I was recently interviewed by Business Insider about debunking a few celebrity fad diets. I love how the article turned out and encourage everyone to read and share!
I never get tired of talking about fad diets, so I decided it might be fun to publish a more complete transcript of my interview. And so, without further adieu, here are my thoughts on some of today’s popular fad diets.
Fad Diet #1: “Clean Eating”
I “eat clean” in the sense that I wash my produce, avoid restaurants with failed health inspections, and strictly adhere to the 3-second rule. When most people say they “eat clean,” however, what they mean is that they are elevating certain types of food (e.g. organic, locally-sourced, low carb, ect) as “good” and “clean” while demonizing all other food as “bad.” This way of thinking hurts our food relationship and leads to distorted eating patterns. Obtrusive thoughts about food become frequent. In order to maintain “clean eating,” people start to avoid social situations where they are uncertain about the food and devote hours upon hours each week planning and prepping. This type of lifestyle is impossible to maintain forever, so there will inevitably be “slips” and “cheats.” Because the thought that the foods craved are “bad” is now deeply ingrained, eating the demonized foods (which are perfectly fine) causes guilt and shame.
Fad Diet #2: Detoxes
Our body removes waste and toxins via our liver and kidneys. There is no evidence that detox diet protocols have any benefit whatsoever. There IS, however, evidence that they do harm. Detox protocols can cause dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and impaired bowl function. They can also lead to the loss of beneficial bacteria in the GI tract.
If you are on a detox of cleanse, you consume very few calories every day. Your body responds by conserving energy, i.e. lowering its basal metabolic rate. When food is inevitably re-introduced, you may find yourself gaining weight and being heavier than you were at the start.
Additionally, much of the weight lost during the cleanse is due to fluid losses (lost through using glycogen for energy and the frequent bowel movements/diarrhea caused by the laxatives commonly used in cleanses). When normal fluid/energy intake is resumed, the water weight is quickly regained.
Fad Diet #3: Bulletproof Coffee
At best, having a breakfast that consists of coffee with butter is a missed opportunity to fuel your body. A Bulletproof breakfast gives you a few hundred calories from fat and zero protein or carbohydrates (which are important to help replenish the glycogen you use up as you sleep). At worst, by following the Bulletproof Coffee protocol, you’ve just eaten almost 1.5 times your allowance for saturated fat, which may increase your risk for heart disease.
Although the Bulletproof Coffee diet makes claims that this fat-only breakfast stimulates your body to burn more fat during the day, there is no evidence to back this up. The studies Bulletproof proponents commonly use to support this claim are largely animal models or small human studies with very few subjects.
Fad Diet #4: The Purple Diet
This was a fad diet that I had honestly never heard of, so it threw me for a loop. Apparently Mariah Carey is crazy about this diet and… it’s a reach head-scratcher for me. How did this one get so popular? There doesn’t even seem to be any way for people to make money off of this diet.
In any case, purple-hued produce is food for us. Purple fruits and veggies are high in anthocyanins which likely has a myriad of health benefits. However, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that we eat a variety of fruits and vegetables in all colors (e.g. “eat the rainbow”). There are hundreds of compounds in produce of all hues that may have health benefits: lutein in tomatoes and watermelon that may reduce risk of prostate cancer and improve eye health, flavonols in onions, kale, and broccoli may have heart health benefits, alliinase in garlic may have anti-cancer properties, etc.
Eat purple veggies and fruit, by all means, but please don’t do it to the exclusion of other types of produce.
Fad Diet #5: Sugar “Detox”
There’s no question that Americans are eating more sugar than is healthful. There’s a strong relationship between the amount of sugar consumed and the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. Moreover, sugar is the ultimate “empty-calorie food.” It provides energy (calories) while contributing no other nutrients: essentially no vitamins, minerals, protein, etc.
Most Americans would absolutely benefit from reducing their consumption of added sugar (i.e. the sugar that is added to food during processing – we’re not as concerned about the natural sugars present in fruit and dairy products). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that we eat no more than 10% of our daily calories from added sugar.
However, attempting to eliminate all sugar from your diet is unrealistic and overly restrictive. If you try to never again eat sweets or obsess endlessly about the amount of sugar in the food you buy, you’re going to find yourself CRAVING those foods. A better approach is to make small changes to reduce consumption of added sugar. This is more sustainable and has less risk of devolving into disordered eating patterns.
Instead of starting YET ANOTHER fad diet, you can reach your health goals by learning how to tune out external eating signals (for example, fad diets) and re-learn how to listen to your body’s natural internal signals. After years of dieting, these can be hard to hear.
At Choose Food, we use intuitive eating protocols to help clients re-learn how to manage dietary intake and repair their relationships with food.
About the Author
Brittany Markides, MS, RD, LD, CHC
Founder, Choose Food
My name is Brittany Markides. I founded Choose Food because, in my work as a registered dietitian nutritionist, I saw so many trying to make positive health changes, but struggling to stay on restrictive diets. At Choose Food, I deliver food-positive, body-positive nutrition counseling to help people:
- Regain power over your food choices to reduce overeating, binge eating, and emotional eating
- Manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease
- Find relief from anxious thoughts about food and your body
- Rediscover your natural hunger and satiety cues
- Alleviate IBS symptoms through nutrition therapy
- Cultivate self-acceptance & self-compassion
Finding the right fit is paramount in creating change. That’s why I offer a free phone consultation to provide you with the opportunity to ask questions, learn about my services, and decide if you think I am the right dietitian for you and your situation. If I’m not the right fit for you, I will help you find the right person.