Health & Medicine

Here’s why fad diets generally don’t help you keep weight off

Janelle Schnake
Janelle Schnake

It’s the beginning of 2017, and millions of Americans have resolved to shed some pounds.

In fact, the most common New Year’s resolution for 2016 was to lose weight.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 62 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. To resolve this issue, many people turn to the latest fad diet.

A fad diet is one that promises rapid weight loss or other health benefits, yet usually cuts out one or more food groups. This often leads to an unbalanced meal plan.

Many of these diets over-promise results and often aren’t backed by solid scientific research. Examples of fad diets include Master Cleanse, The Alkaline Cure, South Beach Diet, Paleo Diet, Raw Food Diet and an array of diet pills and supplements. Fad diets may contribute to weight loss, but loss of money is more prominent. Marketdata Enterprises reports that Americans spend close to $60 billion annually on losing weight.

While some of these diets can result in weight loss, it’s keeping the weight off that’s the real issue. Diets that encourage fast weight loss usually have little effect on body fat. The initial weight lost on a fad diet is mostly water and lean muscle.

When little food is eaten, the body begins to break down muscle to meet its energy needs. Breaking down muscle leads to a loss of water, which creates the illusion of rapid weight loss.

Unfortunately, loss of muscle also slows down the metabolism. Therefore, when the diet is stopped, the body will be more likely to gain fat than prior to starting the diet — thus diets can result in weight gain over time. A study in which researchers decreased the subjects’ caloric intake found that, after five years, 83 percent showed more weight gained than originally lost.

When it comes to fad diets, only 5 percent of those who lose weight keep it off.

A few issues that fad diets have in common is that they don’t mention the importance of physical activity when starting a weight-loss journey.

The American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association and American Medical Association all encourage physical activity in addition to diet change to successfully lose weight and maintain it.

Also, fad diets encourage a short-term change in eating behavior, rather than encouraging lifestyle changes. The Council on Size and Weight Discrimination states that weight-loss diets are at best a temporary fix to a larger issue. It is important that a diet meets nutritional needs and is practical and suitable for individual lifestyles and disease states.

According to the National Institute of Health, a healthy rate of weight loss is losing one to two pounds a week. Ultimately, transforming your eating and exercise habits gradually is healthier than following a fad diet.

For help, talk to a registered dietitian to develop a weight-loss plan that will work for you.

Janelle Schnake is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with KentuckyOne Health Diabetes and Nutrition Care.