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Positive Lessons From “Fad” Diets?

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I am predisposed to having great suspicion about so-called “fad” diets. In some cases, these questionable dietary approaches even worry me, especially for people with diabetes. But, I’m not going to get into the particulars today – no sense in starting a fight. Anyway, there are so many now, and so many that have gone by the wayside (hint, hint) that I couldn’t possibly cover all the bases. Instead, I’d like to make a fascinating and confusing observation about “fad” dieting.

The key to fad diets

“Fad” diets tend to share several things in common. One is an extreme focus on certain foods or food groups. Sometimes it’s the food(s) you must eat (cabbage soup) and sometimes it’s the food(s) you must avoid (grains and dairy for Paleo). So, following these diets requires a good deal of awareness – which foods are preferred, and which are forbidden – and a good deal of planning to make sure the “correct” foods are available, and the forbidden foods banished. “Fad” dieters must maintain a hyper-focus on the specific "rules" of their current plan, and an ironclad dedication to sticking with even the most confusing requirements without compromise. Awareness and planning and dedication – the keys to “fad” dieting.

The key to healthy eating

So, what are the keys to healthy eating as I and most other nutrition professionals are likely to define it? How about these – awareness and planning and dedication. Being aware of which foods should be emphasized, and which are best eaten in moderation (we don’t banish foods). Planning meals and snacks to provide a variety of healthy foods that satisfy your personal tastes. And, a dedication to your long term health and wellbeing.

Why is healthy eating perceived as more difficult than fad diets?

You can probably guess where I’m going with this. Why I wonder, are people so anxious to jump into, and so passionate to defend, “fad” diets of all sorts, yet struggle so mightily with a simple, flexible healthy eating plan? Why couldn’t there be the same level of awareness and focus directed toward a healthy meal plan? Why not the same detail to planning? And, why not the same level of near fanatical dedication?

I don’t really have an answer. Maybe because nutrition professionals are careful to keep expectations realistic – we don’t promise instant success. Maybe we’re not enthusiastic enough – we don’t do infomercials or show enough before and after “miracle” transformations. Maybe more pizazz? There are hundreds of books about healthy eating, but no “The Cruciferous Diet – Tooting Away the Pounds.”

Mediterranean and DASH diets

I’ll just close by suggesting that if you have tried “fad” diets, had temporary success, and then found yourself unable to stay with the plan (which is, by the way, usually the story), try applying that same amount of awareness, planning, and dedication to a healthy eating plan. The “Mediterranean Diet” and “DASH” are two simple and flexible generic plans that work great for diabetes. And, both plans are recognized as being “easy to stick to.” You may find that you learned some important lessons in your “fad” diet experience you can now apply to a better, and more enjoyable, lifestyle choice.

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