Four Popular Diet Trends Debunked by Experts

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It’s January, and the diet and “weight loss” craze is in full-swing. It seems like diet-culture is everywhere. From the Whole 30 fanatics, to the clean eating enthusiasts, and the Ketogenic evangelists, there are tons of people exalting the many benefits of various diet plans.

The reality is that diets almost always “don’t work” when it comes to sustaining long-term weight loss, and can be harmful.

I’m an eating disorder therapist in private practice. I teamed up with my colleague, registered dietitian, Haley Goodrich of INSPRD Nutrition, to debunk four popular diet trends.

Haley says that one big problem is that, “These diets at large promote the idea that we can make blanket recommendations when in fact, human’s needs/diet are so highly individualized.”

It’s also important to remember that diets exist to fuel a 60 billion dollar industry, which serves to make profit off of your insecurities.

The following is our breakdown of why these diets can be harmful (and at minimum do not actually serve a benefit) to your physical and mental health.

1. Whole 30:

There’s really nothing positive that can come out of this, but a whole lot of potential for harm.

Haley says,

  • “Elimination diet- eliminates many essential food groups that are part of a well balanced diet.
  • Elimination diets can be detrimental, create and exacerbate GI symptoms, can cause deficiencies, and create/perpetuate disordered eating.
  • NO science/research to back whole 30 claims- many arbitrary rules involved.
  • Dosage is SO important- ex: the sun is harmful at high doses, however we would die without it and it is essential for our health.
  • Very black and white- if you “cheat” you have to start over. Anything this black or white is a huge red flag.”

Jennifer shares,

  • “From a psychological standpoint when we put foods as “off-limits,” we often crave them more.
  • Restricting certain foods can lead to subsequent bingeing or over-eating.
  • Can lead to increased anxiety, guilt, or shame around food.
  • Increased stress around food causes increases in cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can lead to increased anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, sleep problems, and heart disease.
  • Limits ability to socialize as many foods are off limits (and many social events revolve around food), which can greatly impact mental health.
  • Good,” and “bad” food mentality can lead to eating disorders, disordered eating, and at minimum irritability and a waste of mental energy.”

2. Ketogenic Diet:

When trying to be “healthier” can actually make you unhealthy.

Haley explains,

  • “Ketosis is a form of ketoacidosis: life threatening condition resulting in high levels of ketones in the blood- it is an “unhealthy metabolic state”
  • When you eat a diet too low in carbohydrate the body produces ketones as a safety mechanism to keep us alive.
  • Carbs are our main source of fuel, they are preferred.
  • Restriction of carbs causes the brain to seek more food.
  • You will gain weight back, and for many it will be plus some.”

Jennifer says,

  • “If you restrict carbohydrates, it is far more likely that at some point you will begin over-eating or bingeing on them.
  • Can lead to disordered eating or the development for an eating disorder.
  • Having inadequate amounts of carbohydrates in your diet can have a detrimental impact on mood.”

3. Cleanses

You don’t need these if you have a functioning liver and kidneys.

Haley explains,

  • “You do not need cleansing, you would be in the hospital if your body could not cleanse itself on a daily basis.
  • That’s why we have a liver and kidneys to naturally cleanse our body.
  • Can lead to food deficiencies.
  • You are just losing water weight by going to the bathroom a lot.
  • It confuses your hunger and fullness cues.”

Jennifer shares,

  • “Cleanses are socially isolating, unpleasant, and could cause you to become moody and irritable.
  • Plus can lead to increased desire to binge or over-eat on food, as well as trigger or perpetuate an eating disorder or disordered eating.”

4. Clean eating

Unless it’s washing your vegetables and fruit, here’s why we don’t support it.

Haley says,

  • “This terminology is especially harmful because it’s being spread as a “non-diet” message when it is 100% disordered.
  • It is wrapped in morality- “good” vs “bad, “pureness of foods.”
  • Fear mongering- ex: sugar- our body can totally process this. Cutting it out makes you want more. Plus, it’s important to note that fruit and candy are both glucose.”

Jennifer explains,

  • “This “good” and “bad” mindset around food can create a seriously disordered relationship to food.
  • Could trigger or perpetuate a life-threatening eating disorder, including orthorexia which is an “unhealthy obsession with being healthy.”

Ditch The Diet

Ultimately, dieting is a big waste of precious mental energy, which could be must better spent pursuing your passions, strengthening your relationships, or healing your relationship to food and your body.

When you look back on your life at age 80 do you really think that you will be fondly reminiscing about the years spent as a slave to the treadmill, chugging juices, counting calories, or obsessing about your body shape and weight? No. You deserve to have a meaningful and joyful life. One that you cannot have if you stay trapped in diet-culture.

If you are struggling with an unhealthy relationship to food and your body, it’s so important to consider seeking help from a therapist or a registered dietitian.

After all, life is too short for food rules, body shame, and self-hatred.

Jennifer and Haley will be doing an Instagram live video on this topic, as well as answering your questions on Haley’s Instagram hgoodrichrd on Sunday, 1/7 at 3 pm EST. You can also follow Jennifer on Instagram at jennifer_rollin.

Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer specializes in helping teens and adults struggling with anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia, and body image issues. Jennifer provides eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD, easily accessible to individuals in Potomac, North Potomac, Bethesda, Olney, Germantown, and Washington D.C. Connect with Jennifer through her website:

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