There is no shortage of diet plans available, whether a brand like Weight Watchers or an approach like “going Paleo.” How do you know if these plans have any merit or are just passing fads?
According to Catherine Page, an outpatient clinical dietician at Harrington HealthCare System, the definition of a fad diet is any diet that gives big promises. “It may be quick weight loss. It may be you don’t have to exercise. Or, you only eat certain foods,” she says. “For a lot of these diets, it’s all about big promises and not a lot of fulfillment, or it’s very short-term fulfillment but nothing that’s sustainable.”
Keto: Safe or Sorry?
One current trend is the keto diet (short for ketogenic), which involves eating high-fat foods and very few carbohydrates—pushing the body into a hypermetabolic state so it burns energy at a more rapid rate. While individuals often experience significant weight loss in the first four to eight weeks, the body is not made to eat a high-fat diet.
“The big issue with the keto diet is yes, you are going to have success, but after about four weeks, it starts to affect your kidneys. It puts you in a state of ketoacidosis, which means your blood acid level goes up and your kidneys have to process out that extra waste and all that extra acid,” explains Page. “I always tell people, if you are going to follow the keto diet, do it for no more than four weeks. Use it as a jump start to get your weight loss started, but then start bringing in reasonable portions of complex carbs, because that’s what your body needs.”
Sustainability Is Key
In Page’s opinion, fad diets work for a lot of people because it’s the first time—or the first time in a long while—they are actually paying attention to what they’re eating; measuring their food and tracking what they’re eating. At least initially, these individuals are really thinking about what’s going into their mouths.
“My thought is, use this same approach but skew it in a healthier manner so that most of what’s going in your mouth is fruits and vegetables,” shares Page. “You are still having some starch, but maybe it’s only a half a cup to a cup. You’re still getting your protein, but maybe it’s only three or four ounces.”
In addition to advising the types of foods individuals should eat, Page also takes into account their lifestyle, such as what they do for a living, if they have a family, how busy their lives are. “I ask them a lot of lifestyle questions, because if it’s a mom with two kids who also works, keto may work temporarily, but they still have to feed a household of people. So, I always ask them to consider how realistic it will be to sustain.”
As a dietitian, Page considers any disease states as well, such as thyroid disease or if a patient has had cancer.
Eat to Live
Many fad diets ask followers to eliminate certain foods or entire food groups. Unfortunately, that means key nutrients are also being left out. “Once you start eliminating key nutrients, that’s when people start craving those types of foods,” cautions Page. Other diet plans require people to buy special (oftentimes expensive) foods, which also makes sustainability challenging.
“Plenty of people ask me, ‘well how long do I need to eat like this?’ What I always reply, and I know it sounds grim, is ‘how long do you want to live?’ If you want to live 30 more years, you need to eat like you are going to live 30 more years. If you only want to live another five, go ahead and eat like you are only going to live five,” notes Page. “When they think about it that way, it becomes sort of this light bulb moment—a wake-up call.”
To listen to an interview with Catherine Page on our Podcast, click here.