Every year has its fads. 2001 was the year of head-to-toe denim, frosted lip gloss… and eating low-carb. 2003 brought us fedoras, hoop earrings, and the famous South Beach Diet. Along with fashion and music, food has its fads, too. And while some of these fads focus on the fun and fashionable things people are eating (unicorn bread, anyone?) many of the trends that develop focus on weight loss.
This phenomenon isn’t anything new; strange diet solutions have been a thing since the early 20th century, when being thin started to come into fashion. You would gawk at some of the ridiculous diet trends your parents probably tried. What did 2018 add to the fad diet timeline?
When it comes to weight loss, people are willing to try all kinds of wild tactics, just so long as they’re promised that the tricks are “healthy.” The wellness industry knows this very well — and has come up with some wacky and weird diet solutions this year. A diet that cures depression? A cake made of chia seeds? All they need is the approval of one doctor, an industry-funded study, or a willing celebrity to endorse their trend and voila! People are almost always eager to try for themselves. Until, of course, other doctors and health experts warn them not to.
The results promised by these regimens and products begin at weight loss — but with the rise of body positivity and other movements, the industry has begun to promise so much more. Some of them claim to improve gut health, de-bloat, de-stress, eliminate anxiety, or even balance your hormones. The results certainly sound miraculous. Some of these treatments and products even claim to elongate your life. But the health risks posed by some fads could actually end up doing the opposite. Here are the most popular trends of the year (and a little advice on whether or not you should try them).
Weight Loss Tea
Teas claiming to help with weight loss have been all the rage on Instagram. Celebrities such as Iggy Azalea and Khloé Kardashian (whose diet is already pretty extreme to begin with) have publicly sworn by them — with the hashtag #ad tacked on the end. But can you really sip the pounds away with flat belly teas? Probably not. Many of these teas are actually just laxatives. Iggy Azalea, for instance, recently advertised a tea made with senna, a laxative substance that (according to the Mayo Clinic) can worsen stomach or bowel problems and interfere with certain medications. The discomfort and side effects probably are not worth the few pounds you probably won’t even lose.
The Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet, or the keto diet for short, claims to turn your body into a “fat burning machine” through extreme restriction of all carbohydrates. It started as a treatment for epilepsy and Parkinson’s; now, it has dieters everywhere eating bacon-stuffed avocados and avoiding pasta like the plague. A fast-track to weight loss that involves eating all the bacon you want? It sounds too good to be true! (So long as you don’t mind breath that smells like nail polish remover.) And advocates of the diet swear by the weight loss and apparent health benefits it delivers.
But is the keto diet really safe? “Despite the current popularity of a keto diet, there is no long-term evidence showing it is effective or safe,” said author, speaker and frequent television guest Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT. Turns out, there are some concerning consequences of eliminating carbs from your diet. And, as registered dietitian and Arivale coach Ginger Hultin explains, “there is a possibility of kidney damage, nutritional deficiencies, and side effects including constipation, dehydration, fatigue, and nausea.”
In addition to the health concerns, the diet may not be sustainable long-term. “The most common frustration I see with people who have attempted the ketogenic diet is yo-yo dieting afterwards,” Dana Harrison, registered dietitian behind Eats 2 Know, said. “If you break the rigid restrictions over time (ex: in social settings or just because), weight regain usually occurs, and it does so quickly. Despite all of this, the ketogenic diet has been researched as a prescribed diet in regards to health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and brain conditions.” If you don’t have those health conditions, though, there’s not a lot of evidence that eating only keto-friendly foods will keep you healthy for long.
Intermittent fasting is a blanket term used to describe diets wherein you are only permitted to eat during predetermined windows of time. Some intermittent fasters don’t eat for entire days. The current version attempted by some Silicon Valley tech gurus involves fasting for multiple days in a row, achieving what they believe is “biohacking.” A few of them told The Guardian that eating this way makes them feel “a mild euphoria” and intense levels of cognitive focus. Others who practice intermittent fasting eat every day, but consume all of their daily calories in four hours. Most iterations are more moderate, instructing adherents to eat during an 8-hour window of the day and fast for the other 16, for example. Kourtney Kardashian reportedly swears by this particular method.
Advocates of the diet claim humans are meant to eat this way, citing some particularly suggestive studies that seem to show that fasting staves off Alzheimer’s and extends lifespan. However, many dietitians express grave concern over the lack of research on side effects. While a lab rat may benefit on a cellular level, these studies fail to account for human reactions to stress and the limitations these diets impose on everyday life. “Intermittent fasting might result in an obsession with food, bingeing behaviors, hunger, feeling low energy, etc.,” explained registered dietitian Jillian Greaves. “Research on intermittent fasting in humans is limited and short in duration.”
Overall, Greaves said that the benefits of the diet don’t appear superior to those of the usual recommendations for healthy eating. “Physiologically we know our bodies work best when they get fuel consistently every 3 to 4 hours,” she said. “This helps with stable blood sugar and energy levels as well as satiety. Everyone is different, but I do not feel there is enough research to recommend fasting at this time.”