By: Tayler Glenn
Chances are, you’ve even tried a fad diet or two. Whether we’re talking about the Cabbage Soup Diet or restricting yourself to only baby food (yep, that’s a real thing), these fad diets all have one thing in common: they aren’t effective in the long term. So what does work for weight loss? A healthy lifestyle, that’s what! Here’s everything you need to know on why a healthy lifestyle beats fad diets every single time.
It seems that just about every week brings a new diet craze. From low-fat, no-fat to carbophobia, these fad diets plaster the front of magazines and find a way to top the best-seller lists year after year. But, if they were as great as they claimed to be, then why are 45 million Americans still signing up for a new diet each year? Maybe that’s not the real question. It is up to us, after all, to make our own healthy choices, so maybe the real question is “If we all know these diets don’t work, why do we keep falling for them”?
Why We Love Fad Diets
Fad diets are often programs you’re supposed to follow for just a few weeks. Whether it’s a 7-day juice fast, 4-week Keto cycle, or 6-month no-carb affair, it’s easy to commit to something when you get immediate results and a light at the end of a relatively short tunnel. When the alternative option is the nutrition experts’ suggestion of changing your lifestyle permanently, the ever-changing cycle of three and four-week fad diets just got a lot more appealing! After all, cutting out all sugar for 3 weeks feels more doable than cutting back for the rest of your life.
In short, changing people like to feel immediate benefits of changing behavior and also feel that those benefits outweigh the costs. For many of us, the mental and emotional cost of giving up our sugar-fueled lifestyle seems too expensive which leads us to opt for the “quick fix.”
Why Fad Diets Don’t Work
Easy answer: they aren’t sustainable! Sure, you may lose weight fast at first but how long are you really going to be able to rely on baby food to power you through a full workday and an hour of spin class? More importantly, what is that crazy back-and-forth effect of yo-yo dieting doing to your metabolism, and how many amazing life experiences are you missing out on because you were too hangry, tired, or food-restricted to take part?
Fad diets rope us in because they play into our impatience and desperation, enacting temporary changes for quick temporary results. Once the diet is over, however, you’re left without any lasting lifestyle changes which lead you to gain even more weight back pretty quickly after resuming your normal eating habits.
Constant dieting can also be harmful to to your mental health! Remember how you felt the last time you fell off a fad diet bandwagon? It’s hard not to internalize failures and view our actions (or lack thereof) as a reflection of ourselves, and this can turn “I failed my diet” into “I’m a failure”.
See, tracking your food or macros is one thing. But micromanaging everything you put into your body with obsessive calorie counting or weighing can lead to an unhealthy obsession with food and a negative self-image. If your diet is eliminating entire food groups or restricting your diet too much, it may be time to take a step back.
Fad diets may also impact your physical health. Because so many of these trendy diets are so restrictive, they often lack important nutrients like fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Not to mention, there’s a doubled risk of death by heart attack and stroke for fad dieters with heart disease because of the stress that rapid weight gain and loss puts on your body.
Why A Healthy Lifestyle Is Better
Now that we’ve covered just a few of the reasons fad diets aren’t helping you reach your weight loss goals, it’s time to talk about what will help you succeed – a healthy lifestyle!
Instead of depriving your body in unsustainable ways, consider a better approach to what goes on your plate. Rather than picking up a magazine or the latest fad diet on the bestsellers list, try searching for a program that offers both guidance, structure, and education! This will allow you to not only have the guidance and support you need to make long-lasting changes that fit your unique lifestyle but also provide the “why” behind your healthy choices to motivate you long after the newness of a changing lifestyle wears off!
Here are a few tips to get started on those healthy changes:
- Eat a variety of foods you enjoy. A “healthy diet” doesn’t mean salads all day, every day! Make sure your daily meals include a balance of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, fruits, veggies, and “good” fats. This will allow you to stick with your diet by opening the door for new flavors and dishes, and also including the wide range of nutrients your body needs!
- Avoid “empty calories.” Steer clear of sugary sodas, packaged foods, and fruit drinks whenever possible. While they may taste great, they aren’t serving your body with valuable nutrients! Instead, opt for fresh or home-prepped snacks that are full of whole foods.
- Set realistic goals. Aiming to lose 5 pounds in a week simply isn’t going to happen unless you have quite a bit of weight to lose and, even then, there’s a good chance you’re losing more water weight than actual body fat. A good goal is to aim for a 1-2 pound loss per week, which averages out to a caloric deficit of about 500 calories per day. Aiming for more than that is likely to slow your metabolism and is likely not a sustainable amount of food per day in the long run.
- Exercise at least 150 minutes each week. It doesn’t matter if this is 3 times per week for 50 minutes or 3-10 minute walks per day for 5 days. The goal is to find a way to move your body in a way you enjoy and that fits into your daily life!
- Incorporate strength training. Many of us get stuck in a cardio rut where we’re slogging out 45 minutes on the treadmill, hating every last one of them. Good news: this is your sign to ditch the dreadmill and grab some weights! This will help improve your body composition while decreasing body fat, and this added muscle will really help your metabolism get going!