The Problem With Fad Diets

Can you think of anyone that hasn’t tried one diet or another in the past decade? Yeah, us either. People today have a problem with diets: going on them one after another. Feeling good for a while but later guilty and perhaps even yo-yo’ing back to their original weight (or worse, ultimately gain a few pounds.) THE PROBLEM WITH FAD DIETS is, there’s more to it than just willpower. 

the problem with fad diets


My Experience With Fad Diets

I’ve seen friends and family go through a variety of diets. It started in high school with the book, Why French Women Don’t Get Fat, and later progressed to juicing crazes and ill-fated paleo diets. Really… butter in my coffee? Also, if fad diets did work, then why is weight loss on 45% of people’s yearly resolutions, year after year?

My first diet attempt was more of a “reset” to kickstart healthy habits. I naively tried the cabbage soup diet for a few days back in 2010. My new Minnesota roommates thought I was nuts for taking up the whole fridge with soup. As you may have guessed, I didn’t stick with it long and threw it all out. Yes, it was gross.

Since then, I’ve wised up and haven’t been on any “diets” since, although I’m still all about a detoxifying cleanse with the 3 Day Refresh once in a while when my body needs it. Instead, I’ve learned to read my body and make long term nutritional shifts as opposed to trying quick-fix diet fads.

Why Fad Diets Don’t Work

1. Metabolism Recovers Slowly

There has been a lot of talk about a study that followed Season 8 of the reality TV show, “Biggest Losers” six years after the show’s ending. Out of the 14 contestants, 13 contestants gained the weight back with 4 gaining even more weight than at the beginning of the show.

This study shed light on what practices help (and which ones don’t) maintain significant weight loss. A big problem faced by major weight loss is that resting metabolic rate doesn’t readjust. Let’s break that down.

When weight is lost, metabolism slows to help protect energy storage (aka, your body burns fewer calories daily.) Since your body innately wants to store as much fat/energy as possible, it will encourage hunger cravings and overeating. When you regain the weight, your resting metabolic rate doesn’t revert.

Meaning, if you had gone from 200 pounds to 150 pounds and later back to 200 pounds, your body’s resting metabolism rate will still be the normal speed for a 150-pound person. So, they’ll burn fewer calories than someone who always maintained their 200-pound weight. This doesn’t mean that losing weight is impossible. It just means that it takes longterm commitment and an understanding of your body.

2. Leptin: The Satiety Hormone

Only discovered in 1994, leptin is the “satiety hormone” that is secreted by fat cells after eating to signal the body when you’re full and satisfied. In theory, someone with extra weight will have high levels of leptin due to their extra adipose fat cells (and therefore, a small appetite).

However, we know that’s not the case. Leptin receptors can become resistant in the same way people with diabetes experience insulin resistance. The problem with quick diets and dramatic weight loss is that your body will become depleted of leptin, making you hungry all the time.

Who else has tried to, ahem, drink only cabbage soup, and became ravenously hungry?! Research from the “Biggest Losers” showed that contestants not only slowed down their metabolism rates but their leptin levels plummeted – meaning they became hungry all the time. Talk about a double whammy.

You can follow a few good practices to make sure your body’s leptin sensitivity is where it should be:

  • A good night of sleep (ever feel hungrier when you don’t sleep well?)
  • Reduce stress (stress affects leptin as well as the hormone, ghrelin, which controls hunger)
  • More exercise (studies show more activity can reverse leptin resistance)
  • Reduce simple carbohydrates and focus on complex, healthy carbs (high triglyceride numbers in the bloodstream prevent the transport of leptin to the brain)
  • Avoid processed foods (the glucose will be used up for energy before fat, meaning your body will accumulate more fat cells, exacerbating the problem) and eat more vegetables.

3. Think Long Term, Not Short Term

The main problem with fad diets is that they offer short term fixes that aren’t sustainable. Even worse, they’re poor for your health. Please, don’t ever get rid of whole food groups, especially carbs! Sure, you may drop a dress size before the next party, but between your whacked out metabolism and leptin levels, you’re at serious risk for rebounding worse than ever.

“The food eaten is the key determinant of initial weight loss. And physical activity is the key to maintenance.” – Dr. Rena Wing, founder of the National Weight Control Registry

For Ryan and I, we strive to keep active or work out with a variety of Beachbody workouts to improve strength, heart health, and mobility. We eat whole foods and lots of plants, which is what you should be eating. We invest our time in learning to cook healthy meals and adopt new hobbies like growing sprouts to eat in our kitchen. 

There is no “one size fits all” solution, so it is essential to learn to read your body, eat whole foods, and find exercise programs that fit your lifestyle. As Ryan likes to say, “Your health is your greatest wealth.” It deserves prioritization.

Also, since this will be a long term project, it’s critical that you understand your why to live a healthy lifestyle. To help you hone in on your intrinsic motivations or your why, we have created a 5-step process.

Read more: 5-steps to Identify Your Why


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