Do you feel the pressure to keep up with current fad diet trends like paleo, gluten-free and organic? What goes through your mind as you go to the grocery store and try to decide what to put in your cart?
After my husband and I married in May, we decided to work our way through The Office, starting at season one. Recently, we watched one of my favorite episodes: “Weight Loss.” We laughed a lot (as usual), but what stuck with me was this scene:
The Challenge of Fad Diets
Kelly embodies the struggle many Americans know well: What should I eat to get what I want? Granted, our goal may not be fitting into a size 2 bikini (so we can look ah-maa-zing!) and our means are likely not a ridiculous, citrus cocktail.
No, our goals are typically noble. We want to lose weight and stay healthy. We want to be wise about our food decisions. We want to set good patterns for our kids. And our means to these ends? They shift with the seasons. Ten years ago, Atkins, South Beach, raw foods and Weight Watchers promised healthy weight and lifestyle. Today, paleo, gluten-and-dairy-free, whole foods, organic and non-GMO promise to get us what we want.
There are important, notable differences in the above eating choices. But they all have one thing in common: they are fad diets.
“Most fad diets go something like this,” said RD Alexandra Caspero in an article on dieting. “Take a few foods, give them ‘magic’ power, and set a plan to convince people that eating this way and only this way will promote weight loss.”
My specific frustrations with fad diets go a bit deeper. I’ve been drawn into their lure and found myself exclusively consuming organic milk, avoiding gluten and drinking cocktails of dandelion tea, cranberry juice and honey. In the end, I was left with no signs of improved health and I was very hungry. Hungry for the foods I wanted, for more money in my budget, for clearer sense of who I am as a consumer of food.
That hunger caused me to read books like “French Women Don’t Get Fat“, talk with real farmers and research our food system. My views are still evolving, but I’ve developed some personal maxims to counter fad diet dogma.
Three Tips to Consider
Research and discern, then gradually change
Every fad diet has some science behind it. Sometimes that science is sound. Other times it’s just plain loony. Whatever diet you’re considering, research both sides of the topic from multiple perspectives. Every eating choice has it’s pros and cons. You should know what they are.
Once you collect your facts, figure out if aspects of the diet will help you meet your lifestyle and health goals. Then, decide what to implement in your daily eating routine and introduce changes slowly to encourage sustainability.
While far from paleo, I choose to limit my intake of grains because diabetes runs in my family and I don’t want to develop insulin resistance. Paleo-centric blogs are a great resource for suggestions and recipes. I make paleo work for me, and I still bake and eat my favorite white bread when the occasion calls for it.
Consume in moderation and cook
In college, I helped my professor research the effectiveness of a university nutrition education program for low-income families. The program was designed to help the families stretch their dollars and improve their well-being through healthy eating. At the heart of the curriculum was the following advice: Watch your portions and prepare your own food.
These guiding principles are sound for anyone and help counter cravings. Is your comfort food pizza (like me)? It’s pretty simple. Make pizza yourself and so you can control what’s going into it. If you go out or buy a frozen pizza, only eat a slice or two and forego the breadsticks. It’s timeless wisdom that can work for anybody.
Eat for pleasure
My biggest frustration with fad diets is that they inhibit the development of food cultures. Everyone seems to be excited about the same foods and scorn the same foods. We try to fit into a certain style of eating versus letting our preferences, weaknesses and natural routines shape our food choices.
I propose that we eat for pleasure. I don’t mean champagne, chocolate and steak every night. I mean eating with all of our senses, savoring the sight, smell, taste, feel and sounds of our food and its preparation.
Eating for pleasure also includes making wise choices. There’s more enjoyment to be had in a single piece of decadent cake consumed on a special occasion when I don’t eat a couple of Oreos every night (no offense, Oreos. I really do love you!)
Moreover, I find eating for pleasure often takes care of nutritional concerns for the average consumer if they put a bit of effort into discovery. Food pleasure means exploration of new culinary landscape. Crunchy cabbage. Roasted chicken. Crisp apples. Creamy yogurt. Fluffy rice. I eat healthiest when pleasure is my motivation because I want to try new foods, experiment with ingredients and explore my taste buds.
We develop a food culture that is unique to us and our families when we eat for pleasure. It’s a style of eating and cooking reflects our values and daily rhythms, contributing to a lifestyle that focuses on beauty and enjoyment. And our personal food cultures offer stability and are a gift to our communities and future generations.
Eggs: To Eat or Not To Eat
A family friend from India once commented on how Americans eat and make decisions about food. She said something to this effect: “Americans have no food stability. One day, eggs are good for you and everybody eats them. Then news breaks and eggs are bad for you and nobody eats them. In India, we would say, ‘We’ve been eating eggs for hundreds of years and we seem healthy. Let’s think before we change.'”
Nutrition crazes and diet fads come and go. The key is to develop habits that are sustainable, meet our nutrition and lifestyle goals and encourage the enjoyment of food. We should certainly seek the advice of dietary experts and our doctors, but view trendy food habits with a raised eyebrow. Our own tastes, experiences and desire to explore new flavors should guide our food decisions.
Question: What are your frustrations with fad diets? Comment below or get this conversation going Twitter.
Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist, dietitian or scientific expert on these topics. I write from personal study, observation and experience. There are true health issues that demand abstaining from specific foods. Your doctor’s advice should guide all your health and diet decisions.