Fad diets: Why they feel great… at first.

Written by Michael Reavis Jr., MS, RD, LDN

Fad diets. On a tight meal plan. Restricting. 

When we discuss nutrition, especially in the media, these are the titles that often get the most attention. Nutrition is constantly something that we scrutinize one another for, look to change within ourselves, and look for guidance in the most extreme places. 

In any other sector of the world or media, this type of extremism is ostracized and repulsed due to the typical rules that come with it. Yet – not when it comes to nutrition and especially not when it comes to weight loss. There is only one other place that I can think of where this level of extreme high and low swings is present, and that is money

I want you to give me a chance with this comparison and with it my goal is to elaborate on why fad diets and restrictive programs are so gripping, and why they give such a sense of immediate gratification yet never actually teach you how to be healthy.

Most people could tell you that when it comes to money and finance those kinds of texts, workshops, etc. do not work and never actually improve your life. But, when it comes to nutrition even as a dietitian I cannot avoid the doubt that maybe these diets have it all figured out. But why?

Why is it that when I look at these diets I question myself and think they have something I do not? Well I have compiled a list of reasons and I hope you start to see the patterns and comparisons.

1st: They are exciting!

Let me know if this sounds familiar:

  • A new day to find a better you
  • So uniquely simple for you to find success
  • A better way to a better you
  • The easiest diet you ever tried

And so many more. Most fad diets are supposed to feel like “the one” you haven’t tried or the one thing you have been missing. This makes you doubt everything you are doing to this point and put your trust (and money) in their plan. This discredits the fact that most people have a great idea of what healthy eating looks like. Plenty of water, more fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources, and whole grain sources for carbohydrates. 

Excitement also eventually wears off and then the tedious aspect of the diet comes in where nothing becomes habits and it does not mesh well with your life, family, and social situations. Although all nutrition plans typically involve some form of lifestyle change, it should not be a complete overhaul.

2nd: They create rules

This is where most of the promises of weight loss and change comes from. You go from having no rules when it comes to what you eat (besides just preference) to a very specific guide that you follow. This at first feels easy, like having the answers to the test, but over time it becomes mundane and boring. What was once an exciting new task becomes a rule or a meal (chicken, rice, and broccoli) that you just cannot stand. Although rules are important, it is even more important to create techniques to enjoy your nutrition, make it work within your schedule, and be sustainable!

3rd: They are a challenge

This ties into the excitement quite a bit. As humans one of our key characteristics is thought. Just the fact that we can think, desire, and plan is a very unique skill, and we love a good challenge. Yet, what happens when we get into day 15 of this diet/challenge and realize the goal is not what we wanted it to be? We don’t get to have dinner with our family anymore, and we miss out on friends and relationships. Challenges are amazing, early on, especially when they are going well. But how do we adapt when it is not going well or we can’t keep up and we no longer desire to go forward? This is when fad becomes bad (sorry for the pun). But, nutrition should truly be a joy in your life and something that is uniquely you. We can create a healthy version of that, without the high volume of restriction.

Finally: It is someone/something else’s fault if we fail

When it comes to nutrition it is often either we failed or we succeeded. Almost never do we see maintenance as a success. Especially as Americans the idea of having goals, achieving goals, and being something/successful is hardwired into us. This is typically what a lot of fad diets and programs prey upon – your desire to be your best. That is why going on diets and having it be someone else’s plan and removing the “blame” can feel so good. It alleviates us of the pressure we are constantly applying to ourselves.

If you made it this far, I appreciate it. You are clearly trying to make a change and understand how to properly make nutrition goals. Although not nearly as exciting as a fad diet, the best thing you can do is identify what you do well and the healthy habits you already incorporate and lean into them.

Maybe you have a really active job, maybe you really like a certain fruit or vegetable, or maybe you have a really great breakfast. Lean into these qualities and look for a place where you can emulate them in other areas of your life!

Although it is not flashy or exciting, nutrition is all about consistency. Finding what consistently works, what you consistently have time for, and what you can maintain when your life becomes inconsistent. 

As always, Fit with Food is here if you have any questions or if you are ready to get started on your individualized nutrition journey!



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