Health Dangers Due to Diet Fads

Updated at: Dec 18, 2017
Health Dangers Due to Diet Fads

Fad diets may look like a shortcut to that fine body frame you have always craved for, but have you weighed its health dangers, yet? Well, it is high time now!

Shipra Sakalni Mishra
Exercise & FitnessWritten by: Shipra Sakalni MishraPublished at: Sep 03, 2012

Health Dangers Due to Diet Fads

Food fad is a term originally used to describe simple, catchy diets that are often focused on a single element which is exaggerated and purported to cure specific diseases. "Banning" certain foods has got to be one of the biggest mistakes people make when dieting. This will only lead to cravings, and subsequent binges, causing weight gain instead of loss. There are no "good" or “bad” foods; there are just "good" and "bad" eating habits. Dieting should be about altering those poor eating habits so that you not only lose weight, but keep it off permanently. Fad diets take form in many ways: low-fat, low-carbohydrates, high-protein, or focusing on one particular food item. These diets lack major nutrients such as dietary fiber and carbohydrates, as well as selected vitamins, minerals, and protective phytochemicals, such as antioxidants (substances found in vegetables, which are protective against disease). [Read: Harmful Effects of Crash Dieting]

Over the long term, by not receiving the proper amounts of these nutrients, one may develop serious health problems later in life. Some common claims of these diets include blaming particular hormones for weight gain, suggesting that food can change body chemistry, or touting or banning a particular food. However, they all have one thing in common: They offer only a temporary solution to what for many people is a lifelong and chronic condition. Once the diet is stopped, the lost weight is usually regained quickly, and when weight is lost rapidly, chances are it is not fat that is lost but water weight and precious muscle -- but when it is regained, it is usually all gained as fat. This is because none of these diets teach you how to eat right. So, self-diagnosis and self-imposed diets could lead to problems such as nutrient deficiency, osteoporosis and immune problems. [Read: How to Lose Weight without Dieting]

Health Dangers

Many fad diets are not nutritionally sound, and most of these diets have one major flaw. They tell us to only eat one type of food, depriving our bodies of important vitamins and minerals that are vital to our overall health. One side effect of many of these diets is that the improper nutrition can result in a potential loss of muscle density. [Read: What not to do to Lose Weight]

Weight Gain: Fad diets usually claim that they can help you lose weight quickly and easily with minimal effort from your part. Even though this is what makes these diets tempting, this is also what makes them suspicious. Health experts will tell you time and again that the only way to effectively lose weight and keep it off is by making long-term changes to your lifestyle, such as adapting a healthier diet and regularly exercising. Needless to say, making these changes is not exactly neither easy nor quick. When you try a fad diet, you will likely lose kilos in a matter of days as promised since you will be eating a very restricted diet. Unfortunately, most of the weight you will lose is just water weight. Once you stop the diet and resume your normal lifestyle, chances are that you will gain the weight back - with a few additional kilos.

Altered Metabolism: Because most fad diets require you to eat a structured amount of food on a structured schedule, you can also end up disrupting your natural metabolism. Your body has a natural ability to tell you when to eat and when to stop eating. Going against this natural pattern can negatively impact your metabolism, and these negative effects can last long after the diet.

Nutritional Deficiencies: Fad diets also prohibit you from eating certain types of food. Perhaps your diet requires you to cut out carbohydrates or any type of fat from your daily foods. This can lead to a serious nutritional deficiency. Carbohydrates are a significant source of energy and depriving yourself of these nutrients can cause you to feel fatigued and unable to function normally. Contrary to popular belief, not all fats are bad for you. Good fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, are essential if you want to have good health.

Hair and Muscle Loss: The nutritional deficiencies that fad diets cause can also lead to health conditions like hair loss and muscle loss. Your hair requires a good deal of protein in order to grow and thrive. When you are not getting enough protein in your diet, your hair eventually loses its health. Poor hair health can lead to brittleness which can turn into breakage and shedding hair. Muscle loss is another negative effect of fad diets. Fad diets can cause a 3-6% loss of muscle along with any fat lost. If the weight is regained, more fat and less muscle is replaced, resulting in less overall muscle protein. The less muscle you have, the fewer the calories you need to maintain it. This means that over time you will be able to eat less and less without gaining even more weight. Since your diet is very low in calories, your body will look for other ways to get energy. One of these ways is by digesting your muscles. This is actually detrimental to weight loss because muscles help you burn more calories even when you are at rest.

  • Many fad diets work by having illogical rules that make it too difficult to eat many different foods. The side effect of this is that you take in fewer calories. One other nasty effect is that it prevents you from eating a wide range of foods, and variety is essential for good health.
  • Beware of claims and theories that appear scientific, but have no scientific studies to back them up. Testimony from a famous person is just not good enough.
  • Moderately reduced-fat diets are often OK, but avoid super-low-fat ones. Your body still needs to take in a few essential fatty acids with your food.
  • Low-carbohydrate and high-protein plans are potentially dangerous. The diets often contain too much saturated fat and not enough fibre, and lack of carbohydrate can put the body into ketosis. Ketosis is an abnormal metabolic state with unpleasant side effects such as bad breath and nausea. The diet can also place a strain on the kidneys. The 'science' behind the diet has been disagreed with.
  • There is no evidence to support the theory that you should avoid eating carbohydrates and proteins at the same meal.
  • There is no proof that you need a special diet to go with your blood type. A small serving of a low calorie food (such as kidney beans) cannot make you gain weight, it isn't scientifically possible.

Some Common Fad Diets:

There is no such thing as a "miracle diet." Fad diets are dangerous and rarely lead to permanent weight loss. Below is a list of some of the better-known fad diets:

Atkins Diet: The Atkins Diet calls for the serious restriction of most types of carbohydrates while allowing for large amounts of fat and protein to be consumed. When the human body cannot get the energy it requires from carbohydrates, it breaks down fat and muscle, causing ketone bodies to form in the bloodstream. This diet leads to appetite suppression, but nausea, fatigue and fluid loss can all increase.

Zone: The Zone is another low carbohydrate/high fat diet that relies on the presumption that we should eat 40% of our calories from a certain type of carbohydrates, 30% of our calories from protein, and 30% of our calories from fat. This diet claims that the body will burn fat at the highest rate possible if these percentages are followed because it is genetically programmed to be fed this way. To help individuals deal with the annoyance of attempting to plan their meals around these restrictions, there is an entire line of "zone-perfect" foods that can be purchased. Low levels of carbohydrates, fiber and certain vitamins and minerals can occur when following the Zone.

Cabbage Soup: This is a weight-reducing program designed for short-term use. This diet calls for strange combinations of food to be eaten each day, but the dieter is also allowed as much cabbage soup as desired. This diet claims to produce ten to fifteen pounds of weight loss in one week, but is essentially a starvation diet, and most of the weight loss is from water. The soup recipe used cannot provide the body with all the nutrients it requires, and many people report feeling weak and lightheaded after a few days.

The Grapefruit Diet: This fad diet is based on the assumption that grapefruit contains fat-burning enzymes. You eat half a grapefruit before every meal, and calorie intake is usually restricted to around 800 calories a day. This is a dangerously low amount, especially when combined with the program's suggestion that you drink large amounts of caffeine-based drinks. Since no fat-burning enzymes have ever been found in grapefruit, and the 800 calories is used up almost entirely on caffeinated beverages, it should be obvious why this diet cannot be expected to result in permanent weight loss or health benefits.

The 3 Day Diet: This program offers a restricted calorie intake (about 1,000 calories) for a three-day period. Foods allowed are restricted, and the body tends to lose water rather than fat. The 3 Day Diet is not meant to be used for longer than three days, and the lost weight quickly returns.

The yo-yo effect: Weight often goes back on as fat, leaving you with more fat and less protein than you started off with, which leaves you feeling even more out of shape than before, and can start off a vicious circle of yo-yo dieting. Yo-yo dieting messes up your metabolism, and may even raise the levels of harmful cholesterol in the blood, increasing your risk of arterial disease and heart problems.

Best Solution: There are many ways to lose weight and get fit. But the best and healthiest way to do so, is with a diet that let's you eat your regular food, is easy to follow, doesn't keep you hungry. Many of us know what is healthy or not, but we still don't lose weight. What you need is a good weight loss diet plan, designed by a clinical dietitian, who makes it around your food choices (veg, non-veg), and your height, weight, gender and other such factors.


Sakalni Mishra, Sr. Clinical Nutritionist, Fortis La Femme on Health Dangerous Due to Diet Fads

Read more articles on Healthy Eating.


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