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Evaluating popular diets

This is an excerpt from Sport Nutrition for Health and Performance, Second Edition, by Melinda M. Manore, Nanna L. Meyer, and Janice Thompson


Popular or Fad Diets

Fad diets are those that enjoy short-lived success and popularity and are based on a marketing gimmick. Athletes can be particularly vulnerable to fad dieting because of their intense desire to optimize body composition and performance. Celebrities and other well-known persons endorse these diets in an attempt to give them credibility. Justification for these diets is typically based on a scientific or biochemical claim that may be speculative and unproven. Consumers must remember that if the claims associated with the diets were true, there would be no need for people to continue dieting and no need for the next fad diet! For example, if the Dr. Atkins diet, popular in the 1970s, had worked, there would be no need for the "new and improved" Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution in the 1990s and 2000s. As mentioned earlier, more modified versions of the Dr. Atkins diet are here to stay but are characterized by less carbohydrate restriction. Because LCDs bring about quick weight loss, they may be used to help people begin or "jump-start" a weight loss regimen.

There will always be a new fad diet in the marketplace, so it is important to understand how to evaluate each new diet and give good dietary advice to your clients. The criteria listed next will help you recognize a potential fad diet or nutrition program. If the diet either you or your clients are considering is associated with one of the following, it is probably just another fad diet:

  1. The claim that the diet is new, modern, improved, or recently discovered, with no scientific data available to back up the claim
  2. The claim that weight or fat loss will be rapid, usually more than 2 lb (0.9 kg) per week
  3. The claim of successful weight loss with no or little physical exercise
  4. Inclusion of special foods that are expensive and difficult to find; suggestion that foods should be consumed in a particular order or "combination"; suggestion that consumption of certain "bad" foods should be avoided; or inclusion of "magic" or "miracle" foods that will burn fat
  5. Inclusion of a rigid menu that must be followed daily; restriction to a limited list of foods (these diets frequently require adherents to eat the same foods day after day)
  6. Inclusion of supplemental meals, foods, or nutrient supplements with the claim that they will cure disease or a variety of ailments

Until we figure out how to solve the obesity problem, the consumer will be bombarded with new weight loss products and programs promising fast weight loss. It is important for nutrition and fitness professionals to educate consumers about the limitations of these products and programs. While some may be physically harmless (albeit expensive), others can cause illness or even death. It is always important to consider the safety and efficacy of any fad diet, including the associated supplements, before recommending it to a client.




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Sport Nutrition for Health and Performance-2nd Edition
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