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Debunked by a Dietitian: Fad Diets

Changing Your Eating Habits to Fit Your Lifestyle

Many people have gained weight due to inactivity, working from home and comfort eating during the pandemic. And while it may be tempting to follow a diet with quick weight loss results, many of these are intended for a short period of time and do not take into account the nutrients your body needs.

"There should be no foods excluded from a healthy diet, because a healthy diet is one that you can maintain for your entire life," says Northwestern Medicine Dietitian Audra Wilson. "With variety in your diet, you can get the most nutrients from your food."

Mediterranean Diet

Based on the traditional eating habits in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, the Mediterranean diet has no structure when it comes to consuming food. "It has a philosophy about eating, having some joy and pleasure with your food," says Wilson. This diet, which allows you to expand your food palate beyond fruits and vegetables, is a style of eating can help prevent health-related problems such as heart disease, stroke and obesity.

The Mediterranean diet prioritizes:

  • Fruits, vegetables, bread, potatoes, nuts and whole grains
  • Olive oil as the primary fat source
  • Fish, eggs, meat and other proteins

 "This is the best option if choosing lifestyle eating," says Wilson.

Intermittent Fasting

A pattern that cycles between fasting and eating, intermittent fasting doesn't specify which foods you should eat, but when you eat them. Derived from religious groups that fast for spiritual benefits, there are many common fasting methods:

  • The 5:2 diet. Five days a week, you eat whatever you'd like. Then, for two days, you eat lightly (around 500 calories or less).
  • Alternate day fasting. Eat what you want one day and fast the other. On fasting days, you only drink calorie-free beverages, such as water or tea. On non-fasting days, resume your regular diet.
  • The 16:8 diet. For 16 hours each day, you have nothing but water. Then you eat normally the remaining 8 hours.

Although you are able to indulge in the foods you love most, Wilson advises that this type of diet can lead to disordered eating. She says it's best to avoid allowing yourself to get very hungry and then eating large quantities of food.

Keto Diet

Centered around reducing carbs and increasing fats, the ketogenic (keto) diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. "This diet is primarily used to help children with epilepsy," says Wilson. "It is not recommended for most people. It's not a long-term diet that you can sustain."

In the keto diet, the majority of your meals should be based around these foods:

  • Protein sources: Meats, fish and eggs
  • Vegetables: Above-ground vegetables; spinach, broccoli and tomatoes
  • Fats: Dairy and oils

Carbohydrates, including sugars and starches, should be avoided. That includes bread, pasta, rice and potatoes.

Healthy Alternatives to Dieting

Instead of dieting to lose weight, consider making subtle changes that can be incorporated into your lifestyle and last long-term.  

  • Eat a variety. "A healthy diet has a variety," Wilson explains. "Centered around lean proteins, lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and a lot of hydration with non-calorie sources, such as water."
  • Time your calories. "Have your last meal a couple of hours before bedtime so that you can digest everything and be able to sleep well," Wilson advises.
  • Exercise. "Exercise where there are minimal barriers," Wilson adds. "Whether it's at home or the gym, do what works for you."