Fad Diets – What they are & how to spot them

“Drop 4 sizes in 30 days!” “Lose 3 pounds every week without dieting or exercise!” These are the claims of a fad diet. The American Academy of Family Physicians defines a fad diet as “a stylish weight loss plan that promises dramatic results.”

 

Almost all fad diets require that you go to extremes to follow them. They require that you restrict your calories, your food choices, and may require that you follow a very specific workout routine. Fad diets promise quick results that aren’t realistic, healthy for you, or sustainable in the long-term. Spotting a fad diet used to be pretty easy – there were blatant, too-good-to-be-true  statements about extreme weight loss. Today, it’s not so easy because the language has changed to sound less restrictive or to make you believe it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change. Lifestyle changes can be great for weight loss and improving your overall health, but a fad diet disguised as a lifestyle change is unlikely to be of much use in the long term, and may even harm your progress toward a healthier lifestyle..

Let’s look at some ways to spot a fad diet.

  • Entire food groups are turned into the enemy. If it tells you to reduce a specific macronutrient (fat, carbohydrate, protein) or eliminate an entire food group, then it’s a fad diet. Despite what the fad diet wants you to think, all macronutrients and food groups play a role in your body.
  • It seems too good to be true. If you’re initial reaction to the diet’s claims are “really?!?” then it’s a fad diet. Be suspicious of any diet that claims it will magically solve your struggles. Basically, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • It attempts to trick your body. Trying to trick your body into believing it’s full or not hungry, isn’t going to help you. Getting appropriate nutrition is essential to your body and it’s actually quite difficult to trick your body into thinking it has what it needs to survive. Your body is smart!
  • It’s approach is one-size-fits-all. If there isn’t any room in the diet for you to be you, then it’s a fad diet. If it doesn’t allow for cultural practices or socioeconomic status, then it’s too rigid and it’s a fad diet. If it takes you away from social situations, then it doesn’t allow for your lifestyle and it’s a fad diet. If it doesn’t allow for adjustments that fit your life and are important to you, then it’s a fad diet and you should walk away.

The season is almost here when we’ll be inundated with more diets than usual (hello, New Year’s resolution season). Instead of going for the next fad diet, learn to work with your body. I know that fad diets are quite compelling but diets don’t work. Let’s ditch the diets and start building a healthy, happy, friendly relationship with food.

 

Food Addiction – Is It Real?

Food addiction is a term that has been made a splash in recent years. It definitely makes for a catchy headline and is a concept that many of us can relate too. How many times have you heard something like “I’m a chocoholic” or “I can’t just have one cookie, once I start, I can’t stop.” However, is food addiction real?

Science is currently seeking to answer this question and it is a pretty controversial topic. Let’s take a deeper look at what food addiction is, what the science says, and some of the controversy behind food addiction.

food addiction

Food addiction is defined as the compulsive consumption of highly palatable foods to activate pleasurable changes in our brains. Highly palatable foods include foods that are sugary, processed, and/or high in fat. The concept of food addiction suggests that these highly palatable foods and addictive substances have similar effects of the brain.

The anticipation of eating activates the same regions in our brains as substance abuse and the consumption of highly palatable foods activates the same reward/pleasure centers in the brain as addictive substances. For example, a study by Gerhardt and colleagues compared people with three or more symptoms of food addiction with those who had lower food addiction symptoms. The participants were given a chocolate milkshake. Those with more addiction symptoms saw an increased activity in reward regions of the brain and decreased activity in the areas of the brain related to inhibition. This type of brain activity is similar to what is seen with substance dependence.

Other studies suggest that food and addictive substances trigger the release of striatal dopamine, which is a major player in reward circuits in the brain. Several studies using rats as subjects have found that consuming highly palatable foods increases dopamine activation and decreases binding of dopamine receptors. Additional research surrounding behavioral patterns and food addiction found that primates who were given chocolate preferred to spend time in the areas where they received the chocolate while primates who didn’t receive chocolate showed no preference for where they spent their time.

Despite some support for the concept of food addiction, the evidence is far from conclusive. Furthermore, there is no actual definition of what an addictive food is – studies use the term “highly palatable food” but we still don’t know exactly what it is about the food that could make it addictive. Is it an ingredient? Is it a combination of ingredients?

Most food addiction research has been conducted with animal subjects, while the limited research with humans is with the YFAS. It is unclear if the research with animal subjects generalizes to humans. The YFAS is based on an individual’s thoughts and reflections surrounding food experiences, which doesn’t provide scientific evidence at a biological level for food addiction.

A fundamental question remains as to whether we can truly define something as addictive if that something is necessary for survival. Part of the reason that food is pleasurable and rewarding is because we have to consume it in order to live. If eating wasn’t rewarding and enjoyable, we wouldn’t do it. Most addictions that are currently defined and able to be diagnosed aren’t necessary for survival.

While the research surrounding food addiction is still in progress, my experience tells me that the feeling of a total loss of control around food is quite real. While we may not yet know the cause of such feelings, it is important to manage them. If you have these feelings know that it is possible to find peace with food – mindful and intuitive eating can help you get there!

 

Mindful Eating – What it is & getting started

With many clients, I use a mindful eating approach to help them achieve their goals. I’ve found that utilizing mindful eating practices can help my clients not only reach their nutrition goals but also help them continue lifelong healthy eating habits. I believe that mindful eating can help clients reach their happy weight, improve their eating habits, develop a healthy relationship with food, and more. Because this is the approach that I will utilize at Friendly Nutrition, let’s take a moment to discuss mindful eating.

person holding donut

To better understand mindful eating, first consider it’s opposite – mindless eating. Mindless eating is eating food because it is there. You may not be hungry and it may not be time to eat but there’s food around so you eat. Mindless eating is grabbing a piece of candy because you walk past a candy dish. Mindless eating is grabbing a handful of chips while watching a game because there’s a bowl full of chips on the counter. Mindless eating is not thinking about the food that you are putting in your mouth. It’s eating because of habit or reflex.  

Mindful eating is being thoughtful about the food you are eating and why you are eating. It’s about listening to your body and selecting foods that provide nourishment and satisfaction. It’s about learning to recognize the difference between eating for hunger and eating for emotional reasons. It’s learning to trust yourself and knowing that you will make a good food decision. Mindful eating teaches you to stop judging foods and teaches you to be flexible about your eating.

Mindful eating isn’t easy but the practice can be extremely rewarding. Here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Slow down. Take time to enjoy what you are eating. When you slow down, you allow yourself the opportunity to notice flavors that you might have missed if you ate quickly. You also allow yourself a better opportunity to recognize when you are full.
  2. Don’t let yourself get too hungry. When you get too hungry, you’re more likely to eat quickly and overeat. Learning to pay attention to hunger and eating before you feel you are starving will make eating mindfully much easier.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions. Mindful eating allows you to learn when you are eating for reasons other than hunger. Once you recognize that your craving is driven by emotion, you can find something besides food to meet that emotional need.
  4. Focus on how food affects your body. Pay attention to how food makes you feel while you are eating and after you have eaten. You might discover that certain foods make you feel great and others make you feel yucky. Honor those feelings!
  5. Be mindful when you can and don’t punish yourself when you can’t. Eating mindfully 100% of the time is impossible. Part of learning to be mindful is also understanding that it’s okay to not be perfect.

 

Undereating? Sabotaging your health? Probably!

When I first started working with clients to eat better, feel better, and find their happy weight, a common change that I typically recommended was to eat more. Receiving a recommendation to eat more is not something that people typically expect to hear from a dietitian. Hear me out this. Undereating might be the barrier to you reaching your health and nutrition goals.

abstract blue clean container

Undereating affects your metabolism. Metabolism is a biochemical process that takes place in your body and is how your body gets the energy it needs to function. It is a tightly regulated process in order to make sure that you have enough energy. There are several aspects that can affect metabolism – what you eat, your hormones, how much and what type of exercise you do, your age, your gender, and your genetics are a few of them.

Undereating is one factor that can throw your metabolism off. Undereating is underfeeding your body. When you underfeed your body, you aren’t providing it with the nutrients that it needs for basic functions so your metabolism slows down. When undereating, your metabolism slows down in order to conserve the energy. When your metabolism slows down, you don’t burn as much energy (i.e. calories) as normal. This will actually slow your progress toward reaching your happy weight goals!

How do you know if you are undereating? Let’s take a look at some common signs.

  • You’re always hungry. This doesn’t mean that you have the occasional hunger pain that comes after making a change to your eating habits. This is constant, undeniable hunger and it’s a definite indicator that you aren’t eating enough.
  • You feel sluggish and tired. Your body does store some energy in your muscles. This energy is called glycogen and it is used by fast-twitch muscle fibers for things like sprinting or heavy lifting. If you’re not eating enough, you’re body turns to these glycogen stores for energy. Depleting your glycogen stores results in not having enough energy to get through the day so you feel sluggish and tired.
  • You notice skin issues that aren’t normal. Food isn’t just for fuel. Food is also for nutrients. There are many nutrients that help you have healthy, pretty skin. Vitamins like vitamin E, vitamin D, and niacin help improve the health of your skin. If you’re undereating, you’re not getting enough of several nutrients and this can lead to unwanted skin issues like dry, flaky, or itchy skin.
  • You’re having abnormal bowel issues. When your metabolism slows down, your digestive system can also slow down. A slow digestive system can lead to bowel issues such as diarrhea or constipation.
  • You constantly feel cold. Regulating your body temperature requires energy. If you’re undereating and not giving your body enough energy, this can cause problems with maintaining a healthy body temperature.

If you think you might be undereating, it’s okay. You’re not alone. I’ve done it to myself too. However, there are ways to get your health and your metabolism back on track. The obvious answer is to increase your food intake but it is crucial to do this in a healthy manner.

If you think you might be undereating and it’s why you’re not able to achieve your health goals, feel free to reach out. I’m happy to talk through this with you.

The MIND Diet

Brain health is a topic that I spend a lot of time thinking about. Unfortunately, the why behind my interest in this topic isn’t super pleasant.

In 2015, my mom was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. That same year, my grandfather (my mom’s dad) passed away after living with Alzheimer’s Disease for several years. Given that family history, I want to do what I can to prevent cognitive decline and keep my brain healthy for as long as possible.

analysis blackboard board bubble

This quest led me across some interesting articles and research on the MIND Diet.

The MIND Diet has been linked to preventing cognitive decline. The MIND Diet is based on two well known and well substantiated diets – the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.

A study published in 2015 (1), found that even moderate adherence to the MIND Diet reduced the risk of developing dementia. This study followed 923 individuals between the ages of 58 and 98 for an average of 4.5 years. The study assessed the participants’ diet and cognitive function at regular intervals. Individuals who followed the MIND Diet closely saw a 53% reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease and those who followed the diet moderately well saw a 35% reduction.

It isn’t completely clear how the diet works but the folks who created the diet think that it works by decreasing inflammation and oxidative stress. Inflammation is the body’s response to injury and infection. If inflammation is not properly regulated it can be quite harmful. Oxidative stress happens when free radicals (unstable molecules) accumulate in your body causing damage to cells. Inflammation and oxidative stress can be destructive to your brain.

Food to eat on the MIND Diet

  • Green leafy veggies – 6+ servings per week
  • All other veggies
  • Berries – 2 times per week
  • Nuts – 5 servings per week
  • Olive oil should be your main cooking oil
  • Whole grains – 3 servings per day
  • Fish – 1 time per week
  • Beans – 4 times per week
  • Poultry – 2 times per week
  • Wine – no more than 1 glass per day

Foods to avoid on the MIND Diet

  • Butter & margarine – less than 1 tablespoon per day
  • Cheese – less than 1 time per week
  • Red meat – less than 3 times per week
  • Fried foods – less than 1 time per week
  • Pastries and sweets – no more than 4 times per week

Looking at my typical eating pattern, I follow the MIND Diet moderately close but could do better. How does your diet stack up?

References

(1) Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Barnes LL, Bennett D, Aggarwal N. MIND diet more predictive than DASH or Mediterranean diet scores. Alzheimers Dement. 2014;10(4):P166.