Here’s Why Fad Diets Don’t Work & 6 Alternatives To Try Instead

When people mention the Keto diet or intermittent fasting ~lifestyle~ around me, I can’t help but cringe. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about folks taking the initiative to better themselves and improve their health, but diet culture is just so toxic. My own mental health has plummeted in an effort to meet the media’s unattainable standards of beauty and wellness, and I’ve also witnessed the toll that disordered eating has taken on my loved ones’ wellbeing. 

Fad diets, in particular, truly boil my blood. Mainly because they offer the (false) promise of sustained weight loss under unhealthy and unrealistic standards. “Many yo-yo dieters struggle with feelings of failure because they are unable to ‘win’ at dieting, when the truth is that the odds were never in their favor to begin with,” says Shahada Karim, president of Habibi Body Sport, which offers health and fitness coaching for all bodies. SMFH.

With Karim’s help, allow me to explain to you why fad diets don’t work, followed by what you can do to improve your health instead.

Here are four reasons why fad diets don’t work:

1. They’re unsustainable.

“The primary reason fad diets don’t work is because they’re unsustainable,” confirms Karim. “The person would have to eat or drink according to said diet for the rest of their lives, and that is simply impractical.” That’s because extreme and highly restrictive diets are impossible to follow for a lengthy period. While one diet restricts a certain food group, the next one instructs you to solely consume it. “Eat *only* carbs!” “Eat *only* meat!” “Drink *only* these fruit and veggie juices!” “Don’t eat *any* fruit because it’s sugary!” What ever happened to a well-balanced diet? Make it make sense.

2. They create harmful, unrealistic expectations.

“One of the fundamental problems with diet culture is that it assumes something is inherently wrong with the person who wants to start the diet,” says Karim. She explains that this is because the language and images associated with these diets are marketed to make a person feel like ~if they just follow a specific plan, their bodies (and their lives) will be better.~ So when the dieter slips and falls off the plan, they immediately put the blame on themselves instead of the diet. 

“Many people are tied emotionally to the eating and drinking habits that caused them to seek out a diet in the first place,” she adds. “When a diet plan ignores this fact, it can end up causing emotional and psychological damage.” This could ultimately create a vicious cycle of disordered eating and a toxic relationship with food.

3. They may eventually lead to more weight gain.

If losing weight long-term is your goal, fad diets are not the way to go. “When the dieter inevitably falls off the wagon (it’s almost always a matter of when, not if), it can feel impossible to get back on track. The more time that passes between these two events, the more likely that person is to gain the initial weight back plus a few extra pounds as the body struggles to balance itself back out,” says Karim.

4. They’re unhealthy.

According to Karim, the rollercoaster of gaining and losing weight (only to gain it back again) is also why fad dieting is inherently unhealthy, both physically and mentally. “Yo-yo dieting puts an incredible amount of pressure on your body and can have lasting effects on your metabolism and ability to process food in a balanced way,” she explains.

She adds that fad diets and yo-yo dieting can wreak havoc on your digestion, your skin, hair, nails, temperature regulation, and ability to get a good night’s rest. It can also affect your mood, your ability to focus, and your ability to complete tasks.

Instead of resorting to unsustainable, unhealthy, and unrealistic fad diets, consider trying these six healthier, more sustainable options to achieve a more holistic sense of wellbeing:

1. Follow anti-diet culture resources on social media.

Fill your social media feeds with people and messages that make you feel good and validate who you are at the core level and not just on a body level. I personally don’t follow models on Instagram anymore. Instead, I follow people with body shapes and sizes of all kinds, anti-diet culture folks, and nutritionists who share food and health education and un-do the harmful messaging we’ve received as a result of diet culture (and friends, family, and meme pages… duh).

2. Learn about food, or consult a qualified professional.

As with most things, education is key. Karim suggests learning about food and what it can do for you so you can lead a healthier lifestyle. “Information can empower you to become more conscious about what you eat. It can also help you become accountable, so that you’re not mystified about why you’re unable to lose weight,” she adds.

Don’t want to seek out this knowledge for yourself? No worries. You can also consult a qualified health coach to help you create a personalized and balanced eating plan. Just make sure they have a credible nutrition certification of some kind.

3. Keep a food journal.

“Not to punish yourself, but to become aware of what you’re eating from day to day,” says Karim. “You might be surprised to see some of the same things come up during certain times of the day as part of your regular routine.” If you notice you tend to eat six cookies after dinner, you may (or may not!) want to make adjustments to achieve a more well-rounded, nutrition-dense diet.

4. Incorporate exercise into your lifestyle (within your ability).

Most fad diets exclude the importance of being active. Everybody has different abilities, but there is likely an activity that you can do to supplement a healthier lifestyle. Whether you’re lifting weights at your desk, going for walks around the neighborhood, or going to the gym, incorporating exercise as well as eating without restrictions may lead you to your goals (of losing weight or achieving better overall health). 

5. Make small, incremental changes to your diet.

“The truth is that in the pursuit of health and wellness, every little bit helps. Small sustainable steps can lead to major lifestyle changes and empower you to reach your health and wellness goals,” says Karim. Instead of fad diets, she suggests trying something “simple and attainable” by starting with one thing at a time. For example, if you drink soda every day, cut back to every other day for one week, then try to go two days, and so on until it’s no longer a crucial part of your diet. 

6. See a therapist.

Traumas, phobias, or other underlying emotional issues may be unconsciously sabotaging your lifestyle and relationship to food. To get to the root cause of what’s leading you to pursue fad diets, consider seeking the help of a professional therapist. A trained mental health provider may be able to lead you toward healing your relationship with food so you can enjoy your life without restricting yourself or harming your mind, body, or spirit in any way.

TL;DR – I just want you to enjoy eating all the brownies and tacos and whatever TF else that you crave. Life is too short to fall victim to unrealistic beauty and wellness standards. Live a life that feels good for you and promotes long-term health. You might end up being a hell of a lot happier than you ever were before.

Now please enjoy this hilarious video by certified intuitive eating counselor Lauren Cadillac, RD, RDN, CPT.

Featured Image: Pexels

About Author

Morgan Mandriota is the founder of Highly Untamed and a freelance sex and wellness writer. She regularly writes for Betches, Cosmopolitan, Tinder, Health, SHAPE, and your other favorite websites. She loves traveling, hiking, eating tacos, and training Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Follow Morgan on Instagram and Twitter @morganmandriota.