Why fad diets fail

By: Mar 30, 2011

Tired of falling for the latest fad? Here’s how to keep the weight off once and for all

We’ve tried losing weight by eating virtually nothing but grapefruit for seven days. Then, we switched to cabbage soup for 12 days. We’ve gone without sugar, fat, protein and carbs – and even doused our food with cider vinegar, believing it had miraculous fat-burning properties. Yet after decades of failed fad diets, we’re still looking for the next quick fix. Here’s a look at why fad diets don’t work – and what you can do to lose weight for good.

Why dieting doesn’t work

If a fad diet actually worked, we’d all be on it – and we’d all be thin. But, according to Statistics Canada, more than half of Canadians are overweight or obese. And while 85 percent of people may lose weight on a diet, only 15 percent will have kept it off after two years. (Sure, Beyoncé may have dropped 20 pounds on her maple syrup diet, but even she doesn’t recommend trying it.)

For one thing, fad diets aren’t something you can sustain for the long term. Who can drink nothing but a maple syrup and cayenne pepper cocktail for longer than a week or two? Naturally, once you stop starving yourself, the weight will come back (and you’re likely to gain a few extra pounds to boot). Fad diets also put your health at risk because they force you to cut back on, or eliminate altogether, major nutrients that your body needs.

So how do you spot a fad diet?

“Fad diets are ones that recommend things other than the dietary patterns shown to create sustainable weight loss,” says Dr. David Macklin, a leading weight management expert and founder of the WeightCare clinic in Toronto. If it promises unrealistic results (safe weight loss means no more than two pounds per week), requires special products, eliminates certain foods or makes you follow a strict plan without taking your lifestyle into account – it’s a fad diet that won’t help you lose weight in the long term.

Fixing your approach to food

To lose weight successfully, Dr. Macklin says the key is to tailor your eating habits to what will work for you. “People need to learn how to eat a healthy, balanced diet at the right caloric level for them,” he says. This means talking to your doctor about how many calories you need, then spreading them out over the day so that you’re never going longer than three hours without food. “This establishes a healthy base for your eating habits,” he says. “Then, from this position of strength, you can tackle ‘conditioned eating habits’ that are preventing you from losing weight.”

It’s important to identify the obstacles that prevent you from eating well and deal with times when you’re vulnerable to food. You need to identify your high-risk times for overeating, Dr. Macklin says. Are you most likely to cave in to your cravings around 3 p.m. at the office, on weekends or at social events?

“Once you’ve identified your risk times, you can create strict, non-moveable rules around those times,” he says. He describes the process as “putting a fence” around the eating habit (or, in most cases, habits).

“When it comes to deconditioning, people are most empowered by hard and fast rules,” he says. “For example, ‘My name is x and I do not eat between supper and sleep.’ That’s it, end of story.”