The Facts on Fad Diets


Hi Everyone,

This month’s newsletter is a nutritional installment from one of my clients who is a Registered Dietician and teaches at the University of Alberta. I have been training Heidi Bates for over 6 years.

At each workout, not only do I punish her physically, I ask her questions that I have encountered during my own research. She gives me her opinion on different articles that I have read or situations I have encountered during taping of X-Weighted. Sometimes we butt heads and I disagree with her opinion but most often she provides an insight inspired by her education and experience. Some of the information I provide on the show comes from Heidi.

The most memorable workout I did with Heidi was when I took her to a playground and had her do an obstacle course I designed using the equipment and apparatus there. I had her run up a slide and forgot to mention a wooden bar just at the top. I figured she would see it and just duck underneath. With her head down and trying to gain momentum up the slide she smashed the upper bridge of her nose into the bar. I did not see this. I was waiting just up ahead waiting for her to appear. In my annoyance of her taking so long I yelled at her to hurry up. When I didn’t get a response I went back to verbally abuse her some more.

I see Heidi at the bottom of the slide holding her head in her hands. She had a massive goose egg right in the middle of her forehead and blood trickling down her nose. Even though she was a bit dizzy, she finished the workout. I probably should have stopped her but hey what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, ha ha! Enjoy the article from Heidi Bates.

— Paul Plakas

Weight-loss is a billion-dollar industry in North America and there are literally thousands of fad diets that promise to “painlessly control weight,” produce optimum health, and cure disease. Despite these appealing claims, the majority of fad diets have not been shown to be effective as far as long-term weight management goes. As a result, consumers often find that the only thing they have lost after attempting a fad diet is their money. Unfortunately, some fad diets pose far greater risks to long-term heath and are, in fact, unsafe.

There are few controls on the manufacturers of weight-loss products or the authors of diets books. Neither Canadian or American governments strictly regulate the diet industry. Because of this, consumers need to do some careful investigation before attempting one of these plans or programs.

Fad Diet or Fantastic Diet: How Can You Tell?

There are a few questions to ask that can help to separate fad diets from reliable weight management plans. Asking these questions may help you avoid a dieting disaster:

  • Does the diet meet the food requirements outlined by Canada’s Food Guide? Diets that do not meet the Food Guide requirements are generally imbalanced and lacking in one or more nutrients.
  • Is the diet realistic? Does it promote foods that are commonly available, easy to prepare, and affordable? Could you follow this plan for life?
  • Is it balanced? Or is one food or food group emphasized to an extreme?
  • Does the diet recommend that you eliminate specific foods or entire food groups from you eating plan? Eliminating foods makes getting enough of many nutrients difficult.
  • Are special supplements or products part of the plan? There are no known over-the-counter supplements that promote long-term weight-loss. Supplements are rarely needed if a diet is well balanced.
  • Does the diet tout certain foods, or combinations of foods as having “magical” properties? Like supplements, there are no foods that can magically reduce body weight or body fat levels.
  • Is the author of the book a reputable professional with a background in nutrition? Anyone can publish a nutrition or diet book. Many diet book authors have no formal training in nutrition and no research to support the claims they are making about their plan.
  • Does it promise rapid weight loss? (i.e. greater than two pounds per week)? It is physically impossible to lose more than two pounds of body fat per week. Rapid weight loss is almost always due to changes in the amount of water being stored in the body.
  • Does the diet establish eating habits that can be followed for a lifetime? Is the importance of long-term behavior change emphasized? A good weight management program should train you to eat better for life, not for one to two months.
  • Is exercise a major part of the program? Exercise is critical to successful weight management. Few adults with a weight problem can manage it without exercise.

If Fad Diets Don’t Work… What Does?

Successful weight management results from a combination of things working together: lower calorie eating, frequent exercise, hard work, determination, and consistency.

Diets that provide less than 1,500 calories per day make it difficult to meet nutrient needs. In addition, research in this area suggests that low-calorie diets can actually slow metabolism and make weight-loss even more of a challenge. As a result, few reputable health professionals recommend these types of diets.

Instead, of opting for a starvation diet, eat sensibly. Focus on taking in a wide variety of lower-fat, lower-calorie foods such as whole grains, breads, cereals, pasta, vegetables and fruits, and low fat milk products. Choose leaner cuts of meats. Eat several small meals each day and keep portion sizes moderate.

These basic tenets of healthy eating—which are often not as exciting as the claims found in fad diets—are the basis of any healthy weight management program. Registered dietitians provide individual counseling that can help create a personalized diet plan that is built on all of these principles.

Exercise separates those who successfully management their weight long-term from those who struggle. Exercise burn calories while you are working out. It can also enhance metabolism or calorie burning for several hours afterward, provided your workouts are challenging enough. Consider consulting with a certified personal fitness trainer, who can help to develop an exercise program that is tailored to your needs.

One of the most enduring myths about weight management is that it is a relatively straightforward and easy process. This is not true. Weight management takes a considerable amount of hard work to change behavior and the determination to learn new skills. Day-to-day consistency is an essential part of the process. Achieving this consistency can be very challenging and people frequently struggle to eat well and exercise on a regular basis. Recognize that weight-loss is not, nor should it be, a painless, quick process. It takes time, planning, and sheer determination to change behavior.

Heidi Bates, RD
Tri-Nutrition Consulting

3 replies
  1. Susan says:

    What is the best diet to go on if you tend to over indulge in something like bread? If I have even one slice of bread I can’t seem to stop. If I don’t eat any bread I seem to be okay. I’ve been on the South Beach diet and I’m finding it pretty good. I’ve lost 10lbs so far and a few inches too!
    When I tried going on Phase 2 and adding back the breads etc. that’s when I started having problems. So I went back on Phase 1 and I’m doing okay again.


  2. Karen Peterson says:

    Susan, I find the same thing with sweet foods. If I cut refined sugar out completely, and avoid it thereafter, I don’t want it, and don’t miss it. If I indulge just once I start the up and down blood sugar cycle all over again and have to go cold turkey to get out of it. I don’t know what the South Beach Diet is, as I don’t opt to follow “diets”, but I know there are some really healthy breads out there on the market now that you could look into and perhaps find a low fat low sugar option. ?

  3. Buffy says:

    I find that if I am hungry I am likely to overindulge in foods that are high in empty calories so I try my best to make sure that I am eating big servings of nutrient dense foods = vegetables and fruit in that order… Raw is better than cooked because cooking destroys the natural enzymes in the vegetables. I choose vegetables that are dark green or brightly colored both of which are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. fruits that are colorful also contain more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. oh and lets not forget all of which are high in fiber which fills you up and sustains a full feeling for a longer period of time. fiber is also know to control blood sugar levels which will also makes it easier to put the second serving of chocolate, bread, or potato chips down!

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