Popular Fad Diets: Do They Really Work?

It’s that time again for everyone to set their weight loss resolutions for the New Year! Are you making a resolution to lose weight in 2020? It may be appealing to jump on one of the many fad diets out there this year, but do any of them really work? Are any of these fads realistic long term diets? We break down the most popular fad diets for 2020 and discuss the pros and cons so you can decide if any of them work for you.

The Ketogenic “Keto” Diet

Keto was definitely the popular diet for 2019 and there is no end in sight for this low carb, high fat diet. In general, those following a keto diet eat between 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day, 60-70% of calories from fat, and 15-25% of calories from protein. The keto diet eliminates all grains, fruit, sugar, high carb vegetables, and some dairy products. It involves eating meat, cheese, and low carb vegetables.

The ketogenic diet is not new, as it was originally developed in the 1920s as a treatment for epilepsy. It lost favor over time as medications for this condition became available.

In the last few years the keto diet has become popular again due to celebrity endorsements and its ability to help people lose massive amounts of weight. The keto diet works by forcing the body into a metabolic state called ketosis by severely restricting carbohydrates. When the body stops relying on carbohydrates for energy, it is forced to start burning fat instead. This results in a decreased appetite caused by hormonal shifts that lead to a lower calorie intake and weight loss.

There is evidence that, at least in the short term, the keto diet is very effective for promoting weight loss. It may also be useful as a therapeutic diet in treating other conditions such as diabetes, acne, neurological disease, cancer, heart disease and polycystic ovarian syndrome. 

There are some downsides of adopting the keto diet as a long term diet. It eliminates many healthy foods such as fruit, legumes and whole grains. It can be difficult to meet nutritional needs for important nutrients such as fiber and vitamin C.

Eliminating so many foods can be difficult to stick with as a long term diet. You might find yourself not being able to enjoy certain foods or you may feel socially isolated. There is also no evidence about the potential side effects of eating keto for an extended period of time.

Bottom line: The keto diet is a short term solution to promote weight loss. It is unrealistic for most people to eat a strict keto diet long-term.

Whole 30

Whole 30 is a popular diet plan developed in 2009 by Melissa Hartwig Urban and Dallas Hartwig. Whole 30 is not specifically a weight loss program, although losing weight may be a side effect. The program was designed as a way to retrain your relationship with food and help identify food sensitivities.

The program involves eating real food for 30 days. It includes: protein, vegetables, fruit and natural fats. Everything you eat is unprocessed. Whole 30 avoids sugar, artificial sweeteners, grains, alcohol, legumes, dairy and food additives. It does not involve any calorie counting or measuring of food. The goal is to focus on improving the quality of your food.

Overall, the Whole 30 diet is well-balanced and nutritious. It does eliminate many foods, but its focus on eating plenty of protein, fruits and vegetables is a healthy way to help you lose weight. However, it is important to note that it is not a weight loss diet. In order to lose weight, you must cut back on calories. You can still overeat Whole 30 approved foods.

Whole 30 is not meant to be a long term diet , so you will have to figure out which foods work best for you by easing off the program slowly.

Bottom Line: Whole 30 can help you get started on the path to healthy eating, but it is not the fastest way to achieve your weight loss resolutions .

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) is not a “diet” because it doesn’t modify what you are eating or how much. Instead, IF focuses on the timing of your meals. There are many methods of doing IF. The two most popular are the 16:8 and the 5:2 diet.

With 16:8, you fast for 16 hours (usually overnight) and only eat during an 8 hour window. For most people this means ending their last meal at 7 or 8 pm and then skipping breakfast. During the fasting window you can have black coffee or water.

The 5:2 diet involves eating normally for 5 days, then eating 500 calories or less for 2 days a week. This effortlessly cuts back your average calorie intake for the week, helping you lose weight.

IF has been found to be an effective and fairly effortless strategy to help with weight loss. Since you are able to eat normally most of the time, there is little risk of vitamin deficiencies. The science behind IF for overall health is developing, but quite promising. It has been shown to be possibly therapeutic for various conditions such as neurodegenerative disease, heart disease and insulin resistance.

Be cautious with fasting too long if you have diabetes or struggle with low blood sugar. Eat balanced meals when you are not fasting and always drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Bottom Line: IF is not a typical “fad diet”, but may be an effective strategy for helping you achieve your weight loss resolutions . 

WW (Formerly Weight Watchers)

WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers, is a popular diet program that has been around since the 1960s. Their rebrand in 2018 was meant to represent their focus on healthy lifestyle rather than just weight loss.

The WW program changes often, but it focuses on tracking food intake, managing portions and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. It also includes online support or weekly meetings. It is a calorie-controlled, balanced diet with a focus on lifestyle change. There are many success stories of people using the WW program over the years to lose hundreds of pounds. Unlike the programs discussed above, there is a fee associated with the WW program.

Bottom Line: WW is a well-balanced, calorie controlled diet program. It is considered a healthy and sustainable way to lose weight.

The Best Way to Achieve Your Weight Loss Resolutions 

All of the fad diets discussed above can help you lose weight, but all of them risk failure if used exclusively as long term diets . A healthy long-term way of eating needs to be flexible and balanced. It should not involve avoiding entire food groups, never enjoying a treat or always tracking your food intake. For the short term, these practices may be doable, but do you really want to live your whole life worrying about tracking calories?

If you want a sustainable way of eating, learn to tap into your natural hunger signals, which most of us avoid. Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are satisfied. Learn to create balanced meals that include protein, vegetables and whole grains. Exercise and manage your stress levels. Learning how to eat what is healthy for you and adopting a balanced, active lifestyle is the key to an ideal weight and healthy life.

Kade Brittain