We are a culture that loves diets. We are always looking for a quick fix, something guaranteed to help us drop 20 pounds in 1 week. Instead of trusting that healthy eating and exercise will actually get us our goals, we want to simply cut one food type and all our weight loss woes will be over. Here are some of the things I’ve found that are less than ideal about some of the diet programs out there. Obviously I’m not a doctor, and everything in this article is based on my own opinion and experience.
-They encourage unhealthy food habits –
Many programs use food substitutions like shakes, which creates dependency on the program (great for making money!). Instead of teaching proper eating habit, they simply tell you to avoid a long list of foods, and replace several meals with their specially formulated shakes. This can create aversions to certain food types that may be perfectly fine for the average person. Elimination diets are a great way to determine if you are reacting negatively to something, but dairy, gluten, etc aren’t the devil for everyone. These programs also leave out how to live your life. What happens when you’re presented with cake at your niece’s birthday party? How do you plan for a vacation to Italy? A program that fails incorporate cheat days not only means you’re more likely to fall off track, but it can cause the body to adjust to this new way you’re eating and plateau the weight loss.
Many “coaches” with these programs also propagate false information about eating as a way to sell their product. For example, many programs promote a low-carb diet. I can tell you from experience that this doesn’t work for everyone. I always felt miserable and low energy doing low carb. Because that cookie cutter diet didn’t work for me. Since I began tracking macros I was able to eat the amount of carbs I needed and cut back a bit on fats, and I feel great and I’ve lost some body fat. That’s not to totally bash on low carb, I have a friend who is closer to a keto diet (low carb, higher fat) and she does great. Because we are two completely different people with completely different needs. What frustrates me is the cookie cutter one size fits all diets that people are trying to sell you. They might work great for you, or not at all. The problem is you usually don’t have a clue what it is specifically that’s working or not working. You aren’t learning the information you need to move forward and reach your goals.
-They create frustration when they don’t work-
When you first join the program you are sold on results, often featuring someone “just like you”. After you’ve joined and have been following the program perfectly if you don’t see the same results it can create frustration. You can start to wonder what’s wrong with you and why you even bother trying to diet at all. There’s often no support when it’s not working and no flexibility to make the plan work for you. The “coaches” don’t have any training to adjust a program, they’re just there to sell you on how they feel great and have so much more energy. Meanwhile you feel miserable and want to die. These “coaches” are just there to sell products and can’t determine specifically what it is that works for them and not for you.
-Pushy sales tactics-
Many of these diet companies employ well meaning sales people to sell their products through direct sales. I have nothing against these people, but they often are taught aggressive sales tactics and have sales goals they need to meet. This doesn’t necessarily mean the product is poor, but it can leave a bit of a bad taste in the whole buying process and cause you to try to stick with a program long after you know it’s not working for you.
I’ve also, unfortunately, come across some of these sales people who are spreading incorrect information. Since they are associated with a larger brand name, this information can be mistaken for fact. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the parent company, but it’s an unfortunate byproduct nonetheless.
-They can change with the fads-
Does anyone else remember when low-fat diets were the hot way to lose weight? Now we’re touting the high-fat Keto diet. Times change, and the diet plan du jour changes right along with it. Unfortunately social media makes this worse. Now we can see exactly what a Victoria’s Secret model eats (or doesn’t eat) right before a show. When one plan doesn’t work for us we can just scroll down to the next person whose body we envy, instead of actually researching something that might help us.
-What I do instead-
The system I’ve found works best for me is macro tracking. It’s a system where you are counting your daily calories, and divide those calories between ideal amounts of fats, carbs, and protein. It’s often used by nutritionists and coaches. Now, I’m not promoting macro tracking as the diet everyone should use. That would be the exact opposite of what I’ve been writing about this whole time. However, I’ve found it effective for several reasons. First, it teaches healthy eating habits that last after you stop tracking. Even when I’m not actively tracking, I find myself calculating my approximate macros in my head through the day, and keeping track if I’m eating too much of one thing (like carbs… my favorite).
It also teaches you how to balance different types of food and allows flexibility to fit into different dietary restrictions as needed. It’s also adjustable if something changes in your lifestyle. Let’s say you want to run a marathon, or start putting in muscle. You have the flexibility to add more carbs or protein to fuel your body.
In the interest of fairness, I do want to point out one area where I feel macro tracking falls short. The system is highly “cheatable”. In theory I could eat pizza and doughnuts everyday to hit my macros. Macro tracking is a great framework for understanding how to eat, but you still need to balance whole and healthy foods with the doughnuts.
I want to finish by saying that the products from some of these companies may not be so bad themselves. I’ve used several individual products (like protein powder) from companies who’s diet plans I don’t necessarily agree with, and really felt that they were great products. (Let me know if you’d like me to talk about products I use or compare products on market). What I want to speak out against is the fad diets (whether a program, book, website, whatever…) and the spread of poor or downright incorrect information. I want to encourage you to do your own research when it comes to diet and exercise, and consult a true professional when appropriate.