Why do we diet? What is the motivation? To eat better, to lose weight, to treat or prevent diseases, to try a new FAD diet that celebrities swear by? Why do we choose to live by dietary patterns created by others and live in these restrictive ways?
FAD diets are a popular topic of discussion, but what are the pros, cons, truths, and myths behind some of the most popular FADs out there?
What does dieting actually do to our bodies? One of my good friends offered me this thought process, “have you ever tried to hold your breath for one minute and then take a “normal sized” breath right after that? Even if you try, you end up taking giant gulps of air shortly thereafter to compensate for the lack of air. This is an analogy to how our body views dieting”. Any “diet” that creates a restriction, will ultimately lead to the body compensating in other ways, and so it is unsurprising that most people will weight cycle when dieting. When digging into the research, it is actually more dangerous for your cardiovascular system and general health to weight cycle than to stay at a stable weight. Fad diets tend to also limit giant food groups which can lead to nutrient deficiencies, massive shifts to the gut microbiome overnight (which our body does not like), changes in hormone signaling, and losing social aspects of food, all of which create difficult re-balancing situations which our bodies and minds do not enjoy.
The Ketogenic Diet was developed in the 1920s by Dr. Russel Wilder to explore the treatment of epilepsy. Since then, there have been many studies exploring the benefits of the ketogenic diet correlated with neurological and other medical diagnoses. The ketogenic diet has developed some recent traction in society as a popular diet to lose weight. A classic keto diet consists of 90% of calories from fat, 6% from protein, and 4% from carbohydrates. A modified keto consists of 82% of calories from fat, 12% protein, and 6% carbohydrates. “Allowed” carbohydrates include low-carb, non-starchy vegetables and excludes carb-rich foods such as grains, beans, fruits, and starchy vegetables. Proteins include meat, eggs, and cheese. Fats include oils, unprocessed nuts, butter, and avocados.
When we eat carbohydrates, our body turns them into glucose to use as fuel for energy (see Carbohydrates: Friend or Foe blog post). When we eat fat as our main source of fuel, our body switches to burning stored fat and goes into a state of ketosis (physiological state when there are elevated ketones, a breakdown product of fats, in the blood and urine). Ketones are made when we do not have enough insulin in our body to use glucose, hence our body’s reaction to fat being our main food source. The only way to truly evaluate whether your body is in a state of ketosis is via blood or urine.
The distribution of fats, carbs, and proteins in this diet is generally difficult to achieve and, sustain. Also, due to the increased calories from fat, it is difficult to receive adequate micronutrients from fruits and veggies. With the majority of the diet being from protein and fat, the kidneys are put under some stress to filter ketones appropriately. Although there are some scientific studies out there suggesting the ketogenic diet being a favorable diet for some health conditions, it may be unsustainable, create yo-yo weight changes, and can create psychological stress when fixating about the distribution in meals. Another way to achieve ketosis and not use this allocation of calories is by intermittent fasting.
This is not necessarily a diet, but still a FAD we should talk about. Intermittent fasting is categorized as “time-restricted feeding” which could be minutes, hours, or even days. During the fasting time, water, unsweetened tea, and black coffee are permitted. Generally, most people only “fast” when they are sleeping, which averages 9 hours or less a day (i.e. most people eat from the time they wake up until right before bed). That being said, it takes an average of 3-4 hours for only half of the content in our stomachs to leave the stomach and go further through the digestive tract. Do you think Sleeping Beauty’s body was focused on digesting food? No way! Our body solely wants to focus on rest and recovery while sleeping so we can be well energized and ready to take on the next day.
One benefit intermittent fasting can offer is creating a designated time to stop and start eating. If we stop eating 3-4 hours before falling asleep this can assist with our digestion process. Other benefits include creating a feeling of increased mental energy, focus, concentration, and decreased inflammation. This is not a cure all diet and can be difficult to implement. An increased awareness of hunger and your body is important to stay present while fasting. There are many ways to incorporate this daily, weekly, or monthly.
Although this is coined a “short-term nutritional reset” and not a diet, most people still consider it a “diet”. Some consider it a removal of sugar, spice, and every nice…but technically it means removing sugar, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, grains, legumes (including soy and peanuts), additives, and dairy for 30 days. Due to this being a time period, it can create a reflection and reset of your body and awareness to how you react to certain foods. Some people who regularly have sugar and alcohol may experience some physical withdrawal symptoms when starting this diet. It may also be hard to sustain and since it is only 30 days, there may be some yo-yo dieting or weight changes when returning to your “normal” diet.
Ahhh cleanses…. only taking in juices for a few days to a week creates a decrease in calories which may create some weight loss temporarily, but when you go back to eating ultimately your weight will most likely come back and have a rebound effect. You do not want a White Goodman situation. You may have some imbalance in electrolytes, diarrhea, low blood sugar, and not enough energy with a decrease in calories. One of the strongest “indications” for this diet is said to be as a detox method, but there are many healthier and more beneficial ways to create a detox response, while still eating food.
I would challenge you to ask yourself ‘why am I dieting’? My major philosophy is to find eating habits that work for you! Each body responds to food in different ways. Creating an awareness about your body and your response to foods are important. We are better off asking ourselves how we want to nourish our bodies and tuning into those cues, which will generally tell us that we do not want to eat a giant pile of cake most days if we take the time to listen. And sometimes a giant pile of cake is what your body needs, and when it is no longer prohibited it is no longer as attractive. Us humans tend to want what we cannot have, ahem… toilet paper lately is a great example. Once we pay attention to our bodies, we can see which foods actually work well for us individually and it stops being a limit/”should” imposed externally and becomes a choice that supports us feeling the way we want. The best diet for you is what works for you!! Fad shmad! Find foods that work for you! Take power in your eating habits and turn FAD into Flexible And Delicious!
Frequent articles, videos, and tips from the founders and guest posts from professionals in the health and wellness field.