The Dangers of Fad Diets

We’re constantly hearing about new fad diets to try—each one promising to be better than the ones before. These diets, which restrict specific types of food, are meant to help people lose a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. High-protein diets, juice diets and vegetable soup diets are just a few that have aggressively hit mainstream media. But are they actually worth it?

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Many people do shed pounds while on one of these diets, although that can be a result of simply losing water weight. Once the crash session is over, dieters must maintain a lifestyle that reduces daily caloric intake in order to keep the weight off. But falling back into original eating habits tends to be the case instead. Weight gain usually follows.

Fad diets can also lead to health issues. For example, following a high-protein diet—meant to help one lose fat but increase muscle mass—can potentially strain the kidneys of those who have underlying kidney disease. (The kidneys clear the byproducts of protein metabolism.) Daily physical activity and lifting weights in addition to moderate protein intake is considered the healthiest way to improve muscle mass.

Juice diets—the most common I hear—can be just as problematic. Juicing vegetables and fruits with the assumption that water and mineral intake is enough to carry one through weeks at a time can be overwhelming for the body. Juice fad diets also tend to contain very low quantities of protein, which is a building block for good muscle activity.

But there are some diet plans out there that have been scientifically proven to be successful, including the DASH and Mediterranean diets. The New England Journal of Medicine published a study in 2017 that followed 48,000 women and 26,000 men for 12 years. Among participants who maintained one of these high-quality diets, their risk of death from any cause was significantly lower. The results make sense since DASH and Mediterranean diets are a lifestyle focused on healthy eating rather than just the restriction of certain foods. They prove that eating mostly fish, nuts, legumes and vegetables results in better and longer quality of life overall.

It’s important to note that what works for one person may not work for another. I believe as long as you don’t take your dieting to extremes and are able to maintain a healthy balance of protein, vegetables and carbohydrates, then any type of “diet” can help you lose weight in a healthy and balanced way.

Dieting can sometimes be even more destructive. It can trigger severe disorders and have psychological consequences. Check back next week as Pulse explores the subject even deeper.

dr. uruj kamal

dr. uruj kamal

Dr. Uruj Kamal is Chief Resident of Adult Outpatient Psychiatry at Baystate Medical Center-University of Massachusetts Medical School. A Stony Brook native, she enjoys combining her knowledge of mental health with healthy living. Dr. Kamal has a special interest in outpatient adult psychiatry.