Free your clients from fad diets

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You know the old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. Yet, year after year, people get duped into believing that the latest fad diet will finally solve their weight problem. According to the CDC, Americans spend 70 billion per year on weight loss. 1 Ironically, what seems “new” is likely a rehashed fad diet from years past. Take the keto diet, for example. This high fat, low carb diet is really no different than the infamous Atkin’s diet. And Atkin’s was recycled from a diet started in the 1920’s used to treat seizures.2 While Atkin’s claimed to be “high protein”, nutrition analysis of the diet indicates that most of the calories come from fat- just like keto.

Don’t get me wrong. Any diet that is meticulously followed will likely result in weight loss. 3 When individuals cut out entire food groups, like grains, beans and fruit, there isn’t much left to eat. While some studies indicate that weight loss will result from the absence of carbohydrate, the low carb diet has proven difficult to adhere to long term and may lead to death.4 At some point, keto dieters will likely crave a potato and return to their old eating habits.

The Paleo diet offers a similar experience, though not as restrictive. This diet plan, based on the dietary habits of cavemen, restricts grains, beans, dairy products and alcohol. While I am in favor of limiting refined sugar, high fat desserts and alcohol, whole grains and legumes are very nutritious and should not be avoided. These foods provide vitamins, minerals and fiber, which improves satiety and is beneficial to dieters.

The Whole 30 Plan, developed by two personal trainers, is another example of an overly restrictive diet. While the authors claim it is a “lifestyle” and not a “diet”, the list of can’t haves is pretty exhaustive. If you have any form of a social life or need to travel, you might want to think twice about trying to follow this eating plan. The authors advise you to avoid anything “processed” including salad dressing and artificial sweeteners. Coffee is allowed, but only black. Don’t count on cheese and crackers for a snack or a Friday night cocktail. While I think it’s great if it helps people reduce their sugar and alcohol consumption, I have to wonder, what happens after 30 days?

If you find yourself across from a client wanting to try any of the above or whatever the next diet craze is, ask them these 5 questions:

  1. Does this plan exclude one or more major food groups?
  2. Would it be impossible to follow if you went out to eat or traveled?
  3. Do you need to take handfuls of supplements to meet your nutrient needs?
  4. It the meal plan short or long term? Could you sustain this way of eating?
  5. What will the plan cost you? Not just in terms of financial cost, but consider your physical, mental and social health.


  2. Kristin W. Barañano, MD, PhD and Adam L. Hartman, MD. The ketogenic diet: uses in epilepsy and other neurologic illnesses. Curr Treat Options Neurol. 2008 Nov; 10(6): 410–419.
  4. Seidelman, S. et. al, Dietary carbohydrate intake and mortality: a prospective cohort study and meta-analysis. Lancet, Aug, 2018.

Submitted by Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

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