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Fad diets fail. End of story.

The headline for this blog post really says it all. Fad diets fail. It really is as simple as that. If they lasted (ie, didn't fail) they wouldn't be a fad.

But given their enduring popularity and the fact that not only do we try them, fail, then choose to do them again (and fail again), there's obviously a need to explain in a little more depth why they actually fail.

Firstly, let's just tidy up the word "diet". It's naturally linked with eating less. If someone says "I've been on a diet" the natural assertion is that they've been eating less, almost always to try and lose weight.

But that's not what a "diet" means. A diet is simply what we regularly consume (eat/drink).

With that in mind, let's delve in and explore a few obvious reasons why fad diets fail.

They're tough

Diets which require you to make dramatic changes to your normal eating habits are tough to adhere to. Whether you're reducing calories, cutting out food groups, fasting for days at a time, loading up on fats, slimming down on carbs or whatever, if it's different to what you're used to, its going to be tough.

As with anything in life, the tougher something is, the more likely we are to fail. That's a pretty easy statement to get on board with. It's not even just things that are tough. It's things that aren't fun, too. If it isn't enjoyable, you're likely to fail, whatever it is.

If your job is hard, and unenjoyable, you're not likely to give it your all and I'll bet, ultimately, you'll give it in. If you hate learning that musical instrument and it's hard work, it's gonna get given the boot.

They're unhealthy

Most "fad diets" want you to either reduce the amount you consume, or cut out certain food groups. Either of these options is, shall we say, less than ideal.

The NHS and the BDA are rather 'qualified' institutions which I'm more than happy to stand behind. They've come up with the "Eat Well Guide" - a handy diagram to steer us through the complicated world of nutrition and allow us to construct a nice, balanced meal without too much fuss.

The NHS wants us to get around half our daily calories from carbs. That's somewhere in the region of 250g. The Keto diet typically restricts daily carbs to less than 50g.

I'm really not on board with either reducing the amount of calories my body requires, or cutting out foods or groups of foods that contain essential nutrients which I also need.

For twenty something years I've been simply recommending the good old "healthy balanced diet" to gym members. Something sustainable, practical, enjoyable, healthy and an eating regime which provides your body with not just enough nutritional goodness but the energy it needs to be able to go out and exercise.

But there's always an expert who supports it...

Isn't it funny how whichever fad diet you look up, there's always an "expert" who is ready to give it their full and unwavering endorsement. It isn't just particular diets either. It could be a pill, potion, shake, supplement, meal replacement thing, or whatever. "Dr so and so gives a full scientific explanation as to why diet xyz is completely safe and highly recommended..."

Now I'm certainly no doctor. My levels of nutritional knowledge are better than most but certainly not in the same sphere as a doctor, and I wouldn't like to suggest for a moment I could hold my own in a debate as to the health implications of a given diet.

However my rather cynical mind (which I might add has become increasingly cynical the longer I've spent in health and fitness) concludes that I'm happy to continue dishing out nutritional recommendations based on the research and advice of the NHS, BDA and the many other internationally recognised health and nutrition bodies and authorities, rather than the single doctor here and there who fancies going against the grain (no pun intended).

Lisa's day

Here's a crude example of how a fad diet typically works. Lisa (see my fictitious example, Lazy Lisa here) embarks on a calorie-restricted diet to lose weight (fat). She should consume 2000 calories per day from the right sources to maintain a healthy body and weight. But she wants to lose weight and knows she needs to create a calorie deficit so opts for the frankly frightening option of 1000 calories per day.

A calorie deficit of 1000 calories per day should typically see Lisa losing one pound of fat every 3-4 days (over half a stone in a month). An attractive return on investment one could argue.

However, Lisa's rather hungry because she's not eating enough food. That puts her in a slightly agitated mood. She can't concentrate on her work, is irritable with colleagues and is craving sugar.

Unfortunately, as Lisa chose to avoid carbs (because someone clever said that'll help her lose weight) she hasn't got much energy left at the end of the day. She certainly doesn't want to go to the gym, because she thinks she might faint.

But to her credit she sticks with it. And, as the science supports, she starts losing weight. Unfortunately, her body moved into 'famine mode' and started retaining fat because it thought it was being starved (which it was). Therefore the weight Lisa is losing is muscle, as well as fat.

Lisa's diligent and disciplined. She sticks with it. She's lost weight. Well done Lisa. However, as history has told us almost every time, Lisa couldn't stick to it. It was simply too hard long-term. She had holidays, weekends away and family meals booked and that blew her bonkers budget of calories out of the water.

Therefore Lisa started binging on crisps and chocolate again (because the body craves those things when i's hungry). Not only did Lisa pile the weight back on, she's now heavier than she was at the start. She's also extremely unmotivated to give it another go. Her feeling of failure, under-active lifestyle and low self-esteem means she's now less likely to succeed with her weight loss aims.

The positive finish

All is not lost. Had Lisa have employed the rather obvious, widely recommended and even enjoyable tactic of maintaining a healthy, balanced diet she would have given herself the freedom to enjoy that holiday and those take-aways. She would have had the energy to workout and her body would have been healthy as it is had received all those important micro and macro nutrients.

Please, commit here and now to finishing with fad diets and investing in a healthy, balanced diet and an active lifestyle.

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