How Fad Diets Impacted My Health
written by: Tara Cristobal-Rivera MSN
I remember moving away from home to attend college in Long Beach, California. I was young and so excited to be in close distance to some of southern California’s most famous beaches and party life. But navigating new experiences and adjusting to more independence can be stressful.
Did you know that one of the top 10 stressful events for young women is going to college?
These transitions can be potential factors in developing disordered eating characteristics.
With the pressures of working part-time and going to school full time, my health and self-care routine got put on the back burner. I had to add ‘gym time’ as an elective so that I could force myself to exercise.
As my weight increased, I felt inadequate trying to keep up with the demands of the ‘ideal’ image of what a Southern California female in her 20’s should look like. So, I bought the diet books and diet pills because I didn’t have time to put more thought into my food intake. I just wanted someone to “Tell Me What to Eat!”
Logically I knew this was not a healthy approach. My body fluctuated in weight causing my brain to go haywire - primarily because the diet pills were so high in caffeine, and I wasn't getting much sleep.
Research suggests that fad diets and supplements should have the same regulatory guidelines as a prescription or over the counter drugs. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) classified dietary supplements as food. Meaning that the FDA cannot regulate as strictly as drugs. Crazy right?!?
Let me be clear, while I don't support any fad diet, I'm not against people who diet or the people who create fad diets. We're all swimming in the same diet culture pool. But many fad diets (if not all) are not backed by long-term research nor do they explain the long-term impacts.
Here is some research highlighting the health impacts of fad dieting:
Many people feel that fad diets work because they may lose a lot of water and muscle due to eating fewer calories. Rapid weight loss can contribute to constipation, low energy, and increased tiredness.
Chronic dieting can lead to psychological implications such as food obsession, calorie counting, and fatigue. This can trigger the binge and restrict cycles contributing to disordered eating and depression.
Many of the fad diets focus on one food type or a specific food group. This increases the chances of being nutritionally unbalanced and it does not help that many of these diets are not backed by long-term (longer than 2-5 years) research.
Lastly, many of these diets may require both food preparation and lifestyle changes that may not be realistic. The foods may also not be accessible or financially possible to everyone.
Now, many years from those exciting and stressful college days, I am happy to be in this part of my nutrition journey where I am learning that there's no such thing as an ‘ideal’ body image. I'm learning to get back to basics on how to feed myself and move my body intuitively by listening to my body cues. It's hard work, but also rewarding to see my body shame talk decreasing and my ability to find pleasure with food increasing. Don't get me wrong, my relationship with food and my body is a work in progress. Every day I'm practicing to break my old paradigm thinking, which is way more enjoyable than adhering to unrealistic diet culture rules!
If you have a complicated relationship with food and want to learn more about how to get off the fad diet roller coaster, become and Alpine Nutrition Insider. You'll get the FREE Get Nourished Guide delivered to your inbox as well as monthly newsletters with more anti-diet tips.
Harris, S. M. (2015). Black American female eating dysfunctions and body image: A bioecological perspective. Negro Educational Review, 66(1-4), 27-54,126.
Khawandanah, J., & Tewfik I. (2016). Fad diets: Lifestyle promises and health changes. Journal of Food Research, 5(6), 80-94. doi:10.5539/jfr.v5n6p80
Ruden, D.M., Rasouli, P., & Lu, X. (2007). Potential long-term consequences of fad diets on health, cancer, and longevity: Lessons learned from model organism studies. Technology in Cancer Research and Treatment, 6(3), 247-254.
Ventola, C. L. (2010b). Current issues regarding complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in the United States. Part 2: Regulatory and safety concerns and proposed government policy changes with respect to dietary supplements. Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 35(9), 515-522. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2957745/