Have you ever been on a diet? If you’re like most Americans, I’m guessing the answer is yes.
Most people try diets to lose weight. The weight loss industry is massive, with a value of $72.6 billion dollars in 2021.And there are a wide variety of diets out there — you can count calories, carbs, or points. You can take supplements or give up entire food groups, all in the name of weight loss.
But in the past few years, people have started to figure out that what they eat affects far more than the number on the scale. So all sorts of diets have popped up — not for weight loss, but for therapeutic purposes.
What is a therapeutic diet?
A therapeutic diet works toward a health-related goal:
✔ Managing a condition like IBS
✔ Reducing systemic inflammation
✔ Correcting an imbalance in the body
✔ Balancing the gut microbiome
✔ Eliminating specific foods that are difficult to digest or that the body reacts badly to
✔ Treating an autoimmune disease or a condition like epilepsy
✔ Controlling SIBO — small intestine bacterial overgrowth
✔ Treating conditions like lyme disease or chronic fatigue syndrome
Studies, along with the practical experience of dietitians and nutritionists, have demonstrated that changing what you eat can make a profound impact on how you feel.
My whole practice revolves around this scientifically-proven principle.
But not all diets are great. And if you don’t know which diet you need, then you can easily end up on one that will do you more harm than good.
What are fad diets?
Every year, certain diets make the rounds on social media. Sometimes they promise weight loss, or improved health, or better digestion. But all it takes is a few influencers talking about their positive experience, and a new diet takes off.
People love to look for that magic, miracle cure that will help them feel better. So when celebrities start talking about the wonders of celery juice, celery starts flying off the shelves.
But just because a diet is popular doesn’t mean it’s right for you, or for anybody really.
So before you jump on the bandwagon of the latest and greatest diet trend, ask yourself some questions.
Fad Diet Question #1: Could this diet cause harm to my health?
You don’t have to be a doctor or dietitian to answer this question most of the time. If you see a diet that asks you to do anything radical, it’s probably not good for you. Our bodies are designed to need a balance of nutrients and adequate daily calories.
So watch out for diets that ask you to:
😲 Eat fewer than 1200 calories per day
😲 Give up entire food groups
😲 Go without eating for extended periods of time
😲 Focus on eating massive amounts of a selected few foods
😲 Rely on supplements you aren’t familiar with
A therapeutic diet can work wonders. But if you fall for a fad, you can actually damage your body by causing an imbalance in your microbiome, creating nutrient deficiencies, damaging your metabolism, throwing off your blood sugar balance, and more.
Fad Diet Question #2: Does this diet address a condition I know I have?
You’ve probably been warned not to rely on Dr. Google. With a whole world of medical information at our fingertips, it’s easy to self-diagnose. Yes, googling your symptoms can give you an idea about what to talk with a doctor about. But self-diagnoses are often wrong.
Just because you present some of the symptoms for an ailment doesn’t mean you have it. Diagnosis for most things requires lab tests, an examination by a doctor, and detailed symptom analysis by someone trained to do it.
It’s never a good idea to diagnose and treat yourself.
Fad Diet Question #3: Should this diet be done with a practitioner?
Some diets are fine to do on your own. No one is going to be negatively impacted by cutting back on fast food and focusing on whole foods.
But there are diets that can negatively impact you in the long term if you don’t do them properly. One of the diets I use widely in my practice is the low FODMAP diet. This is a fantastic eating plan for many people with IBS.
But it can also cause nutritional deficiencies if it’s not done right. This isn’t a diet that’s meant for the long term. It’s important to go through the stages in a controlled manner and for the right amount of time so that you get the maximum effectiveness without any of the potential side effects.
Fad Diet Question #4: Am I really just trying to lose weight?
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with losing weight. But if you’re considering going on a diet, it’s important to be honest with yourself about your motivation and realistic about your expectations.
Many people start diets to “get healthy” when what they are really looking for is weight loss.
If you are wanting to lose weight, you can do it safely. But you also need to do it slowly. If you want to lose some weight — whether it’s to improve your health markers or fit back into your favorite jeans — doing it in a sensible and healthy way will get you the results you’re looking for. Those results may take longer than you want, but you’re much more likely to sustain your weight loss.
Fad Diet Question #5: Is this diet something that makes sense long-term?
If a diet can’t be sustained in the long-term, then I’d probably add it to the “fad” category.
I encourage my patients to think in terms of eating styles, rather than diets. When you think of a diet, you probably think of something you do for a while to gain a specific result. There are therapeutic diets that should be done this way (like the low FODMAP diet). But in general, if a diet isn’t something you can sustain, it’s probably not going to help you much.
If you need some help figuring out what diet or eating style you need to get your health on track and feel your best, reach out. That’s what I do. I’ll look at your symptoms, your lifestyle factors, and your test results to create a customized eating and supplement plan that makes sense for you.