No Diet Day – stay clear of fad diets!


International No Diet Day (INDD) was established in 1992 by British feminist Mary Evans Young, to promote healthy eating and living habits. It is a day to celebrate body shape diversity and raise awareness of the potential health risks of irresponsible dieting.

According to Irene Labuschagne at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences’ Nutritional Information Centre of Stellenbosch University (NICUS), the information available on nutrition is often perceived as contradictory, which makes it difficult to distinguish between fact, misinformation and fiction.

Read: Dieting – cut the confusion

“In South Africa and internationally people are constantly looking for that magic-bullet approach to losing weight, wanting a quick fix to get the bodies so often seen on TV, in glossy magazines and in social media,” Labuschagne says.

Read: Why are we forever chasing quick fix diets?

People should not opt for a fast or fad diet as it could be potentially harmful. It is not easy to lose weight, and with all the misinformation available, people choose to follow these fad diets because they are easy and there is a ready-made market.

“These diets can come at a price. Not just a financial cost, but there can often be a cost to health if these diets are followed over a period of time,” Labuschagne explains.

Read: Crash diets: a quick solution to your weight woes?

Labuschagne highlights the following diet danger signs, and says that people should stay away from a diet if it sounds too good to be true.

How to spot a fad diet:

- It has a catchy title or brand:  “The _____ Diet.” One can fill in the blank with almost anything. For example, a recent fad diet is called “The Cavemen Diet.”

- It's accompanied by outrageous claims of success: diets claim rapid weight loss, but in reality, on a healthy weight-loss diet people will lose about 1 to 3 kg per week maximum, depending on their current weight, fat percentage, and other variables.

- Testimonials: testimonials can be very compelling, even though they are almost worthless as evidence. Celebrities are often linked to fad diet.

- The diet has a “secret”: fad diets often claim to have "the secret" or "key to weight loss. Claims and language such as “unlocking the secret”, “hacking the body” or “unleashing the genetic code” are often used.

- It demonises a food group: these diets advocate specific food recommendations and restrictive menus. This often goes hand in hand with the concept that there are also magic foods that should be encouraged.

- Scientific explanations; pseudo-science; attacking critics of the concept

- Claims are often made about toxins, anti-inflammatory properties, anti-cancer or diabetic properties. 

- Consensus statements and recommendations by qualified health professionals are often discredited.

Healthy weight loss

Overweight and obese people should decrease the amount of food energy that they consume, and increase their energy expenditure. This should be done by eating the correct types of foods, in the correct amounts, and being physically active.

Avoid the quick fix

The ability to adhere to a diet pattern over time is one of the most important determinants of successful weight loss. An eating pattern for life should be the one that one can stick to and that includes enjoyment, a rich variety of foods in appropriate portion sizes and moderation. When wanting to lose some weight, one should not think about "going on a diet" or just what changes need to be made over a month or two to lose the weight. The primary focus should be on what changes should be made in the long-term to lose the weight and, as importantly, to keep it off.

A diet with fewer processed foods, less sugar and salt is ideal, but unless for a medical reason, there is absolutely no need to cut or avoid any food group from a diet. It could result in nutritional inadequacies.

Healthy adults should follow a diet high in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in low- and fat-free dairy products and alcohol; lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains.

Low carbohydrate diets are NOT more effective for weight loss than balanced diets.

Low carbohydrate (<45% of energy from carbohydrates) diets and balanced diets both produce similar weight loss, confirming that the proportion of carbohydrate, fat and protein in the diet does not influence weight loss, only the total energy intake itself.

A good start for healthy weight loss

- Consult a registered dietician to assist with an individualised eating plan for weight loss.

- Search for content that is written or endorsed by nutrition experts and health care professionals that are registered with the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (you can get this information from NICUS).

Read more:

Low carb vs low fat diet – which is best for weight loss?

Speed of weight loss may have little impact on success at keeping it off

10 ways to suppress your appetite, naturally

Image: Fad diets from Shutterstock

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