The Pitt Prescription: Fad diets in the New Year

The Pitt Prescription is a bi-weekly blog where student pharmacist and Senior Staff Writer Elizabeth Donnelly provides tips on how to stay healthy in college.

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The Pitt Prescription

The holiday shopping season is coming to an end, but with the start of January comes a new shopping trend — a few solid weeks of businesses pushing “resolutions” to consumers. Each year it seems that new companies pop up out of nowhere to sell their so-called wonder products, with a large majority of them claiming to be “health” related.

Yes, I put “health” in quotation marks because many of the marketed products are actually quite detrimental to your health and can have a lasting negative impact.

These products span from “skinny teas” to appetite-suppressant lollipops and everything in between. They promise consumers miracle results with little effort and often have celebrity endorsements. These celebrities, who have their own personal dieticians, chefs and doctors, shamelessly promote diet products that they likely don’t even use, just to cash a check.

Along with the new products, other fad diets that have been around for a much longer time are also making their yearly comebacks. While some have scientific backing, others are just plain ludicrous, like the “baby food diet” where you substitute one to two meals for baby food each day in order to lose weight. Many of these fad diets are unsafe and do not work in a healthy way. Even if you are able to lose weight on the diet, you are typically harming your body and digestive system while doing so. According to the Cleveland Clinic, many fad diets offer only a temporary solution to a much more in-depth problem, and they should be avoided.

Detox teas and other fad products

Celebrities like Cardi B and Kylie Jenner are notorious for promoting fad products like the “detox tea” Teami. Detox teas are one of the most prominent fad products of the past few years, many of them promising weight loss, boosted metabolism and internal cleansing. However, there are several issues associated with these detox tea cleanses.
According to Health Line, these teas are considered dietary supplements, meaning that they aren’t regulated by the FDA at all. This leaves room for companies to add whatever ingredients they choose with little to no justification or proof that they are safe to consume. Health Line also reports that many detox teas contain high amounts of caffeine, which is a diuretic that causes water loss. A great deal of the weight people lose while drinking these teas is water weight which will likely be gained back once the person eats normally again. This water loss can also be linked to dehydration and the symptoms that accompany it, like dizziness and blurred vision.

Are any fad diets OK?

Miracle products that promise extreme results for little work are dangerous and not an effective method for healthy weight loss. That being said, not every fad diet is a bad idea — quite a few have been studied and were proven to be effective. The best way to lose weight and become healthier is to eat consciously and to consume fewer calories than you burn, according to the Mayo Clinic.

According to Health Line, there are some fad diets that are safe enough to try due to their results and sustainability, although they all present their own set of possible side effects.

Atkins diet

The Atkins diet — which consists of different stages of cutting carbs out of your diet and then slowly adding them back in to reach an equilibrium — has been one of the most well-known and commonly practiced fad diets since its invention in 1972. In a study published by the International Journal of Obesity in 2008, the Atkins diet proved to be the most successful when compared to other popular weight-loss diets, with the participants on the Atkins diet losing more weight on average than the participants on the Zone (a diet of 40% carbs, 30% protein and 30% fat) or Ornish (low-fat and plant-based) diets. 

But every diet has its downside. With low-carb diets like the Atkins diet, commonly seen side effects include headaches, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, constipation and nutritional deficiencies. These are due to the severe cutting of carbohydrates at the beginning of the diet and can be dangerous in certain populations, like in people with diabetes or kidney disease.

Veganism

Once thought to be a “fad diet,” veganism has become its own kind of lifestyle. People on this diet avoid any animal products such as meats, cheeses and eggs. While there can be a lot of protein, fiber and vitamin imbalances within a vegan diet, studies have shown that vegan diets consisting of whole foods can lead to more weight loss and lower the risk of heart disease. It can even help diabetic individuals get better control over their glycemic index.

The main side effects of veganism result from nutritional deficiencies. One of these is known as a “choline crisis” — choline is found in meat and eggs and is necessary for brain health. Vegans can take a supplement to boost their levels to avoid any damage to their brain. Hair loss is also commonly associated with vegetarianism/veganism due to a lack of protein, so making sure to keep a balanced diet is very important.

Keto diet

The ketogenic diet is similar to the Atkins diet, where carbs are restricted, except in this one they are never increased. During this diet, the body moves into a state of ketosis, in which the body starts breaking down fats instead of sugars (carbs) for energy because of the lack of carbs in the diet. Many studies have been conducted on this diet and a large analysis of 13 of these studies showed that the keto diet boosts weight loss and reduces the risk of disease in overweight individuals. The keto diet has similar side effects to the Atkins diet due to the cutting of carbs, but the keto diet has a higher possibility of causing ketoacidosis — a buildup of ketones in the body, causing dehydration and the blood to become acidic, which can be fatal. This is most dangerous in people with diabetes, but can occur in non-diabetics, which is why it is important to maintain a healthy balance and speak with your doctor about any concerns or side effects you have.

Paleo diet

The paleolithic diet, known as the paleo diet, is a very strict diet where participants eat whole, unprocessed foods. The goal is to eat like our ancestors did back when they were considered hunters and gatherers. While this diet is one of the most difficult to sustain due to expenses incurred by buying whole, unprocessed and organic foods and the difficulty of completely avoiding processed foods, it also is thought to be quite healthy because of the lack of processed products.

One study linked the paleo diet to more weight loss and better triglyceride levels. Since long-term effects have not been studied properly yet, little is known about the side effects of the paleo diet. However, it can lead to nutritional deficiencies, like calcium or fiber deficiencies since dairy products, whole grains and legumes are cut out.

Remember — just because it is the new year does not mean you have to subject yourself to dieting. If you are within a healthy weight range, don’t let magazines and television fool you into falling for their dieting schemes. If you do decide to participate in a weight loss diet, a safe and scientifically backed one is a better alternative to weight loss miracle products, which can have detrimental impacts on your health. Health and safety are of the utmost importance, so make sure you talk with your doctor or pharmacist about what is best for you as an individual.

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