Facing the Facts of Fad Diets

​​Join Marilyn Holmes, Registered Dietitian, as she shares the truth about fad diets and how to make healthy, lasting changes to your nutrition. 

Listen to this WellCast above, or you can watch a video version of it.

Begin Transcript

Bridgette Butler:  Hello, and welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness Wellcast.  I'm Bridgette Butler with Health Plus.  Today our guest is Marilyn Holmes, Registered Dietitian and Associate Director of the Vanderbilt Recreation and Wellness Center.  We will be discussing the truth about fad diets and what to consider when deciding how to make lasting changes to your health and nutrition.  Welcome, Marilyn and thank you for joining us today.

Marilyn Holmes:  Thank you, Bridgette.  

Bridgette Butler:  So glad that you are here.  Well, Marilyn there are several diets that have gained popularity recently and let's start with the facts.  What is considered a fad diet and what makes them so appealing?  

Marilyn Holmes:  Well, the first thing I would say that makes them so appearing or makes them fad diets is the fact that they are making claims that seem too good to be true and there is not a lot of research behind them to really prove that what they are making the claim on is actually the truth.  So, there is not enough evidence about them.  They are a lot of times trying to sell you a book or a supplement at the same time that they are trying to tell you that you are going to have this fast weight off and that's what we want if we are trying to lose weight is to get that weight off and get it off fact even though it may have taken us a long time to get it on.  And then, a lot of times, folks who are making the claims about this diet have no nutrition background.  They have research in the background of it or education in the background of it as well.

Bridgette Butler:  Can you describe a few of the most popular fad diets that are out there today?  

Marilyn Holmes:  I can.  Some of those that you may have heard a whole lot about are Paleo, Intermittent, and we will come back and talk about these, the keto, the ketogenic diet.  Also, ketogenic lite which is a little more palatable for some, it's a newer one out, and then the gluten free are some of the ones that we hear most commonly.  If you are talking about Paleo, there is some good evidence that it can help you with weight off and the reason it is doing is because you are using lots of fruits and vegetables.  You are trying to use a lot of unprocessed food.  Sugary kinds of foods are restricted on this kind of diet.  You are using foods that are traditionally thought of as the caveman or the hunter gather, prior to the time that we had a lot of the cultivated crops.  So, the good thing about this is that it is a lot of unprocessed foods, but the bad thing about it is it is restricting.  It is also restricting some of the good plant-based things that we are knowing at this time that are really healthy for us.  Legumes are some of the things.  Whole grain bread is some.  Dairy is another.  So, you may get into some nutrient problems as well.  So, there are some bad things about it, but more research is really needed for us to know the long-term effects of it as well.  The Intermittent Diet can be a variety of things.  You may eat one day all that you want, the next day you may have maybe 500 or 600 calories which is very, very low, and then the next day eat.  Some folks do lose some weight on it, but what we do see with it is the fact that long term people are not keeping that weight off.  We know that fasting is something that goes back eons as well.  We also known that there does not seem to be any physical or mental problems from using this kind of diet, but, again, there does not seem to be any advantage of it over just generally eating a healthy food plan that does not have a lot of extra calories in it as well.  Some people like it just because of the fact that they can eat whatever they want to one day and then starve the next day and then the next day... so, it is not as hard to follow as some of the others.  The gluten free is definitely needed for people who have gluten-induced enteropathy or gluten sensitivity, but there is no advantage to restricting, which is the rye, the barely, the grains, the wheat that we know are good sources of food for us as well.  It is good sources of nutrients.  There is also the claim of it of using the gluten-free diet for reducing inflammation, but we have not seen that long term for folks.  So, again, if you are trying to use it in the weight off arena, we are not seeing that it has been very helpful, but it is definitely needed for people who have gluten sensitivity or gluten-induced enteropathy.  

Bridgette Butler:  As you said, there is so much conflicting information about fad diets like the ones that you described.  So, in your expertise, what should we understand about nutrition and fad diets?       

Marilyn Holmes:  Some of the things that we need to really think about is the harm that they can cause long term.  What we have seen in the research is that people who gets the weight off and gets it off really fast, first of all maybe losing a lot of muscle mass and you don't want to lose muscle mass.  You want to conserve muscle mass because that is the most efficient burning of calories that we can have and it may not over time help us to keep that weight off and when we go back to eating the old way, because it is so restrictive and can be so harmful to us in many ways, when we go back to eating the way that we were eating, we have not made change, then we can gain that weight and more.  Over time, we can have ended up having more weight on us than we started out in the very beginning.  So, a lot of times we see from them that they are just hard to follow.  They may be very expensive.  They can be harmful to us, especially if you are taking some of the supplements that can cause some problems later one as well.

Bridgette Butler:  What are better alternatives to fad diets for someone who wants to make changes to their nutrition and their health and is perhaps understanding that fad diets are not the best choice?

Marilyn Holmes:  You kind of want to first of all get the facts and you want to get evidence-based facts for another thing.  One of the things that our faculty and staff have available for them here at Vanderbilt is you all.  You are health coaches, and you are a registered dietitian and can help people with their questions and help them get started.  So, finding a reliable source or person of information is one thing that can be very helpful.  There are other things out there.  We know that there is evidence that some of the diets such as the Mediterranean Diet that we have seen a lot of publicity about recently and the dietary approach is to stop hypertension are both very well documented as far as being evidence-based plans with lots of fruits and vegetables.  That is a cornerstone for helping us be able to make healthy food choices that can support our weight maintenance or loss as well and helping us be sustainable in what we are trying to do.  So, looking for reliable sources.  Now, other things that are out.  There is MyPlate.gov is a great source for people to look at and see, get some recommendations that can help them get started on eating a healthy food plan.  Eating a variety of foods is another good way and then, again, seeking out reliable sources to help us set our short-term and long-term goals that are achievable and that can help us make change that will sustain our change over time.  

Bridgette Butler:  Wonderful.  Thank you so much.  It is a lot of great information about fad diets and healthy alternatives to fad diets and also some wonderful information about resources where you can begin if you do want to stick with a healthy eating approach as opposed to continuing to diet.  Marilyn, thank you so much for joining us today.

Marilyn Holmes:  You are welcome and thank you for inviting me.  

Bridgette Butler:  Thanks for listening.  If you have a story suggestion, use the Contact Us page on our website at www.vumc.org/health-wellness.