Some clues to help you spot a fad diet!

Posted on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Written by Lindzie O'Reilly

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In our society, fad diets and the desire for a quick fix are huge! Extreme ideas surrounding dieting and health sell books and dominate the media. This has resulted in an overcomplicated view of health and nutrition and I see many individuals that feel a lot of guilt and shame surrounding their food habits because they feel they should be ‘healthier’. When I meet someone for the first time, it is really common for them to think that I am going to ask them to meticulously measure their food, follow food rules, or give up certain foods. My goal is actually quite the opposite. I aim to educate individuals so that they can spot fad diets and avoid them and I ask them to become more in touch with internal signals of hunger, fullness, and cravings rather than relying on external cues such as calories or the number on the scale to determine what or how much they should eat.

We eat for many different reasons - for fuel, for enjoyment, for social and emotional reasons to name a few. Eating for health is just one small part of why we eat. Extreme or fad diets can work in the short term, but in the long term they are unrealistic, cause individuals to miss out on social events, and can trigger cycles of binge eating due to intense hunger and feelings of deprivation. Below are some clues to help you spot diets which are extreme, unhealthy and unsustainable!

  1. You’re hungry all the time.

    Adopting a healthy food plan and allowing your body to settle at a place that is naturally right for you means nourishing your body and giving it enough food to feel satisfied. If you’re hungry all the time or feel constantly preoccupied by food, you’re under eating. This is sustainable in the short term only. When you are starving, it is your body’s natural response to want to overeat, making it very likely that you will go back to how you were eating before or have episodes of eating that feels out of control. As babies, we are born knowing when to eat and when to stop. Dieting forces us to override or ignore these very natural and accurate signals. The best way to achieve a healthy and sustainable food plan is to trust your hunger - eat when you are just a little hungry and stop when you feel satisfied.
  2. You’re asked to cut out certain foods.

    Extreme diets come with extreme rules. You do not need to cut out carbs, gluten, full fat cheese, egg yolks, sweets, or whatever the fad diet de jour tells you in order to be healthy. Completely removing these foods results in cravings and feelings of guilt if you do indulge. This creates an all or nothing mentality towards food (i.e. “I’ve already ruined today, I might as well keep going and start fresh tomorrow”) that triggers emotional eating. The reality is that all foods can, and should, fit as part of a healthy routine. I’d be concerned if you ate cookies and ice cream for every meal of every day, but I am equally concerned if you never let yourself enjoy these foods.
  3. You’re asked to take supplements.

    Barring a few exceptions (i.e. it’s a good idea to take a vitamin D supplement in the winter), your body can get everything you need from wholesome natural foods. You do not need to take supplements to be healthy and there is nothing magic about protein powder (other than supplements and powders might magically drain your bank account!). Cleanses, weight loss teas, raspberry ketones, superfoods, and special juices will not help you lose weight and can be very dangerous.
  4. You’re forbidden to eat at certain times of day.

    There are many diets that say you shouldn’t eat after 7pm, 8pm, 9pm or some other random arbitrary time. The times that you eat during the day should be dictated by your hunger (eat when you are just a little hungry) and your schedule (i.e. when you wake up, scheduled breaks at work). Overeating happens when we eat out of boredom, stress or habit (i.e. eating while watching a show even if you are not physically hungry). If you are hungry, your body is telling you it needs fuel and you need to eat - even if it’s 10pm and you are going to bed right after. Trust me, your body will digest and metabolize a slice of toast eaten at 10pm the same as a slice of toast eaten at 10am. Separating physical hunger from emotional hunger takes time and is not easy, but working towards this is really important in nourishing your body and in adopting a healthy and sustainable routine that is right for you.
  5. You compensate for unexpected food intake.

    It is normal to eat more some days and to eat less on other days. This might be because you are simply more hungry some days, or it may be because you choose to go out to eat one day or because your friend makes you your most favourite chocolate cake. This variability is normal and your body can make up for it. It’s when you try to use your brain to override your body’s signals and attempt to calculate, compensate, restrict or over exercise that you get into trouble. If you eat more than you planned one day, the healthiest thing you can do is to get back on track at your next meal or snack by eating an amount that your body tells you feels right. Aim to move your body throughout the week in a way that is enjoyable for you, not as a way to burn calories and not as a punishment for eating more than you think you should.

If you have any questions about the information in this blog, please email me at loreilly@uoguelph.ca 

To set up a free one-on-one appointment to talk about your personal food habits, please call Health Services reception at x52131

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