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Updated February 4, 2021
Humans have been eating since the dawn of time. It wasn’t until the 1970s, though, that our food focus shifted widely from its nutritional value to its effect on our figure. Since then, Western culture has been full speed ahead seeking hacks to burn more calories, shed extra weight and build muscle in the process.
But are diets really helping?
Fad diets, too have been around for ages. Single-food diets like The Cabbage Soup Diet and The Grapefruit Diet and ill-advised trends like eating cotton balls, cookies or smoking cigarettes mark some low points in humanity’s attempts to slim down.
Common wisdom tells us that fad diets aren’t always the best approach to changing up your body. But it’s easy to see why dieters get caught up in the allure of a magic bullet alternative to eating fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. That’s especially the case when we find ourselves unable to lose weight as quickly, or easily, as we’d like. According to a recent study, fewer obese Americans are trying to lose weight, and researchers believe one reason why is the frustration of not seeing their efforts pay off on the scale or in the mirror.
That said, just because a diet is #trending doesn’t necessarily mean it’s without merit. For example, people have seen some success with Whole 30 and paleo diets, both of which promote minimal carbs and whole food-based eating.
Here’s a look at the fad diets taking us by storm in 2018.
The Low FODMAP diet has gained some traction as a way to help IBS sufferers, and has quickly become a bandwagon trend much like going gluten-free. The interesting acronym stands for a specific type of carb associated with indigestion.
The diet typically involves ditching dairy, legumes and sugar alcohols, promoting a lactose and fructose-free way of eating. This diet has shown some promise for IBS suffers, but it might not be worthwhile for those simply looking to lose weight. “Low FODMAP” foods may come with high saturated fat content and a lot of sugar.
Activated charcoal isn’t necessarily a diet, but the chalky, black substance has definitely made some waves in the “detox” crowd. Activated charcoal and clay have become an Instagram staple and are often featured in detox juices and drinks that bear the characteristic shocking black hue.
Charcoal is thought to have a cleansing effect on the body, improving digestion and clearing pores. On the flip side, it may also cause constipation, intestinal blockages and dehydration. Based on current research, it’s best not to make activated charcoal a daily habit.
The Keto diet
The Keto diet is best known for being low carb and high protein. The body produces a substance called ketones in the liver, which your body will use for energy instead of carbs. This process is known as ketosis and works to burn calories at a faster rate than you normally would.
The diet is pretty restrictive and won’t work for everyone. Potatoes, fruit, sugars and grains are all out of the picture. Instead, dieters eat meat, fish and poultry, leafy greens, vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, berries, avocado and fats like olive oil and coconut oil.
This diet does allow for high-fat dairy products, nuts and seeds, but only so long as your caloric intake follows its strict formula: 70% fat, 25% protein and 5% carbohydrates. Although this diet could prove effective for some dieters, it’s not without side effects. Dieters may experience fatigue, bad breath, frequent urination, nausea and digestive issues.
Intermittent fasting isn’t promoted as a diet, per se. Instead, it’s a way to get lean without having to focus on counting calories or restricting your intake to specific food groups. Proponents of intermittent fasting say that the diet works to promote fat loss. Dieters alternate between fasting for 14 to 16 hours at a time, then “feeding for the next 10.” During the fasting period, you’re limited to calorie-free beverages, water, coffee and tea.
Another approach to intermittent fasting is known as Eat Stop Eat. Started by Brad Pilon, this approach is designed to help healthy eaters become even healthier. The diet encourages people to fast for 24 hours once or twice a week, then return to eating like you never fasted in the first place.
Intermittent fasting is touted by the types who “hack” their bodies for longer lifespans and leaner physiques. And there’s a strong body of research that shows fasting can indeed be healthy. That said, fasting for too long could lead to some complications or result in nutrient deficiencies. You might also become tired, constipated, dizzy or dehydrated.
The best diet is still real food
Unless you have a chronic condition like IBS or Celiac Disease, chance are that you’re better off following famed food writer Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” In an Atlantic piece, researchers also restated this old wisdom: a balanced diet of plants, lean protein and whole grains is the best way to lengthen your lifespan and reduce the risk of chronic disease.