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Why fad diets are bullsh*t (and what you should eat instead)

James Riches

Are you considering a fad diet? Well, stop!

We’re here to save you from months of unnecessary suffering. You’ll thank us for it later.

Plate with one peaAre you considering a fad diet? Well, stop! We’re here to save you from months of unnecessary suffering. You’ll thank us for it later.

Or maybe you’ve already tried a fad diet and found it didn’t help? Don’t worry. As you’re about to discover, there’s no need to feel guilty.

In fact, we’re going to tell you what, deep down, you probably already know. Fad diets don’t work and they’re not a sensible long-term health plan.

Before we tell you the best way to make your die healthier, let’s start with a few home truths about the crazy world of fad diets.

  1. They’re boring and too hard

Let’s face it, no one likes rules. They spoil everyone’s fun and, as the saying goes, they’re made to be broken!

Fad diets such as Atkins and South Beach are so strict, especially in the early stages, that many people simply can’t stomach the lack of options and end up ‘cheating’.

Meanwhile, plans such as WeightWatchers, which operate on a points-based system, can leave you such a slave to the rules that you might miss out on info that could actually help you control your diet. That slice of cake might be worth seven points, but how many calories does it contain?

We all lead busy, complicated lives and we don’t all have time to do a maths equation before every meal.

  1. They can make things worse

When you’re denying yourself the foods you love, the risk of falling off the wagon is real, and many people fall hard.

One moment of weakness can be all it takes to gorge yourself silly. This can lead to weight piling straight back on, leaving you unhappy and with a sense of failure that often leads to more overeating, creating a cycle that’s hard to break.

You’re actually increasing your risk of long-term problems in future, too. Many of these diets are at odds with conventional health advice. For example, the Paleo Diet suggests you eat more red meat, while Atkins recommends a higher than normal amount of saturated fat.

Both of these strategies increase your risk of heart problems and high blood pressure.

  1. They suggest you cut out entire food groups

There’s a very good reason why we need a balanced diet. It gives us the nutrients we need to stay healthy. So why is it that these fad diets seem so keen for us to cut things out? It doesn’t make sense. It’s a terrible idea.

Diets such as Atkins and Dukan suggest dramatically cutting your carb intake, but that suggests that all carbs are bad. While we could all use a little less sugar, starchy carbs in moderation have been shown to improve digestion and protect against heart problems, diabetes and even bowel cancer.

Phase one of the Dukan Diet bans vegetables and gets you to take vitamin supplements to ensure you get the nutrients you need. There’s simply no good reason not to get these from delicious, healthy fruit and vegetables.

If you follow the Paleo Diet’s advice and cut out dairy, the lack of calcium can lead to problems with your bones and teeth. Perhaps there’s a reason you don’t see pictures of cavemen smiling?

  1. The side effects aren’t great

Now that we’ve established that all nutrients are important, it shouldn’t surprise you to know that cutting one or two from your diet can have unwelcome side effects.

Even if you do lose a little weight at first, the trade-off may involve problems such as trouble sleeping, feeling tired and weak during the day, difficulty concentrating, constipation, irritability and nausea.

Low carb, high protein diets can also lead to bad breath, so even if you look great, your date still won’t want to come near you at the end of the night!

  1. They’re based on guesswork

They’re called ‘fad diets’ for a reason. These things are often based on little more than a hunch, with precious little hard evidence to support their supposed benefits.

Perhaps the most obvious example here is the Paleo diet. This whole concept hinges on the idea that we should be eating the same way as cavemen did. But, it turns out we have no way of knowing exactly how our ancestors ate.

True, we can safely say they didn’t have a sneaky Mars bar at 4pm, but the idea that we can only eat food that’s been ‘hunted’ or ‘gathered’ is based on a romanticised story rather than any real science.

And if it’s not guessing, it’s often just nonsense. The Alkaline diet tells us to eat more fruit and veg to control the levels of acid in our body, but our body does this quite naturally regardless of diet. Then there’s the VB6 Diet, where you have to eat vegan, but only until 6pm. That’s just plain silly.

Even if studies show that these diets ‘work’, they’re often no more effective than enjoying a balanced (and far less punishing) diet.

So what should you be eating instead?

It’s not rocket science. A balanced diet with a healthy amount of carbs, protein, vitamins, minerals, fibre and, yes, even fat, is your first step to enjoying a healthy life and getting the figure you’re after.

Grilled fishPerhaps the best example of this is the Mediterranean Diet, which many health experts agree is one of the most nutritionally balanced plans out there. It’s based on the cuisines of regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea, so that’s Greece, Italy, Spain and the South of France.

Plenty of studies have shown that this diet reduces your risk of obesity and a long list of serious illnesses, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Some forms of cancer

After reading that, you probably want to know what this diet contains! Luckily, it’s nice and simple. Let’s break it down:

Caprese saladCarbs

Stick to starchy carbs such as wholegrain bread, wholewheat pasta and brown rice.

Protein

Fish and poultry should be eaten often. Red meat is okay, but only two or three times a month. You can also use beans, chickpeas and pulses to add bulk to your meals.

Fruit and veg

These will always be on your plate. We often talk about ‘eating the rainbow’ and this is something you’ll do a lot if you’re dining Mediterranean-style. This approach means you’ll get plenty of vitamins and minerals every day.

Fat

When it comes to fat, you want to focus on the good, unsaturated kind, rather than the saturated fat found in cakes and other sugary food. Plain nuts, low fat dairy products and oily fish are the best sources, while olive oil is often used instead of butter.

What’s worked for you?

Have you found that making a simple change to your diet has helped you achieve your health goals? If so, we want to hear about it! Whether it’s meal plan, a healthy snack or even a full recipe, come and see us over on Facebook and tell us all about it!

By the way, don’t forget that any healthy diet plan will only work if you’re also getting plenty of exercise. You knew that already though, right?

Topics: Nutrition, Diet