Think Twice Before Beginning One[1]

Suggested Citation: Garko, M.G. (2012, February).  Features, falsehoods and failures of fad diets: Think twice before beginning one. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from www.letstalknutrition.com.

 

 

Features, Falsehoods and Failures of Fad Diets:

Think Twice Before Beginning One[1]

 

Michael G. Garko, Ph.D.

Host of Let’s Talk Nutrition

 

Introduction

 

The holiday season is now over and many have made their list of perennial New Year’s resolutions. At the top of many lists is the ever popular resolution to lose weight, some of which was gained during the holidays (see Garko, 2011).   More often than not it is an ill-fated resolution. As many can attest to, it is easier to make the weight loss resolution than it is to achieve it.

 

The New Year’s resolution of losing weight often results in failure because dieters attempt to achieve it by adopting a fad diet of one kind or another of which there are scores of them. For example, there is the Atkins Diet, Eat More Weigh Less Diet, Eat Right For Your Type Diet, Grapefruit Diet, Metabolism Diet, Neander-Thin Diet, New Beverly Hills Diet, New Cabbage Soup Diet, Pritikin Weight Loss Breakthrough Diet, Sugar Busters Diet, Mastering The Zone Diet, Russian Air Force Diet, Scarsdale Diet, South Beach Diet, Stillman Diet, Zone Diet and too many others to list.

 

Dieting is not a successful, scientifically and clinically proven method of achieving sustained, long-term weight loss.[2]  That is the bad news. The worse news is that not only do fad diets hinder the achievement of successful weight loss or are otherwise counterproductive but that they most often lead to weight cycling (i.e., repeated losing and regaining of weight), which has been shown to put the health of dieters in further jeopardy. While they frequently provide well-intentioned dieters with a quick-fix to losing weight, fad diets come up heavy on failure and slim on success.

 

In this January, 2012, issue of Health and Wellness Monthly, the features, falsehoods and failures of fad diets are discussed. Emphasis is given to the (1) rising statistics overweight and obesity, (2) prevalence of dieters and fad diets, (3) types of fad diets, (4) prominent features of fad diets and (5) features and failures of fad diets and their dangers to health. Also, a lifestyle-based approach grounded in nutritional principles to losing weight is proposed as an alternative to fad diets.

 

 

 

 

 

Overweight and Obesity Defined

 

The term “overweight” refers to an excessive amount of body weight, which can be constituted of muscle tissue, bone, adipose or fat tissue and water, while the term “obesity” refers to an excessive amount of adipose or fat tissue (see National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2010).

 

Prevalence of Overweight, Obesity and Extreme Obesity Among Adults

For a variety of reasons (e.g., aging, genetics, stress, sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, biological and psychological medical disorders and diseases, prescription medications, medical therapies, smoking cessation, obesogenic environments, etc.), more and more people in the United States are becoming overweight or worse yet obese. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) revealed that in 2007-2008, when adjusting for age, an estimated 34.2% of American adults 20 years of age and older were overweight, while 33.8% were obese (Ogden & Carroll, 2010).

Prevalence of overweight and obesity combined. The overall prevalence estimates for overweight and obesity when combined for adults 20 years of age and older (BMI 25) was a stunning 68.0% (Ogden & Carroll, 2010)Another way to think about the overweight and obesity epidemic is that less than a third of adults (i.e., 31.6%) in theUnited States are at a healthy weight. Of the total percentage of healthy weight adults, 36.5% and 26.6% are women and men, respectively (see National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2010).

 

Gender differences in prevalence of overweight and obesity. Of the total percentage of adults 20 years of age and older who were obese or overweight (i.e., 68%), 64.1% and 72.3% of women and men were overweight or obese, respectively (Ogden & Carroll, 2010).

Gender differences in prevalence of obesity. Of the total percentage of adults 20 years of age and older who were obese (i.e., 33.8%), 35.5% and 32.2% of women and men were obese, respectively. It is worth noting that 5.7% of all obese adults were extremely obese (Ogden & Carroll, 2010).

Obesity Prevalence and Trends Among Children and Adolescents

 

Unfortunately, being either overweight or obese is not only an adult condition. Obesity is among the most serious, if not most serious health threat to American children and adolescents in the 21st century. Seventeen percent of U.S. children and adolescents aged 2-19 years are obese. Nearly one third of children in the United States are currently either overweight or obese with BMI levels ≥ 85th percentile (Ogden et al., 2010).[3] This represents a tripling of overweight and obesity prevalence among children since 1980.

 

 

Prevalence of Dieters and Fad Diets

 

The bulging statistics on overweight and obesity help explain why a large percentage of theU.S.population is obsessed with losing weight. According to the Calorie Control Council (2012), 54% of American adults are attempting to lose weight or are otherwise on a diet. Back in 2000, 24% of American adults were on a diet (Calorie Control Council, 2012). Consequently, the number of adults on a diet has more than doubled since 2000. The good news is that people are trying to lose weight. The bad news is that too many people are overweight or obese and are relying too often upon fad diets to lose weight.

 

With so many Americans being obese or overweight and a substantial number dieting, it is no wonder that there is always a steady crop of either new or recycled fad diets. Just as one diet moves out of vogue another one emerges to take its place. If they did not posses the potential to be so harmful to the health of those who try them, then health care professionals and organizations would not be as concerned about them as they are. The American Heart Association (2005) was so concerned that it actually declared war on fad diets. They did so to inform the American public about misleading weight-loss claims related to fad diets. According to the American Heart Association (2005), many of the fad diets that are out there in the public such as the infamous cabbage soup diet have the potential to undermine people’s health, cause physical discomfort and lead to disappointment when people regain their weight not too longer after they lose it.

 

Types of Fad Diets

 

Basically, there are three categories into which many fad diets can be organized [6]. There are those that fall into the high protein-low carbohydrate category (e.g., Atkins Diet, Zone Diet, Sugar Busters Diet, Slim Forever Diet, South Beach Diet & Protein Power Lifeplan Diet); those that are classified as high-carbohydrate (e.g., Eat More Weigh Less Diet, McDougall Program for Maximum Weight Loss, Pritikin Diet, Eight Weeks to Optimum Health & Gut Busters Diet); and those that are neither high protein-low carbohydrate nor a high-carbohydrate in nature (e.g., Potatoes Not Prozac Diet, The New Beverly Hills Diet, Eat Right For Your Type Diet, Fit For Life Diet & Liver Cleansing Diet) (see Nutrition Australia, 2003, for a good discussion of these three fad diet categories and specific examples constituting each category).

 

Features and Failures of Fad Diets

 

Generally speaking, fad diets share certain common features, notwithstanding their specific characteristics. These common features not only characterize fad diets but also identify their nutritional, bio-chemical, psychological and behavioral failures in providing dieters with a medically safe, nutritionally balanced, long-term approach to managing and losing weight. Here are 15 features representing the failures of many if not most fad diets:

 

  • Restrict or otherwise ban certain macronutrients (i.e., carbohydrates, fats & protein) while favoring others, leading to an unbalanced and unhealthy approach to dieting by excluding a variety of foods containing naturally occurring nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytonutrients, anti-oxidants, carotenoids, flavonoids and isoflavones.

 

  • Assume that one-diet-fits-all by ignoring dieters’ eating habits, lifestyle, ethnicity and culture, energy/caloric needs, ability to exercise, medical conditions and personal and family medical and weight history.

 

  • Can place the health of dieters in serious jeopardy (especially when followed for long periods of time) by causing a variety of medical problems such dehydration, constipation, nausea, headaches, weakness/fatigue, ketosis, kidney failure, cardio-vascular disease, high blood pressure, dizziness, insomnia, loss of muscle mass, osteoporosis and compromised immune system.

 

  • Make false and unrealistic weight loss promises.

 

  • Set unrealistic weight loss goals.

 

  • Rely upon rigid rules.

 

  • Difficult to sustain and lead dieters to a weight loss dead end because they are not designed for long-term nutritional application.

 

  • Ignore or downplay the supervision of a licensed nutritionist, licensed dietician or healthcare professional for the purpose of guiding dieters through a weight management or weight loss program.

 

  • Assume dieters are healthy enough to undergo the physiological and psychological stress associated with the extreme and unsound nutritional requirements of the fad diet.

 

  • Treat nutritional principles only as a means to an end rather than as foundational to a long-term life plan to manage and lose weight.

 

  • Ignore or pay only token attention to exercise and assume losing weight is determined primarily if not solely by the nutritional manipulation of carbohydrates, fats and protein.

 

  • Often rely upon myth and on what the American Heart Association calls “food folklore” originating in some cases in the early part of the 19th century.

 

  • Offer little if any scientific research support for the diet’s health and weight loss claims.

 

  • Result in such psychological consequences as depression, anxiety, boredom, loss of a sense of control, cravings leading to binging leading to purging to regain a sense of control, negative body image, low self-esteem.

 

  • Set dieters up for almost inevitable failure because of rigid rules, unrealistic goals, false and misleading promises, stressful and extreme nutritional requirements, nutrient deficient meals and diet-induced medical problems, among other things.

 

As the above list would suggest, fad diets are for the most part unhealthy and do not work in the long term.

 

An Alternative To Fad Diets

 

The most healthy and nutritionally sound way to manage and lose weight is to adopt a lifestyle-based approach grounded in sound nutritional principles and exercise than to rely upon the quick fixes of fad diets. Dieters may initially lose weight on a fad diet. However, the research reveals that they put their health at risk, will most likely fail in their attempt to lose weight and stand a good chance of regaining more weight than when they started their fad diet.

 

In the December, 2009, issue of Healthful Hints, I present 21 nutritional and lifestyle recommendations to manage and lose weight (see Garko, 2009). The recommendations are nutritionally and scientifically based on and follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (see U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2005). They do not necessarily represent a diet program per se. Rather, the recommendations support a lifestyle-based approach to managing and losing weight grounded upon sound nutrition and regular exercise. Taken together, the recommendations will increase dieters’ chances of losing weight and managing it long-term once they achieve their ideal weight. They are intended to introduce balance, variety, moderation and good nutritional sense to managing and losing weight. Hence, the reader is encouraged to read the December, 2009, issue of Healthful Hints.

 

Furthermore, the reader is encouraged to examine the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 (see U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2012).The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2012 are science-based to promote health, reduce the risk for chronic diseases and provide a way to manage and lose weight through good nutrition and regular exercise.

 

Conclusion

 

Losing weight is difficult. However, it is possible to lose weight and to keep it off. Adopting sound, sensible and scientifically based nutritional principles and exercising regularly enhance the long-term chances of losing weight and keeping it off, while avoiding the trap of mortgaging one’s health with the falsehoods and failures of fad diets.  When it comes to losing weight, it is best to follow the principle that the fast way is the last way.

 

References

 

American Heart Association (2005). The American Heart Association declares war on fad diets. Retrieved January, 2, 2006, from http://americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=53

 

Calorie Control Council (2012). Trends and Statistics: Dieting figures. Retrieved January, 2, 2011, from http://www.caloriecontrol.org/press-room/trends-and-statistics.

 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2006). Overweight and Obesity.      Retrieved April, 1, 2006, from http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/obesity.

 

Garko, M.G. (2009, December).Holidaysurvival guide: Twenty-one nutritional

and lifestyle tips for a healthy holiday. Healthful Hints. Retrieved, January, 20, 2012, from http://www.letstalknutrition.com.

 

Garko, M.G. (2011, November). Holidayweight gain: The unwanted, unhealthy, un-returnable gift that keeps on giving. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved January, 20, 2012) from http://www.letstalknutrition.com.

 

National Instituteof Diabetesand Digestive and Kidney Diseases (2010). Overweight and obesity statistics. Retrieved September 25, 2010, from http://www.win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/PDFs/stat904z.pdf

 

NutritionAustralia(2003). Popular diets – Part one: High protein diets. Retrieved January, 5,  2005, from http:/www.nutritionaustralia.org/Food_Facts/FAQ/popular_diets_p1_high_ protein.asp.

 

Ogden, C.L. & Carroll, M.D. (2010).  Prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents: United States, trends 1963-1965 through 2007–2008. NCHS Health E-Stat. Hyattsville, MD: NationalCenterfor Health Statistics. Retrieved October 25, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/obesity_child_07_08/obesity_child_07_08.pdf

 

Ogden, C.L., Carroll, M.D, Curtin, L.R., Lamb, M.M., & Flegal, K.M. (2010). Prevalence of high body mass index in US children and adolescents. JAMA, 303 (3), 242-249.

 

U.S.Department of Health and Human Services (2005). Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2005. Retrieved, January, 10 2012, from http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/document/.

 

 

U.S.Department of Health and Human Services (2012). Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2010. Retrieved, January, 2012, from http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2010.asp.

 

 

Suggested Citation: Garko, M.G. (2012, February).  Features, falsehoods and failures of fad diets: Think twice before beginning one. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from www.letstalknutrition.com.

 

 



[1] This month’s issue of Health and Wellness Monthly is an revision and reissue of an article I published in Healthful Hints several years ago. Given the large number of questions about and requests to talk about weight loss on Let’s Talk Nutrition, I thought it would be helpful to provide readers with some insight into features, falsehoods and failures of fad diets and hot to approach to losing weight and keeping it off.

 

[2]Dieting is defined specifically as the behavior of restricting the consumption of calories for the purpose of losing weight.

 

[3]As a formula, BMI is expressed as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared (kg/m2). Children with BMI values at or above the 95th percentile of the gender-specific BMI growth charts are categorized and defined as obese (see Ogden & Carroll, 2010).