Fad Diets & Weight Loss Trends: Why They Just Don’t Work
As with fashion and interior design, trends in dieting come and go. These so-called fad diets are usually created by fitness enthusiasts, nutritionists, or even doctors who believe they have discovered the latest and greatest method for quickly losing weight. Fad diets are often promoted by the media, and many make unrealistic claims about being a permanent weight loss solution. They tend to rely on exaggerated strategies such as food elimination; make dramatic claims about the methods they use; and, are typically not backed by scientific evidence.
Recently, we have been monitoring the fad diets that are currently making headlines, including IIFYM, Profile®, intermittent fasting and Noom. With the help of True You Weight Loss’s nutritionist and registered dietitian Laura Sebring, MS, RD, LDN, we’re offering our perspective on the latest in the world of fad diets.
If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) Diet
IIFYM is a flexible dieting plan based on the idea that you should not focus on calorie counting, but instead on counting daily macronutrients. Macronutrients, or macros, include protein, fats and carbs. This diet also states that all foods can be eaten if they fit into your allotted number of macros for the day. Macros are calculated for free on the IIFYM website, based on an algorithm that includes basal metabolic rate, activity level, and weight loss goals.
- What We Like About IIFYM
- No food is entirely off limits
- Macro counting rather than calorie counting
- Portion control
- What We Don’t Like About IIFYM
- Little consideration for choosing healthy food options
- No differentiation between saturated and unsaturated fats
- No focus on micronutrients, i.e. vitamins and minerals
- Digital macro calculator is simply an algorithm
“I always tell my weight loss patients that no food is off limits, however, moderation is the most important thing,” explained Sebring. “While no food is off limits with IIFYM, this diet says it’s fine to eat cake or pizza daily, as long as you stay within your macro requirement. To me, this is an unhealthy strategy that could do more harm than good in the long-run.”
Sebring also explained that IIFYM could create a major nutritional deficit for the participant because it does not focus on vitamins and minerals as part of a daily, balanced diet nor does it differentiate between good fats (unsaturated fats like certain oils, nuts, and fish) and saturated fats (less healthy fats like red meat, butter, and cheese). Lastly, a registered dietitian should always calculate your macros for you, not a computer algorithm. He or she can consider things that a website cannot, such as your in-depth medical background, your body’s composition, and adjustments to your macro numbers that should be made as you lose weight.
Profile Diet Plan
Profile is a subscription-based weight loss and nutrition program that offers customized meal plans for each of its subscribers. The meal plans are created after the subscriber virtually consults with a health coach. Each plan uses a three-phased approach: phase one includes food elimination, while phase three allows the subscriber to add foods back to their diet after weight loss success. The incentive for moving from phase one to phase two is reaching within 15 pounds of the goal weight. Subscribers must also purchase meals, drinks, and protein bars directly from Profile.
- What We Like About Profile
- Focus on mindful eating
- Recommendations for sleep and exercise
- Focus on meal planning and portion control
- Push for low-sodium foods
- What We Don’t Like About Profile
- Food elimination
- Use of keto diet principles
- Health coaches are not required to be registered dietitians, who have more education in nutrition
- The phased approach can be demotivating, frustrating, and self-defeating
- Requirement to buy Profile’s foods
- Recommendation that 14 percent of total calories come from saturated fat
“Any diet plan that completely eliminates certain foods is detrimental,” said Sebring. “Not only does this create a greater desire for the eliminated food, but it also can remove essential nutrients from one’s diet. Profile does not allow grains, milk, and fruit in the first phase of its meal plans, and it often eliminates the wrong types of fats—for example, by removing skim milk while allowing cheese. That said, any diet that recommends that 14 percent of total calories come from saturated fats is bogus to me. Saturated fats are known to be associated with cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and cancer.”
Sebring also explained that Profile uses a modified keto diet approach, which means it is heavy on high-fat foods and low on carbohydrates. This type of diet could be detrimental for people with chronic diseases and metabolic conditions, which includes many people who are trying to lose weight. High-fat diets can also lead to fatty liver disease and other health problems. Lastly, there is little scientific evidence to support that eliminating carbohydrates is good for health or long-term weight loss.
The intermittent fasting diet strategy is based on the idea that eating should occur during a restricted window of time each day. The strategy transitions from fasting to eating on a regular schedule, and back again. The idea is that fasting can help you burn extra body fat, and some scientific evidence shows health benefits to this practice, such as improved blood pressure and heart rates.
- What We Like About Intermittent Fasting
- No food elimination
- It can help patients lose weight
- What We Don’t Like About Intermittent Fasting
- Too restrictive
- Often cuts out breakfast
- Could trigger an eating disorder
- Eating windows often have a negative effect
- Not healthy for older people or people with health conditions, such as diabetes
“At True You, we do see some of our patients lose weight with intermittent fasting, but that’s because it’s generally just another form of calorie restriction,” said Sebring. “However, fasting can put patients on a roller coaster of eating restrictions and eating windows, making it a potential gateway to unhealthy food binging and eating disorders that can be addictive and wreak havoc on your health. Also, in some cases, placing time restrictions on eating can create a greater desire to eat, which could lead to weight gain instead. Lastly, anything that restricts too many calories, or cuts out an entire meal like breakfast, could be detrimental to your body’s natural balance and your overall health and well-being. For patients who do choose intermittent fasting, it’s important to do so under the guidance of a registered dietitian to ensure you’re getting the calories and nutrients you need.”
Accessed through a digital app, the Noom diet is a long-term weight loss program that rejects the idea of eliminating foods and using structured eating windows. Instead, this subscription-based program looks at weight loss as a lifestyle transformation that incorporates nutritious eating, exercise, stress management, and better sleep behaviors. It also incorporates cognitive behavioral therapy as a way to dive into the psychological components of weight loss. Other Noom strategies include health coaches, food tracking, and the color-coding of food (red, yellow, and green) based on their nutrients, as well as recommendations on how often certain foods should be eaten.
- What We Like About Noom
- The psychological factor of weight loss is addressed
- More of a long-term approach to weight loss
- Emphasis on eating whole foods
- Emphasis on exercise and sleep
- More customized than other weight loss plans
- What We Don’t Like about Noom
- Color-coding demonizes foods (“red” foods are restricted)
- Recommends daily weigh-ins
- Not all health coaches are registered dietitians, who have more education in nutrition and counseling
- Using the digital app could be too complicated for many
“Noom is an interesting program in that it takes more of a long-term, psychological, and holistic approach to weight loss, but it can be complicated and impersonal for people who aren’t technologically savvy,” said Sebring. “While it encompasses many important facets of weight loss, it could be overwhelming. Lastly, the program encourages daily weight checks, which could be demotivating and stressful for many patients. At True You Weight Loss, we encourage patients to celebrate off-scale victories and overall health to minimize fixating on the scale.”
Fad Diets & Dieting Trends Are Not for the Long-Term
In the end, we know from decades of research that fad diets and weight loss trends simply don’t work because they’re not sustainable for the long-term. Although you can achieve some short-term weight loss success with a fad diet, most have too many rules and restrictions (i.e. foods you can NEVER eat) to be followed for a lifetime. Additionally, because of these rules and restrictions, the weight is often gained right back when you stop closely following the diet.
Another downfall to fad diets and weight loss trends is that they don’t help you gain the proper knowledge about food choices, nutritious eating and healthy cooking to permanently keep the weight off. Plus, nothing can truly replace the benefits of working with an experienced, registered dietitian who can support you through each phase of your weight loss journey and who knows your health history, goals, personal challenges, and individualized needs.