Whenever I open a magazine or newspaper, I am often astounded at just how much misinformation is printed about nutrition and fat loss. Diet books are often a source of even more misinformation and the internet is literally drowning in diet and fat loss advice that is often ineffective, impractical and, in some instances, downright dangerous.
It seems like good, honest fat loss advice is becoming an endangered species and is being replaced by something far less useful – fad diets.
What is a fad diet?
Fad diets come in all shapes and sizes but usually share some common characteristics…
- Promise amazing fat loss results in very short time frames
- Often endorsed by someone famous but not necessarily connected with the health and fitness industry
- Involve a very regimented, restrictive eating regime that is usually impractical and unappealing
- Require you to buy unusual foods and/or supplements
- Eliminate certain food groups while promoting others
- Leave you hungry, tired and feeling deprived of the foods you enjoy
- Not designed for long term use but, rather, to provide a “quick fix”
The problem with any fad diet is that they work because they are so restrictive. Unfortunately, the more restrictive the diet, the more likely you are to fall off the “diet wagon” before you have reached your ultimate fat loss goal.
The starvation response
Most fad diets are so low in calories and nutrients that they trigger something called the starvation response. This describes how, when food intake is cut too aggressively, your body goes into “survival mode” and takes steps to INCREASE your fat storing ability while DECREASING your daily energy expenditure.
You see, your body doesn’t know you are voluntarily eating too little and it makes the incorrect assumption that you are the victim of a famine. It takes steps to ensure your survival by making sure your fat stores will last as long as possible.
I have come to realize that the bigger/more dramatic the changes you make to your eating and exercise regime, the more likely you are to revert to your previous unhealthy lifestyle. I call this the pendulum effect. Big changes cause a big swing back to old habits whereas modest dietary and exercise interventions are usually more sustainable as they are less of a shock to the system.
Could YOU eat chicken and Brussels sprouts for a month?
For example, you could embark on a fad diet that allows you to eat nothing but chicken and Brussels sprouts for the next four weeks. Every breakfast, lunch and dinner you sit down to a big plate of chicken and sprouts and nothing else. Initially, you will experience rapid and dramatic fat loss. But, after a few days of eating such a restrictive diet, you’d soon get bored, feel deprived, become tired and irritable and most likely quit your diet and dive head first into a barrel of ice cream to cheer yourself up!
Using my pendulum theory, after such a big swing in one direction (the fad diet) you are much more likely to swing back to your old eating pattern and are probably going to end up eating even worse than ever before to make up for your period of deprivation.
So, what’s the alternative to fad diets?
Rather than buy into the next celebrity-endorsed fad diet and setting yourself up for catastrophic failure, why not try a proven (if less sexy!) option that is guaranteed to deliver results while allowing you to eat fairly normally? Moderation!
Moderation simply means eating a little better, eating a little less, exercising a little more and making these changes part of your everyday lifestyle for the rest of your life. Okay, so you won’t lose 20 lbs in two weeks, more like 1-2 lbs per week, but the whole process will be much more enjoyable and you can still eat normal foods. You can even still enjoy treats from time to time – you just need to make sure that treats are an occasional rather than frequent occurrence.
I’m often asked “what is the best fat loss diet” and my response is always the same; it’s the one you can stick with. Forget the fad diets and practice nutritional moderation – you might take a while longer to get to your ideal weight but you’ll enjoy the process more and, most importantly, won’t regain the weight you have worked so hard to lose.