Fad diets: Why don’t they work?

Hello readers. Most of us trying to lose weight have tried it all – from calorie counting to a low fat diet to extreme detox diets in some cases. We lose a few, and then gain it all back. Why don’t these diets work? Are they even worth following scientifically speaking? The answer lies in deeper understanding on the human body and why these diets don’t get to the root cause of weight; which is health. These diets look at weight which is a symptom of overall health and that’s why they are temporary and don’t come with a guarantee. Let’s explore few of the most famous like calorie counting, six meals a day, low fat diet, high protein diet, a detox diet and also look at what one must consider before devising a diet for themselves.

Calorie counting:

This is a  diet which is based on simple mathematical principle that each calorie counts and if calories going in are less than calories spent, we lose weight. It should work in theory, most people trying to lose weight have tried this one. Shifting to brown breads, brown rice, and limiting calorie dense foods such as fats, butters, ghee etc.

So what’s wrong in this? The problem is twofold really. One, weight is an indicator of health and you don’t gain weight because you had a calorie dense dinner yesterday. It’s that you are moving to a state which is not healthy and its reflecting on your weight, so treating a symptom will not be the right strategy. You might lose some and gain them back, that’s not losing.

And two, when someone says each calorie counts, they are essentially implying that a 100 Calorie of an aerated beverage are same as a 100 Calorie of broccoli or spinach, which doesn’t equate as nutritional density of the two is completely different. Calories are simply units of energy and while looking to improve health, one needs to look at nutritional profile of foods and not calories in them.

Another problem with calorie counting is that the body has wonderful ways of going to plan B if plan A doesn’t work. What it means is if you have a slow metabolism, a fatty liver or a weak thyroid, and you want to lose weight by eating 1200 Calories, the body can even manage on 900 Calories, so you are not creating a deficit of 800 Calories (given you needed 2000), but you are on a 300 surplus.

Most things related to health are not as they look and calorie counting remains one of the biggest flaws in terms of what to follow when trying to lose weight. Calories don’t matter, nutrition does.

6 small meals a day:

This is a concept which recommends eating smaller portions, more number of times. What happens each time we eat is we secrete a hormone called insulin which deposits excess glucose into fats. So it doesn’t really matter how small or healthy a snack is, once you snack, it spikes insulin. Insulin is the primary fat storage hormone. Thus eating more meals a day makes the person store more fat rather than burn it. Not to forget the extra stress eating six times a day creates on the digestive system and major organs such as liver. This strategy doesn’t work for normal people, it doesn’t work for diabetics, it doesn’t work despite the professionals recommending this, it simply doesn’t work. Why eat like a sick person when we want to be healthy? The body can and should be able to run without food between meals. Meals should be large, suitable as per your nutritional needs and give sustained energy.

Portion control:

This is somewhat similar to calorie counting but recommends you starve a bit with each meal so that body doesn’t store fats. Now again in theory it should work, but in reality the body has become unhealthy because of exposure of bad foods over a long period of time and thus to reverse that the body now needs a lot of healing foods The modern soil is quite deficient in nutrients as it is. Hence the solution is to eat more and more of nutrients dense foods and not worry about portions. If your food is right, you can enjoy it without worrying too much about portions or calories.

Low fat:

Probably the most dangerous one. Fats are crucial for the body, for synthesizing many hormones, tissues, and performs many functions especially related to immunity. Once a person goes low on fats, they mess up the whole system. They essentially move in the direction of being unhealthy and when they do that, they gain weight.

Also, fats are satiating, so when someone goes low on fats, they feel hungry and likely to eat more carbs and snack more and switch on the fat storage mode and not the fat burning mode. It’s quite unfortunate that the stored fats and dietary fats both, are called fats. Quite confusing, but in reality both are two completely different things. Fats are also essential for reproductive hormones, happiness hormones, absorbing vitamins A, D, E and K and a low fat diet is a recipe for disaster waiting to happen.

High protein diet:

This diet is mainly justified by folks going to the gym. Now proteins are critical for the body for muscle growth and repair, but excess proteins are stored in the body as fats. When on a high protein diet, the body tends to not lose but gain weight as proteins DO spike insulin like carbs, although less, and do have the capacity of turning into fats IF done in larger amounts. In moderate amounts they trigger fat burning. Moreover, too many proteins also create a load of liver and kidneys, which can cause complications of its own. Hence protein snacks are not justified, neither are excessive intake of powders, pre or post workout. Proteins best go in moderate amounts, with meals, so they don’t spike insulin on their own.

Cleanse/Detox diet:

These are three days or seven days juice fasts and etc. Now, while I do recommend fasting for weight loss, one needs to understand that health is attained or lost in years of work, and a seven day cleanse diet will not do wonders on anything. So please don’t get caught up in any such fads.

The fruitarian diet:

Just eat “natural” fruits and be healthy. Now I know nobody is going to eat just fruits, but people try to justify too often eating too many fruits. Eating fruit creates an excessive load on the pancreas and the digestive system and spikes up the insulin and sugar levels. Most diabetics do know that fruit is not for them. So when people know that fruit spikes sugar and insulin, and sugars/insulin makes them gain weight, why even consider fruit for weight loss? Is fruit good? Probably the best dessert! Should we be eating desserts twice a day especially trying to fix health and/or lose weight? Definitely not. Will fruit help not gain weight? Maybe or maybe not. But will it make me lose weight? Definitely not. More than that, we are talking serious complications if going overboard on fruits such as pancreatic cancer, diabetes and all insulin related disorders.

So what does it mean for a healthy diet? It means for most people, a healthy day of eating will be eating about one, two or three times a day, eating some fats in each diet, eating many vegetables in each diet, eating moderate proteins in each diet, consuming minimal carbs in each meal, and avoiding sugars as much as they can. Doing that on a consistent basis enables one to be healthier and lose weight in the journey. There are no guarantees of the kilos one loses, but if doing the right way, there is a guarantee that the weight won’t come back.