Knowing the Red Flags of Fad Diets

Doctors, dietitians, and other experts agree that the best way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories while maintaining a nutritious balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. And regular exercise needs to be a primary ingredient.

But fad diets, many aimed at women, are still prevalent in the marketplace, and doing more harm than good, says Anaisys Ballesteros, M.D., a family medicine  physician with Baptist Health Primary Care.

“There are so many fad diets out there that are marketed toward women to help them lose weight,” says Dr. Ballesteros. “Sometimes they don’t have a concept of  portion sizes because these fad diets are very low in calories. You can do this for a short period of time, but not long-term.”

The marketers of these diets focus on an “ideal image” of beauty, instead of focusing on health, she says.

“Normally, women have this pressure imposed by society to look a certain way and have this ideal image,” says Dr. Ballesteros. “As a result of that, I see them in the  office because they are wanting to do these fad diets. They’re taking supplements. They’re taking appetite suppressants. And they are undergoing surgical procedures because they want to look a certain way.”

For this reasons, she says it’s important to educate her patients. “Many of these diets and procedures are really not necessary. I call it a quick fix,” says Dr.  Ballesteros.” But they come to me for advice. I listen and I take the opportunity to explain that there are other ways to get to a healthy lifestyle without having this unnecessary quick fixes.”

Physically and psychologically, fad diets can impose risk factors, including a higher likelihood of developing an eating disorder. Eight million Americans suffer from eating disorders, and 7 million are women, she says.

Most fad diets fail to focus on an regular exercise program. They also are designed for short-term results, and may improperly include the use of supplements or pills, which are not necessary and can be harmful.

Nonetheless, millions of Americans spend more than $30 billion a year, according to the Journal of Nutrition, in the hopes that supplements will keep them healthy. In 2013, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force decided not to recommend the use of multivitamins and minerals to prevent cardiovascular disease or cancer for people without nutritional deficiencies.

A diet is a fad diet if you notice any of the following:

Promise of quick weight loss. Makes this promise without including regular exercise, while sometimes deceptively promoting the use of supplements.
Avoidance of certain foods. Some diets exclude or severely restrict food groups or nutrients, such as carbohydrates.
Rigid food combinations. Focusing on certain food combinations does not promote weight loss. A well-balanced diet does.
Confusing scientific evidence. “Scientific” testimonials and pictures of “before” and “after” success stories are usually deceptive or false, often involving actors. Sometimes the aim is to confuse the consumer with conflicting or unclear claims.
No mention of exercise. As previously mentioned, no weight-loss program excludes regular physical activity. See the American Heart Association’s recommendations for regular exercise.

“We need to be aware that ‘fad diets’ don’t work,” says Dr. Ballesteros. “That’s why it’s important for me to educate my patients. We also have a registered dietitian in the office who can be the one who sticks with the patient and individualize for them a healthy meal plan.”

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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