Any diet that restricts certain foods or limits calories typically leads to weight loss. But what happens after the diet ends? Quick weight-loss diets or fad diets rarely bring long-term, sustainable results because people return to their poor eating habits as soon as the diet ends.
“I don’t ever advocate dieting. Diets don’t work and the only way to ‘lose weight’ is to get healthy and make a lifestyle change,” Dr. Angela DeBord Henriksen, a family medicine physician at Indiana University Health.
Temporary measures for weight loss produce temporary results. In order to maintain a healthy weight, a lifestyle change must occur that includes a balanced diet and physical activity. Not only do fad diets produce short-term results, but also they can present greater health risks.
“Most fad diets center on eliminating certain food groups or limiting to only specific ‘healthy’ food choices,” says Anna King, a registered dietitian at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. “Each food group provides its own unique set of vitamins, minerals and energy for the body.”
Fad diets can eliminate much-needed nutrients or introduce ingredients that spike blood sugar in a diabetic patient. High-protein diets can create risks for other conditions. The PALEO diet has gained wide popularity in recent years, with some controversy.
“I focus on emphasizing the importance of nourishing the body with vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients to ensure good health,” says Dr. Henriksen. “I don’t really believe in the PALEO diet because it is a fad diet and, in all actuality, it isn’t an authentic diet. There is no way that we could actually eat as our paleolithic ancestors did. We simply don’t have the same habitat or environment. Today’s berries, vegetables and seeds are nothing like then. It is simply just a different environment and time period.”
However, Dr. Henriksen says the PALEO diet does focus on the elimination of processed food, which marks a huge improvement from what most Americans eat today.
“A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and organic, grass-fed lean meats is amazing for the body- it can only be sustained if it is implemented in small steps,” says Dr. Henriksen. “I usually try to get patients to first adopt the idea that what they eat significantly impacts their health. I try to get them off of soda, packaged foods and sugars first. Then we start to implement changes that are compatible with their lifestyle, work schedules and individual tastes.”
Some of the greatest influences that lead to high numbers of children and adults on fad diets transcend from social media, television, magazines, peer pressure and parental body image issues, according to King.
“We are inundated everywhere with the ideal body image that is grossly unobtainable and can lead to unhealthy diet and exercise routines,” King says. “Children and teens can develop disordered eating patterns, excessive exercise schedules and poor body image views that affect self-esteem and self-confidence.”
Talking to your primary care physician regularly about health and weight goals marks the first step to identifying the diet fit for you. Your physician may refer you to a registered dietitian to map out a personalized plan for long-term weight management, customized to your specific health needs.