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Fad diets: Are they safe?

We all wish that there was a magical way to lose weight quickly which is why fad diets offer temptation as a quick fix to long-term problems. The truth, unfortunately, is that there is no hasty remedy when it comes to health and nutrition. So what exactly is a fad diet, do they work in the long-term and why are so many Australians tempted by them? 

What is a fad diet? 

A fad diet usually promises quick weight loss or radical health improvements with no scientific basis. Often they are contradictory to current health advice, recommending that people cut out entire foods or food groups. A fad diet is usually based on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, not considering different health, weight and bodily concerns but rather focusing on short-term changes whilst making claims that are based on either testimonials or a single study. They frequently involve the use of miracle pills, supplements or shakes 

What do fad diets have in common? 

Most fad diets encourage the cutting down of energy or kilojoule intake, often resulting in some sort of weight loss. However, as soon as these ‘quick-fix-diets’ are stopped, most people will pick all the weight back up again. It is also important to consider that when particular diets are overly restrictive, encouraging the exclusion of key food groups, the risk of nutrient deficiencies will become a very real possibility. 

How to change your lifestyle 

When it comes to your health and diet, a long-term approach of finding an eating pattern that you enjoy can stick to and that fits with your lifestyle is more suitable and sustainable. Consider small tweaks which will change the way you feel as well as your overall health and wellbeing over time rather than drastic changes to your diets which have no long-term evidence regarding safety or efficacy. 

Making healthy food choices 

We all know that vegetables are jam-packed with vitamins, mineral and antioxidants while being low in energy, and yet less than 7% of Australian adults meet the recommended five-a-day target. It is shocking to know that on average, more than one third (35%) of our total energy intake is attributed to ‘discretionary’ or extra foods such as cakes, confectionary, soft drinks, alcohol and sweet or savoury biscuits. This means that making even a small change such as consuming more vegetables and less discretionary foods will yield good results. 

What are the potential risks with fad diets? 

The long-term safety of fad diets remains unknown and because of their often highly restrictive nature and the way that key food groups are often cut out, they put you at risk of missing out on vital nutrients needed for good health. It is for this exact reason that fad diets are unsuitable and can even be dangerous for certain people such as; children and teenagers, pregnant women, highly-active people, people with diabetes and those with a history of eating disorders. On top of these risks, fad diets may also produce other unpleasant side-effects such as fatigue, affected mood, constipation, headaches, feeling foggy-headed and ‘hangry’. 

Why you should trust a dietitian 

Weight-loss should be personalised with the key being a healthy eating pattern that is sustainable over time. The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) encourages Australians to take a longer-term view to weight loss, based on the recommendation of the Australian Dietary Guidelines, and to rather seek expert advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD). An APD will be able to provide advice that is tailored to suit the individual’s lifestyle, goals, health status and preferences. With their practical advice being based on the solid grounding of scientific evidence, you can be confident that you are making a long-term investment in your health.

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