Over the past few years, there has been an obvious rise in trendy eating lifestyles such as gluten-free and vegan diets. The list of fad diets that have been promoted by celebrity and housewives alike is virtually endless. However, the question we rarely ask is why? Why do we put faith in one-size-fits-all diets that boast extreme weight loss even without being paired with fitness? I am a huge believer in the effects that a healthy lifestyle can have on your mind and body, however, I’m also huge skeptic of the claims that these fad diets are an essential element to being healthy, or even that they are healthy themselves. To examine every diet out there would be pretty much impossible, but I can examine the flaws I see in the mentality behind these fad diets. If you have struggled with seeing the effects that these diets boast or you are simply trying to find ways to start eating healthier, I’d highly recommend doing some unbiased (and non-promotional) research to find the truth behind healthy eating and to better understand the effects that come from what you put into your body.
One Size Never Fits All
One of my biggest grievances with fad diets is the supposed universality. The majority of these diets claim that cutting out certain foods is synonymous with eating healthy. Although there are more problems to this mentality that I’ll go into later, just the idea that certain foods are bad for everyone is false. For example, although cutting gluten out of your diet can work wonders if you have a gluten sensitivity, this same step won’t have the same significant benefits for those who are not affected by gluten.
Many of the dietary restrictions that these fads require, though possibly unnecessary, don’t have the potential to do actual harm to your body. That said, there is no reason to have unreasonable restrictions on your diet if they’re not necessary. I’ve been a pescatarian my entire life, but that’s not necessarily because I believe all meat is bad for you. I have no problem leaving it out of my diet purely because I’m not interested in eating it. Gluten and dairy, on the other hand, are staples in my diet, and to cut them out would completely change the way I eat. For the past year, I’ve struggled a lot with chronic joint and muscle pain as well as fatigue. This has influenced the way I saw my food and encouraged me to cut out processed ingredients and cook more and more from scratch. Several months ago, I was encouraged to cut out gluten, dairy, and sugar from my diet completely. These are all ingredients that I eat regularly in moderation, so cutting them out completely was a huge step. I found myself often turning to unhealthy, processed foods that fit the guidelines of my diet but ultimately made me feel like crap. Although there were some meals I liked, I overall didn’t enjoy the food I was eating and I never saw the results that I was hoping for. I learned that listening to my body and cooking with fresh, healthy ingredients mattered so much more than restricting my diet.
When you’re trying to eat healthy, your body can tell you all you need to know. Filling up on processed foods will leave you feeling heavy and lethargic whereas eating food made with whole, fresh ingredients can fill you up without weighing you down. Pay attention to how certain foods make you feel and take the time to educate yourself on the ways that different foods affect your body. One of my favorite books, Eat Pretty by Jolene Hart, lists through different foods that help and harm your body and the ways they directly affect your insides. If you’re looking to better understand how foods are processed by your body, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy.
The Bandwagon Effect
One of the characterizing elements of all of these diets is the endless promotion from Z-list celebrities. It’s this promotion that leads to the bandwagon effect. That is, a diet that would be disregarded as idiotic can easily transform into the next-best-thing after a post from that Bachelor contestant that got eliminated in the first episode. A few of her followers try it with the promise of unbelievable results and then promote it to their followers who promote it to their followers who promote it to their followers–you get the idea.
It is easy to be confused and discouraged when you see thousands of people promoting false claims for a diet that was practically a joke, but fail to see any of these results yourself. It’s hard not to question yourself and ask what am I doing wrong rather than questioning a diet that everyone seems to love.
It is this nature of fad diets that makes them so poisonous. This bandwagon effect makes it hard for individuals to go back to that initial reaction and see the ridiculousness of it all. This is why it’s important to understand nutrition and how food affects the body, so that you can distinguish between actual healthy eating habits and these popularity contests gone wrong.
Are They Even Healthy?
So, I’ve identified the main reasons that I disagree with the nature of fad diets, but I’ve yet to address one fundamental question–are these fad diets necessarily unhealthy? And the answer is no–not necessarily. Most of these diets, paired with the right mentality can be very healthy and result in the desired benefits. However, relying on these guidelines to justify anything as healthy is the kind of mentality that can turn these diets against you.
Let’s take processed foods, for example. These days, you can find a plethora of gluten-free alternatives at the grocery store. However, upon examination, you’ll find that a lot of these products come at a cost, and not just the literal one (although that’s often quite high as well). In order to make these gluten-free products appealing to buyers, manufacturers often pump them full of sugar, chemicals, and artificial flavors. If you view every one of these gluten-free products as healthy simply because they are gluten-free (although there are many products that can be considered healthy), you will find yourself being scammed into buying many drastically processed and harmful foods. The same goes for vegan, vegetarian, and (especially) sugar-free products.
If you’re looking for a diet, whether it’s to lose weight or just live a healthier lifestyle, I highly recommend doing some actual research. Going along with the first diet you find is never a good idea. I understand that for some people, having a set of strict guidelines and goals can be very helpful to keeping up with healthy eating habits. Personally, however, I like to leave guidelines out of the picture. Understanding what is healthy and what isn’t is enough motivation to keep me in check. Furthermore, I believe that completely cutting foods out of my diet isn’t always necessary. Take sugar, for example. Although sugar doesn’t boast any real nutritional benefits, and too much can certainly be unhealthy, it doesn’t have to weigh you down if eaten in moderation. Additionally, it’s highly dependent on context. Sure, a grape soda thats pumped with artificial flavors and preservatives is going to be far from healthy. But, on the other hand, organic ice cream or homemade brownies made from whole ingredients will hardly take a toll on your health. Just remember, it’s not just about what you eat, but where that food came from. When you cook from scratch and buy ingredients locally, not only do you know where your food came from, but you can have confidence that what you are eating is beneficial to your body.
I’d love to hear about your experience with eating healthy and dieting, so please share your experiences below in the comments!