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How to Tell the Difference Between a Fad Diet and a Food Movement

by Mar 7, 2018

Home » NUHS Blog » How to Tell the Difference Between a Fad Diet and a Food Movement

Although definitions may vary slightly, what many can agree on as “fad diets” are when an individual nutritionally adheres to a set diet in order to lose weight in a brief period of time. This said diet usually lacks overall sustainability, long term health benefits, or focuses on any other aspect of health promotion like exercise. Food movements on the other hand take into consideration research and apply the principles to everyday life, making a sustainable change or changes for the betterment of life and health. The short term goals of both might be to lose weight, but the long term goal of a food movement is to create a healthy lifestyle.

Why the distinction?

It’s important to recognize there may be a relationship between the two, but Fad Diets and Food Movements cannot be viewed as virtually interchangeable. Both have the ability to shape social trends about health and nutrition in general, but healthy nutrition is an asset. Reckless or inadequate diet plans may actually be harmful to those desperate for solutions. Many people seek a food movement because they are seeking out a sustainable, identifiable change in their life for an overall benefit, other than just weight loss.

If it sounds too good to be true — it probably is. Here are some important factors all fad diets have in common:

Promote fast weight loss.

A quick fix by definition does not create a lasting solution. In fact, some sources suggest fad diets can even make you heavier and unhealthier. Healthy nutrition plans call for weight loss of between 1, and usually not more than 2 pounds per week. Any more than this is water, and in addition, you’ll regain the weight as soon as you return to your “regular” eating patterns. Depriving your body of certain nutrients can also lead to harmful deficiencies.

When it comes to fad diets in general, the long-term maintenance of weight loss peaks within six months after the start of beginning a new plan, with 50 percent of patients returning to their original weight within in about five years – often less.

Of even greater concern is the crash diet. Crash diets, as the name implies, are extreme. They tend to promise weight loss even faster (sometimes in three to seven days!) and promote drastic caloric reductions.

The rebound affect — why fad diets lend themselves to participants returning to a previous way of eating.

Fad diets might consider key principles of nutrition, but fall short on the big picture of educating individuals on overall health benefits. Yes, calorie restriction will likely lead to weight loss, just as much as consuming extra calories will lead to weight gain.

But what is learned? In the 10+ years I have been studying nutrition, what has stuck with me is the more education someone has, the less likely it is they will return to their old habits. The more I educate on what happens inside the body when food items are consumed, the more likely people are to refrain from that food or consume more of it. That’s not saying they never return to foods avoided, but they’re more educated about it and its effects on their own bodies.

Many rules, unlimited quantities, and strange combinations of foods.

Remember the grapefruit-only and cabbage soup-only diets? Can you really eat this way for the rest of your life? If the answer is no, the plan won’t be sustainable. Chances are you’ll tire of it quickly and won’t be able to stick with it. It’s hard to commit to a boring food plan, and you could deprive yourself of important nutrients.

Looking at key elements of any fad diet might help you see why it might be effective in the short term. Let’s take the cabbage soup diet as an example. Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable which promotes digestion and is liver and gut supportive. The liver is the primary organ which tells the body to either store a food as fat, use it as fuel or eliminate it from the body. So when you eat soup where the primary ingredient is liver supportive, you are increasing the body’s own mechanism to properly digest and either store or eliminate fat. But let’s not see this as the only take away; this is a low-fat, high fiber diet, which mainly focuses on calorie restriction. I love cabbage as much as the next person, but there is no way I could eat cabbage soup two-three times a day as prescribed in the diet long term.

Provide limited health benefits.

As mentioned previously, fad diets mainly promise weight loss. Often they lack any other identifiable changes in health; however, that’s not to say there aren’t positive health side effects which come with losing weight. Often individuals aren’t seeking a fad diet to help them with improvement of their thyroid function, to decrease their cholesterol, improve their heart health, quality of sleep, acid reflux, digestion, mental acuity or even infertility, yet I’m sure there are times those benefits may occur.

So, what IS a Food Movement?

Although definitions vary from source to source, food movements have been evolving over the last few decades and emphasize a food prescriptive way to eliminate what’s “not real” and focus on the wholeness of food. Food movements may encourage eating local, sustainable, organic, non-GMO, chemical-free food, but one could say the main emphasis is really to eliminate or avoid processed and industrial packaged foods and focus on the simplest forms of food. Simply, stated, food movements are centered around eating real food and focus on health benefits rather than just weight loss.

The age old saying, an apple a day keeps the doctor away has its roots in the late 1800s to early 1900s. But is an apple today the same as an apple 1,000 or even 100 years ago? Food movements take into consideration all of the elements of what we are eating. It’s not just about the apple, but how is this apple germinated, is it free of pesticides and GMOs, and what is the overall nutritional value and content it delivers to the individual? No one who prescribes to a food movement way of life will say an apple is “unhealthy” just because it isn’t organic, but the greater picture looks at the elements which may make the apple not as nutritionally beneficial for an individual, and seeks to maximize its benefits.

Different individuals, different needs.

Nutrition and health care solutions are unique and a one-size-fits-all approach is not effective or safe. One important item to recognize is that I’m not diet shaming anyone for their choices to improve their life. What I am doing is trying to provide at a minimum a few principles necessary to understand there is something to changing your lifestyle to improve your health. When you take the time to educate yourself and see the benefits of how a food movement way of living can affect your own life, it is hard to go backwards.

The best defense is a good offense.

Because the best informed nutritional knowledge is based on objective study, scientific research, and the exchange of new findings, the National University of Health Sciences is offering its 2018 Nutrition Conference March 24-25 at the Lombard, Illinois campus. Led by a diverse group of integrative health care professionals, this conference is open to health care practitioners, students and patients with information about various food movements in nutrition, and specifically, how to implement these food diets or strategies with success. The conference will emphasize the role GMOs play in our food source; discuss Ketogenic, Paleo, Gluten- and Dairy-free diets; examine fasting, and HCG.

The goal is to learn a wide variety of information, be able to address nutritional and health concerns, and to leave the event equipped with resources to get the nutritional information needed to be successful whether it’s in their own life or for a patient’s life.

For a list of health care industry presenters and to register, visit our website today for additional details. 

Are you interested in staying up-to-date with the latest health trends and insights? Subscribe to our blog The Future of Integrative Health for weekly updates right to your inbox!


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About the Author

Dr. Jenna Glenn

Dr. Jenna Glenn

Dr. Jenna Glenn received her Bachelor of Science at Penn State University before attending National University, receiving her Doctor of Chiropractic degree in 2009. She worked in private practice following graduation, and later began a residency at NUHS in family practice. She earned both a Doctor of Naturopathic medicine degree and a Master’s in Advanced Clinical Practice from NUHS in 2012. Shortly after completing her residency program, Dr. Glenn was hired as a clinician in the NUHS Whole Health Center-Lombard. In July 2013, Dr. Glenn accepted the position of Dean of Lincoln College of Post-professional, Graduate and Continuing Education, where she strives to expand the range of graduate and continuing education programs in integrative medicine.


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