It’s time to end fad diets once and for all

While you’re at it … let go of the concept of “cheating” on your diet, too.

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By definition, we should be turned off by the word “fad.” It’s a concept defined by an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis of quality. Who would choose to be a mere passing fad over being timeless, tried and true? But I suppose it’s human nature that draws us in to what’s new and hot and short term. In today’s “now-centric” culture, we have commitment issues, so we want to try something new without the obligation of sticking to it, hoping it will achieve quick results with minimal effort (even though we usually know better). But trust the popular cliché: If it seems too good to be true, it is!

I tend to work with large groups of people more often than one-on-one, so I see loads of fad dieters. And they are so used to deprivation rules, that they’re always taken aback by my diet suggestions—specifically, how much food I suggest they consume in a day, as well as how many carbohydrates they should eat. That’s because fads have skewed many people’s perception of the facts about healthy eating and our bodies. In reality, the science of nutrition is way easier to follow than a wacky fad, and it tends to make a lot more sense.

MORE TO READ: The healthy way to keep eating carbs

So let’s start with that carb myth. We need carbohydrates to fuel our cells, much of our organ function, as well as brain function. That means the majority of people need their diet to be made up of 50% carbohydrates. I know, that number sounds high to you, doesn’t it? That’s because if you ask most short-term dieters today, they’ll tell you that the first food group they cut out was carbs.

The less negativity you associate with your eating, the more fulfilling your food choices will be.”

But it’s risky business messing with an entire macronutrient that is such a powerhouse. Sometimes, a body won’t recover from such a stark deprivation tactic, because it can potentially cause permanent damage to the thyroid, pancreas and other organs that have an important job of producing hormones. Same goes for those who have abused food, especially carbs, for a long period of time. So just as you shouldn’t eat too many carbs, it’s also dangerous to eat too few.

The real idea behind eating healthy should be this: to find a meal plan or diet that you can stick to permanently—something that can suite your lifestyle forever, not just until you crack under its restrictions. So do yourself a favor and let go of the concept “cheating” on your diet. If you incorporate little bits of what you love into a balanced diet, you won’t have to feel guilty about it. Plus, I’ve always found that the less negativity you associate with your eating, the more fulfilling your food choices will be.

Now lets get some things straight about the recent diet fads you’re probably familiar with, and get to the bottom of what works in real life, and what doesn’t:

Juicing

For the past few years, we’ve heard more and more people going on full juice cleanses. That often means eating no other food, other then fresh fruit and vegetable juice for days. This is obviously not sustainable. Adding juices to supplement your already healthy food diet is a great idea, but only juicing can cause more harm than good. These drinks are usually low in protein, low in calories, and typically make you tired and cause stomach pain. The stomach pain is caused by the lack of fat to help absorb all the nutrients you’re taking in. And the juices will likely fly right through your body, since they are devoid of the natural fibers that help you absorb the nutrients you want. So, sure, have a juice every now and again, but don’t cut out all those other healthy foods your body loves and needs.

MORE TO READ: How to do a cleanse the right way—plus recipes!

Paleo/whole 30

You might be surprised to hear this: but this idea can actually be sustainable … if done the right way. Many people need to follow grain free diets for health reasons and these programs offer good structure to still get your carbohydrates, fats and proteins in without those grains. They also help promote a lot of healthy colors from fruits and veggies. But it’s not a one-size-fits all solution: typically, these programs restrict dairy, grains and legumes, which can be unnecessary for some people.

And, if you’re going to try one of these plans, you need to think of it as a lifestyle change, not a passing dietary update you can ditch later on. I see a lot of folks hopping on and off these programs, but they’re really designed for the long-term. If you’re focusing on a whole food cleanse, try it for 10-21 days, then add your grains and other foods back in. This ensures your body will still recognize the protein in the restricted foods and create the enzymes you need to digest them.

High fat

Here’s what I’m seeing with this diet idea: bacon, bacon and more bacon. I get why that sounds appealing, but, jeez people, when will we all learn that everything is ok in moderation? The high fat diet is designed for quick weight loss; It’s high in fat and protein, but low in carbs, which keeps your blood sugar low, creating little fat storage. But this doesn’t work long-term because we need carbs for brain and bodily functions, remember? So if you ever see a plan that says you can eat unlimited bacon, run!

Low Carb

This one has been around forever! And the reason why is because it’s a quick fix, like the above bacon-diet. It will probably help you to achieve temporary weight loss using the principle that if you eat less carbs, you’ll keep blood sugar very low and lose temporary weight. But note the crucial word “temporary.” If you add carbs back in, you’ll gain it back, plus some.

Low Calorie

Again, this concept of dieting has been around for a long time: Eat less to weigh less. Honestly, I think this works … until you get to your 30’s. In your younger years, your metabolism is resilient and can battle through the up, down cycles that diets cause. But have you noticed it doesn’t work anymore now that you’ve aged a bit? Low calorie is never the solution because limiting the nutrients your body needs is not only unsustainable, but often leads to binges and again more weight gain. Rather than cutting out calories or carbs, which usually leads to failure, I suggest keeping it simple: cut the sweets, the alcohol and the processed foods. But if you have those things once in a while, don’t worry about it too much. Just move forward and get right back to your healthy eating regime.

A good rule of thumb is to always be careful about what diet plans you follow, and specifically ask yourself these questions: Is this a sustainable, long-term eating plan? Does it give your body the correct amount of fuel? Does it make you feel positive about your eating? Because those are the real keys to dietary success.

Cara Busson-Clark
Cara Busson-Clark
Cara Busson-Clark is a Certified Sports and Clinical Nutritionist and runs Cara Clark Nutrition. Her "non-dieting" approach to health and wellness, attracts a wide range of clients, including Hollywood celebrities. In addition to her passion for helping others live their best lives, her world revolves around her faith and family. She is mother to four daughters, ages one to six and lives in southern California.

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