Fad diets make big promises, but don’t be fooled – they aren’t good for us. Know how to spot the difference between healthy eating and a fad diet.
Fad diets are everywhere. They’re shouting at us from the covers of magazines and clogging up our social media feeds. But just because they’re everywhere, it doesn’t mean they’re a good idea. In fact, fad diets can be harmful to our physical and mental health.
What’s a healthy diet?
A healthy diet is an eating pattern that we can follow in the long run. It’s satisfying, tasty, and gives us all the nutrition (including vitamins and minerals) we need to be at our best. Healthy eating is made up of small, positive changes that we can maintain over time.
When we follow a healthy eating pattern, we’re eating regular meals with enough food to support healthy growth. We mostly eat foods from the five food groups, and have discretionary foods like chips, cakes, soft drinks and takeaway foods only sometimes. Importantly, we eat in response to our feelings of hunger and fullness and eat to nourish our bodies.
What’s a fad diet?
There are many fad diets out there. Some are easy to spot (like the cabbage soup diet!) but others can be trickier. If you see an eating plan and it includes one or many of the following characteristics, beware – it could be a fad diet.
Fad diets promise a quick fix.
Fad diets promise fast (and even super-human!) results like rapid weight loss. They may also claim to be the cure for a broad range of conditions. If a diet makes a claim that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Fad diets eliminate specific foods or entire food groups.
Fad diets often put foods or whole food groups into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or even ‘evil’ categories. This is a big problem, because eliminating core foods or food groups can be harmful. We’ll miss out on important nutrients and we’ll crave the foods we aren’t ‘allowed’, which can be stressful.
Fad diets have rigid rules.
It’s human nature to want step-by-step instructions for guaranteed success. But strict food rules, food combinations, and eating schedules don’t help us to reach our health goals. These rules make us feel stressed, and we often blame ourselves when we can’t stick to them. Remember, it’s not you – it’s the fad diet!
Fad diets use ‘pseudo-science’ to sound convincing.
Fad diets often borrow scientific words and misuse them to sound legitimate. ‘Detox’ is a great example – you don’t need to follow a special diet to ‘detox’, as your liver and kidneys do this for you!
Fad diets rely on personal stories or celebrity status.
What works for one person may not work for everyone. Stories from individuals – including celebrities – don’t stack up against the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which draw on thousands of studies and decades of research.
Fad diets promote unproven and expensive supplements.
Weight loss teas, online diet pills, and other untested supplements are fads too. They may claim to be natural, organic, or herbal, but this doesn’t make them safe – unregulated diet supplements can be very dangerous.
Why are fad diets a problem?
Fad diets don’t give us the nutrients we need to be healthy. They often make us feel tired, hungry, deprived, stressed, and miserable. They’re nearly impossible to follow for very long, and they can upset the natural balance of our body.
Healthy eating isn’t a quick fix; it is something we can stick with in the long run. Small, positive changes add up to better health, which beats a fad diet any day!
Sometimes you need a special diet
Special diets are sometimes used to help treat or manage medical conditions, and they may include strict rules about foods you should and shouldn’t eat. In these cases, it’s important to follow the advice of your doctor or dietitian.