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Dangers of Fad Diets


QUESTION:

I know that in the long run dieting doesn't work.  However, when I hear co-workers talking about the latest diet or I hear an advertisement for a weight loss plan, I can't help but think that it just might work this time.  Any suggestions?

ANSWER:

The marketing of fad diets is everywhere... billboards, radio, TV, magazines, diet books, grocery store products and end-of-aisle promotions.  The media pressure to diet has significantly increased over the past 30 years and is bombarding us like never before.  And these advertisements are irresistible indeed – making offers that you simply cannot refuse.  Keep in mind, however, that the individuals who promote these diets are marketing professionals, not health care professionals!  They know how to target your weaknesses and play on your desires to improve your current status.  Marketers want you to believe that your happiness is at the end of their diet!

For chronic dieters, starting a new diet can become almost like an addiction.  The whole process provides a euphoric high that encompasses the hopes, motivation and drive to once and for all get your life on track and lose that weight.  When the diet fails, the dieter blames herself and self-esteem plummets.  With a deflated sense of worth, dieters look outside themselves for hope, and will commonly find promise in the next diet. Thus, the downward spiral of diet addiction continues.

As you mentioned, dieting can become a strong social tie in certain circles.  Girlfriends and co-workers often bond by going on the latest diet together. Refusing to participate can leave you feeling like an outcast.

When the lure of the next fad diet comes into play, keep yourself on the right track by remembering the following key points:

  • Fad diets don't work.

  • Recognize the marketing schemes and tactics used to draw you into the fantasy.  You will not automatically have a gorgeous partner at your side, live in a beach house adjacent to the deep blue sea, or have people tripping over themselves to make you happy, simply by losing weight on their product.

  • Recognize the unreasonable claims often associated with fad diets.  Contrary to what they say, you will be hungry if the diet is too low in calories (most fad diets are) and ultimately you will have to return to something of a normal diet, typically gaining the lost weight back in the process.  Weight loss is never completely effortless; it takes time to plan healthy meals, grocery shop, exercise, and focus on internal cues.  And losing more than a couple pounds a week is never healthy, even though marketers often tie in health claims with their product.

  • The process of cycling through diets (i.e., on again, off again dieting) is harmful to your emotional and physical health.  Eventually it leads to decreased metabolism, weight gain, frustration, negative body image and self-esteem, cravings and binges, and distrust in your innate ability to monitor food intake.  These consequences increase the likelihood of developing eating disorders.

  • True happiness can't be found in a diet.  Happiness can only be achieved when you are content and comfortable in your own skin.  Fad diets compromise your ability to achieve true indicators of happiness by placing a higher importance on your body weight than on your emotional and physical well being.

  • Have faith that slow and steady is the right way to go.  The most effective and healthy way to long-term weight loss and maintenance is through lifestyle changes in dietary intake and exercise.  While your co-workers may temporarily surpass your weight loss by going on a fad diet, three months down the line you'll be 12 pounds lighter and they'll be looking for the next new diet.

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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.

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