure you can whip up delicious oats and berry smoothies in no time which taste far better than artificially flavoured ones, even if you’re rushing for work- all you need to do is meal prep the previous night!

Remember that although most meal replacement drinks, also available in the form of bars and soups, contain protein, and essential vitamins and minerals, it is okay to choose them only once in a while. They should not be viewed as a substitute for regular, freshly cooked meals.

5. Raw Food Diet

Supporters of the raw food diet say that cooking destroys essential vitamins and minerals. While you would be adding more fiber to your diet, there are only a certain amount of foods that you can eat which decreases the diversity in the diet. 

Heating or cooking does degrade certain nutrients in your food but cooking also helps to make nutrients more available to the body. For example, powdered sesame seeds or flax seeds help in better absorption of their nutrients, or cooking food in regulated quantities of oil helps in the absorption of essential fat-soluble vitamins from the food.

6. Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) Diet

Apple cider vinegar is fermented juice from crushed apples. ACV contains various vitamins and minerals and essential fibers. If you are having ACV, then save yourself the gagging (choking) after taking an ACV shot. No food is a miracle food when it comes to weight loss and an overall healthy diet and lifestyle is what matters. 

Apple cider vinegar may help to boost metabolism and improve insulin levels when consumed in small quantities (1–2 teaspoons per day). Excess can not only wear away tooth enamel (thin, hard outer covering of your tooth) but worsen acidity (condition due to excess acid buildup in your stomach), nausea (stomach discomfort & a sensation to vomit), and affect calcium and potassium levels of the body.

Claims Fad Diets Want You to Believe!

If a diet claims to be anything from this checklist, you MUST consider it as a warning and stay clear. 

Certain common claims that most fad diets have or market are:

  • Drastic reduction or elimination of any macronutrient (carbs, protein & fat) or lower food intake.

  • Elimination of a single or more food groups.

  •  A one-stop solution, easy to follow, and mentions no requirement for commitment.

Problem With The Claims

  • They revolve around promotion and selling of products like supplements, natural extracts, diet pills, and superfoods or change your body’s biochemistry like fat burning while you sleep, more alkaline diet, fat-melting, etc., which are not true.

  • They do not talk about the ill-effects on your health after following the diet in the long run and mostly show carbohydrates or fats as evil and harmful for your body. 

  • They are not backed up by relevant scientific research and are often endorsed by people with absolutely no background knowledge about nutrition.

Long-term Effects of Being on a Fad Diet

  • Lost weight comes back

  • Dehydration

  • Weakness and fatigue

  • Headache and nausea

  • Weaker immunity

  • Poor gut flora, weaker digestive system, and constipation

  • Disordered eating habits 

  • Deficiency of important vitamins & minerals in the body

  • Loss of lean muscle mass

  • Not a sustainable diet that can be followed life-long

Fad diets are a 'one size fits all' approach and no population has survived following a fad diet. Fad diets may look promising but might deteriorate your health in the long run. 

Consult your general physician/dietician/nutritionist before starting any of the fad diets. It is always advisable to eat freshly cooked, home-made meals that are full of nutrition, love and care.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.