Every few weeks a new fad diet or health craze fills our news feeds with promises of making us slimmer, healthier and better than ever before. Good health is priceless, but in our ongoing quest for it, are we potentially doing our bodies more harm than good?
"Our society, with help from the media, has created this ideal of what many people now believe they need to look like to be healthy or beautiful," said accredited practicing dietician, Caitlin Rabel.
"Fad diets are so appealing because they're marketed as an easy and quick solution to obtain this. But, because they don't incorporate lifestyle changes, people often put back on any weight lost as soon as the diet stops."
And this is just one of the many problems with them.
So, what are others?
They are unsustainable and unrealistic
Due to the restrictive nature of most fad diets, Rabel said it can be hard to fit them into a normal lifestyle.
"Fad diets generally involve counting, measuring, restricting or controlling your food intake, often through deprivation," she said.
"This means that if you "break" the diet, you often feel like you've failed. You then adopt a 'I've screwed up so I'm going to eat cake today, and start again tomorrow' mentality."
Rabel also said that this vicious cycle of deprivation, cravings and guilt is both exhausting and awful for mental health.
Deprivation of important foods and nutrients makes you sick
"Food deprivation can have many consequences, both long and short term," Rabel said.
In the short term, it can cause blood sugar imbalances, mood swings, brain fog, dizziness and fatigue.
In the longer term it can cause nutrient deficiencies, gastrointestinal issues, depression, social isolation, food obsessions and can lead to disordered eating.
They are not personally tailored for your lifestyle or body
"Fad diets don't work because everyone and every body is different," Rabel said.
She also notes that they don't take into account our busy lifestyles.
"Celebrity X may be able to stick to a fully organic, hand-cooked diet, but that's because she can afford it, has personal chefs, and doesn't have three kids and a job keeping her busy," she said.
No exercise is incorporated
Because fad diets focus on decreasing the number on the scales, many of them don't incorporate exercise.
"Not including moving your body is not a healthy lifestyle. However, increasing exercise can cause you to put on muscle and therefore the number on the scales often goes up, which is not what fad diets are selling," Rabel said.
So what are her top tips for a sensitive approach to dieting?
"I think one of the best things to do is actually stop and think about why you want to diet," she said.
"Ask yourself: is it because I want to be healthier? Do I want to feel more comfortable in my body? Do I want to have more energy?"
From here, Rabel suggests finding a diet that will work well for you and help you achieve your goals.
"If you're 'cutting carbs' for example, do you really think you're going to have more energy?" she said.
To test if something is a fad diet or a sustainable lifestyle change, Rabel recommends asking yourself the following questions:
- Does this diet cut out any whole food groups or foods?
- Am I stressed about how I am going to stick to this diet?
- Can I see myself eating like this in 20 years?
- Is this a way of eating I would want my kids (or future kids) to follow?
- Does eating this way bring me joy and pleasure, or does it make me feel guilty and unhappy?
- Can I still do the things I want to do in life, such as travel or socialise, or do I feel guilty or "break the diet" by doing this?
- Am I happy?
Jo Hartley is a freelance writer for Open Colleges, one of Australia's leading online education providers.