• Autumn Paone

The Folklore of the Fad Diet

What is your ideal image of beauty? We all are aware that society influences our answer to this question. For women, reasonable curves but a tiny waist, perfect skin, long, thin legs. For men, muscle on muscle on muscle. Oh- and at least 6 feet tall.


Those who have fallen into the trap (don’t be ashamed, most of us have) will likely do anything to achieve the world’s definition of beauty. New workout trends? Who cares if they’re a licensed trainer and have studied exercise science, look at their flat stomach and chiseled abs! New waist trainers, pills, surgeries? The beautiful woman and brawny man in the ad are so convincing….

Plate of fruits and vegetables

Photo by: Athletic Form

There are countless psychological processes going on when we view advertisements. They explain our susceptibility and vulnerability to buying them. However, I’m not here to get into that. I’m here to tell you about a specific facet of this “quick-fix” culture we live in: fad diets.


Fad Diets

A “fad diet” is a popularized method of eating (or not eating) to quickly lose weight, not necessarily with any scientific backup. They often promise unrealistically fast results without having to exercise or modify any other unhealthy habits. Usually, they either restrict certain foods/food groups, offer a supplement or pill, or limit certain foods to certain times (e.g. fruit only in the morning). They also claim significant results for everyone.¹ The beautiful fact is that we are all individuals. The word “everyone” tends to be a red flag.


The Keto Diet

A common fad diet you may be aware of is the keto diet. It consists of a very low amount of carbs and high amounts of fats and proteins. The idea behind it is this: your body burns the sugar made from carbs before it burns fat; it’s easier. That is why the pesky fat sticks around. To remedy this, you eliminate carbs so your body has nothing left to burn but fat.²


Sounds good in theory, right? And it definitely works for a lot of people- at first. The thing about a diet like this is that it is unnatural; your body goes through something dubbed the “keto flu” to enter ketosis in the first place. You become nutrient deficient (in potassium, calcium, and fiber, to name a few)³ and introduce many other risk factors to your health. Not to mention, this diet took society by storm, and popularized this strange idea that carbs make you gain weight.

Collection of food

Photo by: Harvard Health Publishing


One study decided to test the high-protein-low-carb theory by giving two groups of people different diets. One involved more carbs and less protein (carbs: 66% total calories & protein: 15% total calories), while the other was the opposite (carbs: 41% total calories & protein: 32% total calories). Both groups also reduced caloric intake to promote weight loss. Although the group with more protein initially lost weight faster, over time, they evened out. The main difference? Those on the keto-like diet suffered the aforementioned keto flu, with symptoms of moodiness, fatigue, nausea, and constipation.


Those are the short term effects, but what do we know about long term? One of my favorite shows ever- Down to Earth- touches on this in episode 4: Sardinia. There are these places called Blue Zones across the globe, and they are studied for their unusually high average lifespan. The topic of interest? Their diets. Believe it or not, this carb-hating world we live in could actually kill us faster. High longevity diets include lower protein intake and plenty of carbs. Why in the world did we decide to outcast the wondrous macronutrient of carbohydrates? Fruits, vegetables, whole grains- all necessary for well balanced and wholesome nourishment, which is the only true long term, effective diet.


Blue Zones world map

Photo by: Blue Zones

Lifestyle Repercussions You’d Never Have Guessed

Too often we ignore the role that diet plays on a daily basis. When people are tired, they blame it on not sleeping well. A plausible explanation that could be caused by many reasons, one of them being that not eating well can cause you to not sleep well. If you just feel sluggish, unmotivated, and unproductive? A multitude of potential causes, but what you ate is a huge contender.


Fad diets like these- and simply not eating balanced in general- can have implications across the board. If you’re suffering the keto flu, there is no way you are going to put your best foot forward for that presentation today. Focus will be impossible and productivity hindered, the same as any other illness. Is it really worth a faster weight loss that plateaus in a few weeks anyway? Why put your beautiful, amazing, high-functioning body through that? It’s unnecessary, even disrespectful, for the vessel that carries you safely through each day.


Trust me, I know the feeling of wanting that quick fix, that band-aid solution. Comparison to friends and influencers on social media can take a toll on mental and physical health. Even though I exercise and eat right, my stomach bloats often and my muscles aren’t as toned as I’d like. But it’s a journey. I thank my body for what it can do, and I nourish it and never restrict food to save myself from a little bloating. It’s natural, it’s healthy, and it’s me. You can embrace your you as well, and not at the expense of your health and performance.


The Road to Success

Balance is key. The biggest issue with diet culture is that it capitalizes on imbalance. Restrict this, increase this, don’t eat this, only eat this with this at this time. It’s ridiculous and it’s exhausting! I have 4 steps to a much simpler, healthier, happier solution for you:


  • Fruits and vegetables! A lot of us don’t even know what a serving of fruit or vegetables looks like, let alone how many servings we need. Click here to learn more.

  • Drink water. I cannot stress this enough. If drinking water is difficult for you, try flavoring it with fruits or veggies. I suggest doing it yourself, but if you buy flavored water, beware of added sugars. Here are some great recipes I love!

  • Whole grains. Substitute whole grain bread for white bread. In addition to its numerous health advantages, it tastes so much better- I promise. Also, eat quinoa or brown rice as opposed to white rice. In recipes, replace white flour with whole wheat, almond, or oat flour. (You cannot tell the difference, give it a shot!)

  • Eat clean. To me, “healthy” is synonymous with “clean” in terms of diet. I don’t rely on the food faddism to tell me how to label my food. In fact, stop mentally labeling food as “good” or “bad” based on its carb, protein, or fat content. Instead, look at the ingredients label. Are they naturally sourced and unprocessed, or are there a lot of added sugars (words ending in -ose), chemicals, and things you can’t pronounce?


If your goal is weight loss, follow the above guidelines and pair it with workouts from certified individuals (my favorite exercise plans come from Blogilates). Recognize where you’re beginning this journey and respect that. Baby steps in the right direction are better than pushing yourself too hard too fast and ending up moving backwards. If your goal is to simply feel more productive, energized, and positive, I offer the same advice. Lastly, I cannot say it enough: balance is key.


References

  1. Healthy Learning (Producer) & Bell, J. A. (Director). (2006). Nutrition fad diets. [Video/DVD] Healthy Learning. Retrieved from https://video-alexanderstreet-com.ezproxy.lafayette.edu/watch/nutrition-fad-diets

  2. Harvard Health Letter (2020). Should you try the keto diet? Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-try-the-keto-diet

  3. Healthy Learning (Producer) & Bell, J. A. (Director). (2006). Nutrition fad diets. [Video/DVD] Healthy Learning. Retrieved from https://video-alexanderstreet-com.ezproxy.lafayette.edu/watch/nutrition-fad-diets

  4. Ibid.

  5. Barret, J. et al (Producer). (2020). Sardinia [Television series episode]. Down to Earth with Zac Efron, Netflix.

  6. Ibid.

  7. St-Onge, M., Mikic, A., & Pietrolungo, C. E. (2016). Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Advances in Nutrition, 7(5), 938-949. 10.3945/an.116.012336