Popular Fad Diets Explained



When you think of “diets” what immediately pops into your mind? Keto? Paleo? Whole30? And the list goes on. There are so many fads diets promising quick fixes and rapid weight loss with no lifestyle and habit changes. This will ultimately lead to failure and yo-yo dieting in the long run. So why are these particular diets so popular? Let’s dig into exactly what these diets are and what they promise.

  • Ketogenic Diet (Keto)

The Ketogenic Diet is a diet where the majority of your daily caloric intake comes from fat; can be upwards of 90% of your calories that come from fat. The sole purpose of this diet is to release ketones into the bloodstream. While carbohydrates are the preferred energy source of our bodies, once you reach ketosis your body will start to use ketones as the energy source until carbohydrates are reintroduced into the body. But is keto meant for mainstream consumption?

“The keto diet is primarily used to help reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures in children. While it also has been tried for weight loss, only short-term results have been studied, and the results have been mixed. We don’t know if it works in the long term, nor whether it’s safe,” warns registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Although you may see immediate weight loss results, these results are most likely short-term. What are the potential risks of keto?

  • Nutrient deficiency: Since you limited on the fruits and vegetables you can eat due to the carbohydrate content; you are most likely deficient in micro-nutrients; such as vitamins B and C.
  • Constipation: Keto is low in fibrous foods.
  • Kidney Stones: Because the keto diet is higher in fatty animal foods, your blood and urine can become more acidic leading to more calcium in your urine.

Bottom line: although the ketogenic diet may be beneficial in the short-term, it may lead to risks of health problems over time.

  • Whole30

I must admit, I was not all that familiar with this particular fad diet until recently. Now that I have done some research, I can safely say that I am not a fan and here is why.

The Whole30 diet is essentially another way of saying “elimination diet.” The purpose is to eliminate certain foods from your diet; such as dairy and grains; to see what impact they may or may not have on your health. The idea, per Whole30’s website, is that by eliminating “blood-sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups” for 30 days you can let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those food groups may have on you (low energy levels or chronic pain, for example). Another important thing to note here is that, according to Whole30 co-founder Melissa Hartwig-Urban, Whole30 wasn’t designed as a weight-loss plan—in fact, Hartwig-Urban calls it the “anti-diet” since there’s no counting, tracking, or restricting calories. So why the popularity?

I can only assume that the Whole30 diet has caught on to the masses because of the rapid weight loss. Of course weight is going to melt off when you are restricting entire food groups and foods from your diet. This idea of completely cutting entire food groups/macro-nutrients from your diet, such as carbohydrates as a popular choice, for 30 days is just another example of potential yo-yo dieting. This just isn’t sustainable long-term. My question to someone wanting to go onto this particular diet is “What are your nutritional plans after the 30 days are over?” Do you return to the way of eating before starting this diet?

The take away from this diet is simple. Eliminating food groups or foods from your diet is a slippery slope. Sure, you will lose weight at first and may even look and feel the best you have ever felt in your life. But what happens when you start introducing those foods back into your life? That’s right! You probably guessed it! You will most likely gain that weight right back. This type of elimination diet is just simply not a sustainable long-term plan!

  • Paleo Diet

I am sure the vast majority of people have heard of the Paleo diet, sometimes referred to as the “caveman diet.” It was super popular in the Crossfit community for quite some time and blew up on the fitness scene fairly quickly. The general purpose of this diet is to eat the foods that were readily available during the Paleolithic era, which dates from approximately 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago. But what is the reasoning behind this diet?

The thought process is that the body is genetically mismatched to the modern diet since farming has become a dominant part of our culture and environment. The hypothesis is that once farming introduced dairy and grains as a dietary staple, this outpaced the body’s ability to adapt. This, according to the hypothesis, is a contributing factor to the obesity epidemic.

Overall, the diet is high in protein, moderate in unsaturated fats, low to moderate carbohydrates, high in fiber, and low in sodium and refined sugars. This all sounds pretty healthy, right!? Well, for the most part, yes, though there are some pitfalls as well.

  • Excluding foods: The exclusion of entire categories of commonly eaten foods like whole grains and dairy can increase the risk of deficiencies in micro-nutrients; such as calcium and vitamins B and D. Additionally, excluding whole grains from your diet may result in the decreased consumption of fiber which can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
  • High meat intake: A few studies have shown that an increased intake of red meat in particular is linked to a higher risk of death, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Although the restrictiveness of the diet may make it difficult for people to adhere to such a diet in the long run, there are good aspects of this diet that can be used to gain a healthier lifestyle when it comes to your eating habits. The fact that the paleo diet encourages people to steer clear of processed foods containing added salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats is a definite positive. I would recommend, if you want to implement this diet, to use it as a guide but add those missing foods to the diet that are beneficial to your overall health. For example, whole grains, and low-fat or nonfat dairy or other calcium sources such as dark leafy greens, tofu, and soy or almond milk. 



Final thoughts: I will leave you with this little wisdom nugget. Lasting change comes down to implementing healthier habits and decisions into your lifestyle. There are no quick or easy fixes or a magic wand to shed the pounds. Strict dieting is a short-term fix and the example fad diets I provided are exactly that, a short-term fix. Now, this doesn’t mean there aren’t good aspects from these diets that you can implement into your life now and see lasting results. I just mean to not completely restrict your nutrients/calories. It’s important to make sure you are practicing a well-balanced diet with healthy portions of macro and micro-nutrients that your body needs to function and achieve optimal health.

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