What is a Fad Diet? Do Fad Diets Work?

What is a Fad Diet? Do Fad Diets Work?

Everybody wants to see quick results with their fitness routine — that’s why so many training programs tout instant muscle gains, 30-day abs, and quick fat loss. But it’s not just training programs that promise fast and easy results, as fad diets have become a huge industry in their own right.

According to Segen’s The Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicine, as reported through the Free Medical Dictionary,  fad diets are ones that “eliminate one or more of the essential food groups, or recommend consumption of one type of food in excess at the expense of other foods.”

Recent famous examples include the Grapefruit Diet, the Cabbage Soup Diet, the Raw Food Diet, and even the Atkins Diet.

Do fad diets work?

That has a lot to do with how you define “work,” but much of the answer can be found in Segen’s definition above. Let’s take a look.

Why Fad Diets Might “Work” … for Awhile

It’s undeniable that a lot of people lose weight when they embark on  one of the fad diets. That’s great if fast, indiscriminate weight loss is your goal, but it does not necessarily mean that they’re achieving permanent weight loss.

Some of the reasons you might lose weight in the first days and weeks of a fad diet include:

  • Rapid water weight loss, especially for low-cab plans like Atkins.
  • An extreme calorie deficit, as in the Grapefruit Diet.
  • Increased activity in association with the diet — the New Year’s Warriors syndrome.
  • Muscle loss from any of the above, or from a low-protein diet.

These characteristics of fad diets WILL allow you to lose weight, but the end result is often not what you had in mind when you started out.

Why Fad Diets Don’t Work in the Long Term

There are two main issues with fad diets when you look at them with long-term goals in mind:

  • They can cause a nutritional imbalance.
  • They’re very difficult to stick with.

Because most fad diets have you limit the types of foods you use, and the amount of food you consume, they almost surely will cause you to miss out on some vital nutrients before long.

For instance, while low-carb diets are great at allowing you to lose water weight and can be a Godsend for people with blood sugar issues, they almost completely eliminate carbs from your diet. This forces you to shift from burning carbs for energy to burning fat and muscle. For most healthy people, glycogen, or sugar stored in your muscles, is the preferred fuel for muscular contractions, so this can be problematic.

Even worse, by focusing in on one type of food, or by eliminating others, it will be very hard for you to take in all of the vitamins and minerals you need from foods alone. This is an ingenious marketing move, as it shuttles you toward buying supplements and special food formulations, but it can leave you malnourished in the long run.

Of course, your body is going to let you know that you’re not getting what you need, in the form of symptoms that will include constant hunger, irritability, fatigue, and all sorts of other nastier side effects when you overly restrict your nutrition for a long stretch of time.

Think it will be easy to stick with a diet that leaves you feeling tired and run-down all the time?

Eat for Health Instead

Many times, then, fad diets CAN help you lose weight, but they seldom help you achieve better fitness levels over the long haul.

Instead, most lifters would be better off to focus on whole, unprocessed foods over a wide spectrum of nutritional profiles, and it’s essential that you work with your doctor and maybe a nutritionist to develop your ideal eating regimen.

Unless you have a specific medical condition that warrants using a specific fad diet, they’re usually not worth the pain and effort.


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