Fad Diets and How To Avoid Wasting Time and Money

If you’ve been training towards a health and fitness goal for any serious amount of time, you’ll know that the health and fitness industry is full of charlatans who are willing to promote awful products or diets in order to make a quick buck. We’ve all heard about the newest “miracle” diet whether it’s Paleo, alkaline or apple cider vinegar – these diets are all fads because they shift the focus of the diet from scientific concerns like calories and macro-nutrients to arbitrary ideas about the Ph of food, or what was available to paleolithic man.

Fad hallmark 1: Miraculous results

Fad diets tend to promise results that they just can’t deliver: if anyone is promising you washboard abs or a toned physique In just 4 weeks, they’re more likely to just be lying to you. The body doesn’t change rapidly without serious risks and a diet is not, and should not be, a short-term solution to the long-term problem of weight management.

Fad diets also present themselves as the only way to achieve results: you should be inclined to disbelieve anyone who claims to have the only way to do anything – any diet that follows the scientific principles around calorie balance and macro-/micro-nutrients will cause weight loss. The real question is finding the best one!

Fad hallmark 2: Arbitrary restriction of foods

We’ve already mentioned that fad diets are based on the restriction of foods or arbitrary standards for defining acceptable and unacceptable foods. If a diet is concerned with a totally irrelevant aspect of the food, rather than with the nutritional content, that diet is probably a fad. Consider paleo, which is a great example because it has become popular in some circles. This diet suggests that you should only eat foods that were available to humans during the paleolithic era. The obvious question is what does that have to do with health? And the answer is “not a whole lot”.

Diets that make nutritional values and balanced macro-nutrients a secondary concern are always fads and will always be inferior for the purpose of weight loss, body composition and sports performance. If you don’t want to eat processed foods, that’s fantastic, but anyone that tells you that a beef burger wrapped in bacon and cooked in butter is healthier than a bean salad is probably peddling an ideology, not a scientific diet!

Fad hallmark 3: Resists scientific explanation and study

One of the most common and worrying aspects of fad diets is their resistance – explicit or logistical – to scientific explanation or study. If a diet or nutrition “guru” says that they don’t want to be involved with scientific research on their “revolutionary” system, it’s most likely because they don’t know what they’re talking about. People are only resilient to scientific research and theory when, (1) they don’t understand it, or (2) they understand it and fear that it will expose their lies and incredibility.

There are a lot of disparities between theory and practice in the field of health and fitness – supplementation and diet are no exception – but the science provides some clear answers on topics that attract frauds. As with anything, if the superiority of a diet or system cannot be justified by reference to some basic scientific principles about human biology and nutrition, the diet itself is more likely to be a fad. Nutritional science has been relatively consistent on the essentials of weight loss and muscle gain over the past few decades and there have not been any changes to suggest that the alkalinity of a food is more important than its caloric value!

Fad hallmark 4: Secretive ‘proprietary’ products/off-label ingredients

I’ve worked in the health and fitness industry for a while now, and one of the more annoying trends is the use of “proprietary” blends in even the most mundane supplements. Proprietary blends exist to protect companies’ private formulas from replication and production by shady third-parties. The problems arise when they are used to hide the relative quantities of certain ingredients in supplements, which can throw a diet into disarray.

If a diet relies entirely on the use of a single product, it probably isn’t a well-designed diet. Supplements are meant to aid your nutritional health and, whilst certain nutritional supplements are able to contribute to an overall improvement in your health and fitness by improving tried-and-tested processes, a company that insists that you can only diet effectively with their product is probably being intentionally dishonest.

The use of proprietary blends is a great way to hide the fact that your supplement has no real nutritional value or health benefits. If you’re being marketed a single supplement as a total necessity to diet, or a product that is shrouded in mystery (especially if it is a proprietary blend of boring, useless, industry-standard fad ingredients), there’s a good chance that you’re being sold a fad!

Closing remarks

Dieting and nutrition doesn’t need to be any more complicated or difficult than it already is: spending your time, effort and money on useless products and fad diets is frustrating and has no benefits to your health. Keep an eye out for these classic hallmarks and be sure to always consult with the essential scientific principles around dieting – no diet causes weight loss without calorie restriction!

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