Health: Fad Diets Aren’t the Solution— What’s Better?
Why Keto, Paleo, and other fad diets are not magic pills.
It’s summer and everyone’s thinking about weight loss so they can fit into their favorite summer outfits for beach or vacation. Summer is also wedding season, so brides-to-be may be trying fad diets to fit into their reception lehengas and honeymoon outfits. All right, let’s see whether there is a magic pill for weight loss.
1. Intermittent fasting
Fasting has been common in human history from the time of ancient hunter-gatherers to today. It is often done for spiritual reasons in Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism. Intermittent fasting (I.F.), aka calorie restriction, is a modern trend focusing on when you’re eating. Overnight fasting of at least 16 hours allows blood sugar and insulin levels to decrease, so that fat stores can be used for energy. There are no food groups on a no-no list, but be careful: severe or prolonged energy restriction can be risky, especially if you have a medical condition. And if you’re used to breakfast, I.F. can be a difficult weight loss strategy.
A ketogenic diet is very high in fat, moderate to low in protein, and very low in carbohydrates. Most people cut out healthy carbs, including many fruits, whole grains, beans, and starchy vegetables. Often dieters lose about 10 pounds and hit a plateau because they lose water weight first. A normal diet allows you to store carbs as glycogen bound to water in the liver and muscles. The body uses this storage form of sugar between meals and when exercising. If these reserves are exhausted, you lose water weight and hit a plateau. The diet aims to make your liver use stored fat to produce ketone bodies for fuel instead of sugar—but this is tricky. Furthermore, the diet is high in saturated fat, which is bad for South Asians who, as you know, are predisposed to heart diseases. According to Harvard studies, there is also the risk of nutrient deficiency, liver and kidney problems, constipation, and fuzzy thinking and mood swings.
3. Juice Cleanse
Cleanses of three, five, or even 10 days are often promoted to “reset” your system and help kick-start weight loss. Juicing vegetables and fruits may be good for hydration and getting micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, especially if you don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. By eating less starch, you shed water; eating fewer calories obviously helps; and juicing may improve gut health. However, beware of consuming too much sugar, too many calories in juices, and not enough protein or fiber (key components for keeping you full and providing energy). Although juicing may help some dieters, it is not sustainable and not a sole strategy for losing weight. Remember, with a healthy, balanced diet, the body can detox through the liver, lungs, kidneys, and regular bowel movements.
The Paleo diet is another example, but excluding whole grains and eating a lot of red meat can be linked to increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and death. Similarly, the Whole 30 diet, which excludes whole grains, legumes, and dairy, may not lead to decreased inflammation or a healthier gut.
So there is no magic pill for weight loss. And fad diets are only a temporary solution—they don’t help you keep the weight off! They trap you in a yo-yo dieting and don’t teach you sustainable strategies to break free and form a new set of weight loss supportive habits.
Here are some of the tried and true strategies that allow South Asians to keep their weight at healthy levels.
• Mindset shift is key!
Think of eating a variety of leafy greens and nonstarchy vegetables at the majority of your meals; think of eating low calorie, high fiber, and high nutrient foods in meals and snacks; don’t think of “dieting”! If you think you’re dieting, you can feel restricted and deprived, and this doesn’t help you continue on your weight loss journey. It takes away the joy of eating!
• Write down your weight loss walls,
for example, feeling hungry constantly, sugar cravings, meals and snacks high in refined carbs, lack of time, gap between knowledge and constructive action, sedentary lifestyle, stressful job, etc. Once you write down your weight loss barriers, you can easily create new routines to break them.
• Create new routines that turn into new habits.
BE CONSISTENT with practicing your new routines; don’t give up if you don’t see results in the short term. Think of your routines as small action steps, solutions to the weight loss walls you listed. For example, if you crave sugar, create a routine of three balanced and nutrient dense meals and one afternoon snack. Plan ahead and be consistent until your body becomes used to proper fuel and nourishment, which then lessens sugar cravings.
• Form a support system.
This is very important. Surround yourself with friends, family, and coworkers who share a goal of living a healthy lifestyle or at least support your weight loss goals instead of judging or being negative. Your cheerleaders motivate you to achieve your goals.
• Celebrate your small but mighty wins.
Don’t overlook small wins like inch loss, more energy, less sugar cravings, eating a good breakfast, sleeping well without taking sleeping aids, exercising regularly, etc.—otherwise you won’t enjoy your weight loss journey. If you constantly focus on the number on the scale, you will be upset if you don’t see quick results and will give up easily. Celebrating wins boosts your self-confidence and allows you to trust the process. You might even celebrate by buying a new kitchen tool, having a massage, or buying a gratitude journal, water bottle, gym gear, etc.
Welcome this sustainable and enjoyable approach to weight loss!
Note that these strategies are not personalized to your unique needs. If you are ready to take action and commit to making yourself and your health a priority, I recommend seeing a registered dietitian, an expert in evidence based nutrition, who can provide you with a customized plan to support your unique needs and goals.
Jenifer Tharani, MS, RD, LD is a registered and licensed dietitian nutritionist with training from Emory University Hospital. The main focus of her nutrition consulting practice is working with South Asians to prevent and manage diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.
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