Why Fad Diets Don’t Work

I totally understand why fad diets exist.

fad diets dont workI mean, if we want a pizza we just tap an app and then bosh, it’s at the door.

If we want to find out what our ex has been doing we no longer need to stalk them. We just hit Facebook and then bosh, turns out they’ve gained 30lbs and started listening to death metal.

So it makes perfect sense that in a world where most of us are unhappy with the way we look, we get bombarded with promises of instant results for minimal effort.

These things cater to the things we want to hear, too.

Instead of telling us that we just need to work hard and eat smart (because dull), it turns out the real problem is motherfucking sugar. Or wheat. Or carbs. Those delicious little bastards.

So today I am going to run through the main reasons why fad diets – yes, all of themdo not work for proper weight loss results.

fad diets

  • The body adapts to extreme calorie reduction

The human body is the smartest piece of technology you (or I) will ever operate.

Heck, it’s even smarter than women.

I’m not saying all women are smart, but it’s quite intriguing that there are so few known female serial killers and so many unsolved murders.

Anyway, one of the smartest things your body will do is adapt to it’s surroundings to keep your vital organs functioning at optimal levels.

Let’s put this into context. Have you ever known someone who has suddenly dropped their calorie intake to a ridiculously low level in a bid to lose weight?

Other than the fact that they begin to shuffle through life like an extra from Z Nation (everyone knows a Z Nation reference is cooler than a Walking Dead reference), something very strange happens to them around the 3-4 week mark.

I once had a pal who tried this.

She changed from her regular 3100 calorie diet (which was mostly junk food) to a 600 calorie diet.

After an initial period of weight loss (I’ll explain how this was achieved later), she hit a brick wall around a month in and found herself in the awful position of eating like a rabbit, pounding the treadmill and losing absolutely no weight.

Imagine that.

Fuck.

fad diets dont work

That’s worse than finding out Ben & Jerry’s have started doing home delivery orders, only to see that they’ve changed their entire menu to “healthy alternatives”.

What’s happened here is that her body has adapted to her new calorie intake.

While it was a shock at first, once the body realized this new super-low calorie intake was being maintained every single day it began the process of slowing your metabolism, meaning you will find it significantly harder to burn off body fat despite eating hardly any food.

It takes this step because, quite frankly, the body doesn’t give a damn about how you want to look.

It feels it is being attacked and, so, makes the necessary adaptations to keep your vital organs functioning on your new calorie intake.

micronutrients

  • You miss out on micronutrients

One of the facets associated with extreme diets is that you are often told to remove certain food groups from your daily diet.

They are typically based around the idea of eliminating a certain ingredient or macronutrient from your diet.

As a result, you find that your food choices are restricted to a very small group.

You know I’m not a fan of placing foods onto a “good” or “bad” list. Here’s why.

But heck, I’ve even seen a few diets which are based around the idea of eating one single food (i.e. the cabbage soup diet).

There are numerous issues which arise with this, and many of them tie in to the other points I make in this article, so for now let me focus on a problem which usually goes unnoticed – you miss out on major micronutrients.

Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are responsible for all the boring jobs your body does on a daily basis, from strengthening your hair to looking after your immune system, and everything in between.

And micronutrients are obtained via food.

So by restricting your diet to only a few options (or, even worse, one single food) you simultaneously eliminate your intake of these crucial vitamins and minerals.

This is why your fad diet friend typically feels like someone just shit in her shaker.

If you are training in the gym (seeing as you’re reading my site, I presume you love the gym) then we cannot overstate the importance of staying on top of your vitamins and minerals. They will help you to build more muscle, burn more fat and recover from workouts.

If your diet is negatively impacting your training, and your training is negatively impacting your diet (by putting you into a greater calorie deficit when it’s already too far gone), then it’s a recipe for disaster.

And probably one you’d not be allowed to eat.

water

  • You are mainly losing water anyway

In the first point, I mentioned that weight loss is usually achieved during the first 3 weeks of an extreme diet.

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been told to drop sugar, wheat, or chocolate.

Coupled with your new 600 calorie intake, there is one very important thing happening under the hood of your new diet – you are eating far less carbohydrates.

And one of the telltale signs of a low carb diet is water weight loss.

You see, when we reduce our carbohydrate intake to very low levels our body responds by flushing the water we have stored, and this contributes to very quick (yet ultimately fucking pointless) reductions in weight.

This is when your guru will pounce on you for a testimonial, hailing their bullshit “system” as the best thing since The Rock did this

As all of this water weight loss usually occurs before you hit “the wall” of metabolic adaptation, this leaves people thinking they have done something wrong when the results stop coming. Suddenly, they are frustrated, blaming themselves for doing something wrong, or trying dieting even harder to kick-start results.

This post will explain more about water weight loss.

  • It’s unsustainable

It goes without saying that the best diet is the one you can stick to.

In fact, over 80% of dieters experience weight regain because they cannot maintain the lifestyle they used to drop the weight in the first place.

Sure, eating 600 calories per day, avoiding bread and setting ablaze to any food containing the letter C might help you shock the body in the short-term, but it’s not worth it.

Because, as mentioned above, the vast majority of the weight lost is water anyway, which is regained the moment you return to “eating normal food” again.

Couple that with the fact that the overwhelming majority of people who partake in fad diets come out of the plan with a bigger case of the munchies than Chunk from The Goonies, and we have another big problem at hand.

A List Of Popular Fad Diets That Don’t Work

Let’s take a look at the most popular fad diets to emerge in the last few years.

All of these are nonsense, using instant gratification as a means to promote an unhealthy lifestyle.

Maybe you’ve seen some of them.

dukan diet

  • The Dukan Diet

The Dukan Diet was originally popular in France, before making it’s way around the world in celebrity gossip magazines.

The diet is split into four phases.

During phase one the participant is told to eat only protein, during phase two this changes to protein and vegetables. Phase three moves to protein, vegetables and starches, before phase four allows you to eat whatever you want, providing you set aside one day per week as a protein-only day and “take the stairs whenever possible”.

Basically, The Dukan Diet is a zero carb diet which then progresses into a low carb diet.

Why it doesn’t work:

  1. Very restrictive food choices
  2. Cutting out food groups and/or macronutrients
  3. Missing in key micronutrients
  4. Bulk of weight lost is simpy water, due to zero/low carbohydrate intake

the 17 day diet

  • The 17 Day Diet

Because 20 days isn’t even “quick fix” enough now.

The 17 Day Diet is another low carbohydrate plan, encouraging users to walk for 17 minutes per day (because gimmick) and stop eating carbohydrates after 2 O’Clock in the afternoon.

If your glass of water is shaking right now, it’s me headbutting a wall.

Why 17 days? Well, you could be forgiven for thinking this is because an odd number stands out more than a round number. In reality, those first 2-3 weeks is how long it’ll take for your body to flush itself of water.

Why it doesn’t work:

  • Restricting certain foods
  • Missing in key micronutrients
  • Bulk of weight lost is once again just water

fad diets

  • The Atkins Diet

During the early part of the 2000’s, you couldn’t move for people doing The Atkins Diet.

This was one of the first diets to promote the idea that “carbohydrates are the enemy”, and led to the demonization of carbs in the media which lasted the best part of a decade before, thankfully, science won out.

Again, it’s a very low carb diet plan which woo’s the user with claims of losing up to 15lbs in the first two weeks.

Why? Yup.

Why it doesn’t work:

  • Very unsustainable in the long-term
  • Missing in key micronutrients
  • Weight lost is water, meaning an immediate regain when the user returns to eating carbohydrates
  • Food choices are restricted

hcg_diet

  • The HCG Diet

Ah, the HCG Diet..

One of my all-time favourite awful diets.

The HCG Diet is based around the idea of you eating 500-800 calories per day (hungry, much?) and receiving injections of HCG, a hormone which is produced during pregnancy.

Again, restrictions are placed on carbohydrates and, the icing on the cake (which you’re most certainly not allowed to eat!) is the instruction that if you slip off your diet and over-indulge, you should eat just 6 apples the next day to “make up for your mistake”.

You cheating bitch.

There’s so much wrong here that it makes Juice Plus reps look like fucking Einstein.

HCG itself has been linked to blood clots, constipation and headaches yet, incidentally, the one thing it hasn’t been successfully linked to yet is fucking weight loss. It’s not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for weight loss purposes and I don’t expect this to change in future.

Why it doesn’t work:

  1. Extreme calorie reduction
  2. Incredibly restrictive food choices
  3. Missing in key micronutrients
  4. Weight lost is water, due to the ban on carbohydrates
  5. Very unsustainable
  6. HCG isn’t connected to weight loss anyway

the raw food diet for weight loss

  • The Raw Food Diet

Eating like a caveman is all the rage nowadays.

But while I have nothing against packing more lean meat, fruit and vegetables into your diet, I draw the line at walking around Tesco in a loincloth.

“Foodies” (people who post clean eating memes on Facebook to remind you that they are better than you) advise that food which has been processed or cooked in any way is not good enough, because certain nutrients are removed.

While certain vegetables do indeed see their micronutrient index reduce via the cooking process, others actually require it in order to unlock their full potential. And then there’s protein. Allow me to confirm that eating raw burgers is fucking pointless.

The Raw Food Diet is fucking impractical, unnecessarily rigid and encourages you to live in a way that just doesn’t fit today’s world.

Why it doesn’t work:

  • Very unsustainable due to the constant food prep involved
  • Very restrictive food options

alkaline diet

  • The Alkaline Diet

Speaking of people who like to post meme’s on social media, the words “cleanse” and “detox” are never far form their lips.

And one of the most popular fad diet choices for these individuals is The Alkaline Diet, a diet plan so incredibly anti-science that it claims it can change your body’s PH levels.

Apparently, I just have to wear some yoga pants, put a Valencia filter over my everyday life and drink this water with fucking lemon and cucumber in it.

Fuck you, Instagram.

the alkaline diet does not work

Do not be fooled by this crazy talk. Instead, see the picture above and let the facts reign supreme.

And while you’re on such a good roll putting things right in the universe, go tell your co-worker who pedals this bullshit that taking selfies and selling shakes doesn’t make them a fucking coach.

Due to the severe restrictions placed upon your food choices, you are left with choosing the bulk of your calorie intake from fish, nuts, vegetables and seeds. So again, this diet is typically lower in carbohydrates and lower in calories thanks to the fact that, when faced with a very restrictive diet, most people simply eat fewer calories due to boredom of food choices available.

Those are the reasons you are losing weight, not the “miracles” you’ll see gurus proclaiming about kale and/or coconut oil.

Why it doesn’t work:

  • Typically lower in carbs, meaning water weight loss is a key factor in the early stages
  • Missing in key micronutrients
  • Unsustainable due to very restrictive food choices
  • The name itself is a lie, we cannot alter our body’s PH levels

cabbage soup diet

  • The Cabbage Soup Diet

I’ve joked about this one in a few articles, because I have no idea how it caught on.

The idea with The Cabbage Soup Diet is that you, erm, eat a fuck-tonne of cabbage soup and cut out all other food choices, except very low calorie snacks.

It’s that simple.

It is, of course, total bullshit.

The weight loss is created because you are suddenly in a massive caloric deficit. You are also getting nowhere near enough protein per day to retain your lean muscle mass.

Why it doesn’t work:

  • Not enough protein
  • Ridiculously small list of food choices
  • Hugely unsustainable
  • Extreme calorie reduction

So there’s 7 popular fad diets that don’t work right off the top of my head, and if you read the reasons why you will notice that they all fall into each of the traps laid out beforehand in today’s article.

Simple science, right?

fad diets dont work

Final Thoughts On Why Fad Diets Don’t Work

I can’t start an article with the claim that your body is the most complex machine in existence, and then end the article by proclaiming you can “trick it” by eating “one weird food” or doing “one weird exercise”.

  • Fad diets do not work.
  • Nor do extreme diets.
  • Nor do superfood diets.
  • Nor do juice detox diets.
  • Nor do diets which are overly restrictive on any food group in any way.

Most of us waste years moving from one fad to the next, hoping to find the magic ingredient that you must cut out to see your abs, but I want you to do something very different.

I want you to allow yourself any food.

Just don’t be a fucking asshole about it.

Building a great body is about discipline. That discipline is hard and requires effort. That’s just the way it is.

diet

What scares me a little, is that the people who say they don’t have the discipline to eat a little healthier often display even more discipline in eating nothing but cabbage fucking soup for a few weeks at a time.

Sure, they might binge eat at the end of it and regain all the weight they lost. But I think even I would.

If that level of discipline was applied to a diet which was just a bit more sensible (no food off the menu, just don’t eat the whole menu), then the sky is the limit.

Because the number one factor in the success of any diet is sustainability.

Studies show that adopting a more flexible approach to your diet (i.e. allowing yourself a treat if you want a treat) leads to much greater sustainability of a healthy lifestyle versus rigid (i.e. eat this, not that) dieting. (1, 2)

While the “damage” caused by eating a slice of pizza is absolutely minimal, the mental damage caused by driving yourself up the fucking wall by trying to bring tupperware filled with lettuce and chicken to family events can lead to a very unhealthy relationship with food – one which is both unnecessary and a major factor in triggering binge eating sessions further down the road.

Stress is one of the biggest causes of destroying our self control, leading to disordered eating. An overly restrictive diet is the number one way to push that into overdrive.

So I’ll leave you with this:

A fitness lifestyle should be a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate.

And that’s that!

If you enjoyed this post on why fad diets don’t work, all I ask is that you are kind enough to share it with others.

Remember to go here for my workout plans (most of them are free), and jump on my free email list at the end of this article for weekly training tips via email.

References:

  1. Smith, C. F., et al. Flexible vs. Rigid dieting strategies: relationship with adverse behavioral outcomes. Appetite. 1999 Jun;32(3):295-305.
  2. Stewart, T. M., et al. Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women. Appetite. 2002 Feb;38(1):39-44.

8 thoughts on “Why Fad Diets Don’t Work”

  1. I’ve got a few friends like this. Every month they follow another quick fix promise, the alkaline diet is the current one they’re into!

  2. Hold my hands up as a former advocate of this way of living. I think I’ve used all the ones you’ve listed and a few more to boot. Everything you’ve said here is true – I would drop a few pounds, hit the wall, and then move on to the next diet to see if I could restart my progress. Until now I never really grasped why it went the same way every time. Thank you!!

  3. Keep doing work like this, Russ! One of the few shining lights in the murky fitness industry, clearing up the nonsense 🙂

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