, Healthy WeightWhy Fad Diets Don’t Work – and What to Try Instead

Why Fad Diets Don’t Work – and What to Try Instead

By |2019-06-09T17:19:52-05:00April 4th, 2017|

Updated 06/09/2019

Weight loss is the #1 topic among my patients. So many women come to me, frustrated and discouraged about weight they just can’t lose. At least a third of them tell me they’ve been on some kind of diet for as long as they can remember! The constant dieting often helps keep their weight manageable — until perimenopause and menopause hit.

I remember that dieting roller coaster well. For so many years, I struggled to keep my weight in a comfortable range. I tried a lot of the popular diets of the day myself, with very mixed results. I remember, too, the frustration I felt when I was going through menopause and nothing I tried worked at all.

This is a familiar story for women. All of a sudden, fat appears (particularly around the midsection) and despite their best efforts, it simply won’t come off. This struggle makes these women susceptible to the trendy diets that are plastered all over women’s magazines and social media. But all too often, these diets don’t live up to their hype, and these women are disappointed over and over again.

With all the information we have now about how being overweight or obese seriously impacts health, women of all ages are increasingly concerned when they can’t lose those extra pounds. In their quest to become more healthy, they sometimes end up doing exactly the opposite!

As they work to shed those stubborn pounds, women often disregard the fact that the latest diet craze or “miracle” products could do more harm than good to their long term health. So many offer false promises, depend on deprivation, don’t allow you to get all the essential nutrients you need, or have no maintenance program to keep the pounds off. So why are these programs so popular?

The Fad Diet Phenomenon

From Jenny Craig to Atkins to South Beach to Keto to WW, there have been scores of new diets promising universally quick results. The supermarkets push “fat-free” and “low-carb” versions of our favorite snacks under the pretense that these are healthier options. Restaurants now even carry Keto friendly on the menus.

Women are inundated daily with conflicting information about what, how much, and when to eat. When you add the very real hunger signals our bodies send us, and the comfort and enjoyment inherent in the act of eating, it’s no wonder we’re all so confused!

That’s why I want to talk about what I call the “diet culture.” Dieting is big business for many companies, and the messages our society conveys about how we should look gives these companies a great – and vast – target market. But marketing shouldn’t be the basis for your eating decisions. What these savvy marketing techniques don’t tell you is that only three to four percent of dieters will succeed in keeping the weight they lose off after a year. It’s no wonder the diet industry can sell us something new every year!

Fad diets can be reasonable or absurd. Drinking nothing but lemon water or eating nothing but cabbage soup doesn’t make sense for anyone – and is certainly not sustainable! But limiting carbs or avoiding sugar and processed foods might be exactly what your body needs to thrive.

Why Fad Diets Don’t Work

Losing weight – and keeping it off – takes a lot of commitment and hard work. Any diet program that suggests otherwise is doing you a disservice. Yo-yo dieting and jumping on the latest fad diet bandwagon typically doesn’t work – and can actually make losing weight even harder! Let’s take a look at why, and then I’ll fill you in on my new program that can help you lose weight in a healthy way and keep it off permanently.

Excess weight is a symptom, just like many other symptoms that can indicate an underlying biochemical imbalance in my patients. Although fad diets address this symptom in the short term (meaning that if a person follows the plan, they will initially lose some weight), they do not address the root cause. That’s why the weight comes right back! Often, there is some kind of metabolic dysfunction or hormonal imbalance that must be addressed for long-term success.

Over the years, I have seen – in patients and in myself – that dieting is not the key to long-term weight loss. The real key is a healthy metabolism supported by a balanced hormonal state.

How does a woman’s body get out of balance? The reasons are as varied and unique as each woman. A wide range of physiological, cultural, and/or emotional factors are at play in our lives, and all of these can impact weight gain, loss, and maintenance throughout your life.

Diet professionals don’t want to share this news because it’s much simpler to sell us a one-size-fits-all plan. But that doesn’t often work with clothing, and it certainly doesn’t work when trying to find your ideal eating plan to maintain a healthy weight.Of course there are success stories – most plans will work for some people. But for a lot of women, constant dieting without understanding of their underlying biochemistry only leads to a yo-yo cycle and more weight gain.

How Does Menopause Impact Weight Gain?

If excess weight is about hormonal imbalances, it makes sense that the time of transition – both perimenopause and menopause – could present even greater challenges. This is often a time of erratic hormonal fluctuations as estrogen and progesterone levels naturally vacillate.

Some women also report that during this time in her life, food cravings can be very strong. This could be a symptom of declining levels of progesterone. Progesterone production requires adequate levels of cholesterol in your body. So when your levels begin to dip, your body may hold on to extra fat in order to boost production. The good news is that when hormone levels reach their new balance, losing weight becomes easier again.

I have plenty of information about menopause in my health library – so be sure to explore these articles for more information on the relationship between menopause and your weight.

What Else Can Stall Weight Loss?

Most popular diets aren’t doing anything to address some of the other underlying conditions that can make them ineffective. Let’s take a quick look at some of these now.

Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal depletion is widespread – and good adrenal health is critical to losing stubborn pounds. I talk about this connection in my article Adrenal Fatigue and Weight Gain: Are They Related? (the answer is YES). That article will go into far more detail about what happens in your body, but the short story is the adrenal fatigue impacts levels of the stress hormone cortisol – and when levels are too high or too low, they can impact your ability to maintain a healthy weight. For more information on adrenal function and adrenal exhaustion, see our extensive list of articles in our Adrenal Healthsection.

Carbohydrate Sensitivity

It’s not a good idea to blindly cut anything out of your diet – you need to know what purpose (if any) it serves first. Carbohydrates are an absolutely necessary component of a balanced diet, but many of us become increasingly sensitive to them as we grow older, and we’re often not eating the right kind of carbohydrates to begin with.

Eating too many simple carbohydrates – the kind that are in white bread, candy, soda, white rice, and many breakfast cereals – creates a rollercoaster effect on your appetite: you feel energized and sated for a little while as your insulin spikes, only to crash a few hours later when your blood sugar drops precipitously.

This low blood sugar triggers the brain to send out hunger signals again, which can cause you to overeat and gain weight. For some of us, this rollercoaster feels like a gentle ride. But for those who are more sensitive it can feel like you’re traveling much steeper crests and valleys.

Let go too long, this sensitivity can evolve into excessive weight gain and a larger metabolic concern called insulin resistance. This pre-diabetic condition leaves cells unable to process insulin correctly, triggering your pancreas to produce ever-increasing levels. The best way to treat carbohydrate sensitivity is to choose a diet low in sugar and white flour and carbohydrates in general. For more information, see my articles on insulin resistance.

Depleted Serotonin

Serotonin is just one of a host of neurotransmitters secreted by the brain that regulate mood, attention, and energy levels. Ongoing stress can deplete your serotonin reserves, leading to intense food cravings — particularly for those refined carbohydrates (which mimic the sense of well-being that serotonin can create). Chronically low serotonin levels also impact energy and mood, which can have an effect on eating behaviors. To learn more about raising serotonin levels naturally, read my article on natural alternatives to antidepressants.

Yeast or Intestinal Parasites

Colonies of excessive Candida (yeast), bacteria, or intestinal parasites in the digestive tract can make it very difficult to lose weight. Although several tests are available, many doctors do not test for these organisms. For women who have yeast overgrowth, eliminating yeast and sugars from the diet for a period of time can restore balance to the digestive tract, promoting natural weight loss. Women often need to use supplements or probioticsto eradicate the yeast or parasites, but once this is accomplished they begin to lose the unwanted weight.

Food Allergies/Sensitivities

Food allergies don’t need to be life threatening to wreak havoc on your health. Symptoms of food sensitivity can manifest in adulthood, and are easily overlooked. Stomach upset, intestinal problems, headaches, insomnia, lethargy, joint aches, and rashes are often attributed to other problems instead. I always consider the possibility of food sensitivity, and often recommend an elimination diet, which means avoiding potential allergens for two weeks, as often as possible. This can give you great information on foods that are best to avoid as often as possible. Because there are so many potential food sensitivities this process can take some time – but if you find the culprit, it’s worth the wait!

Personalized Solutions

There’s no one answer for everyone because each and every woman is so unique. Sometimes a patient will present with only one of these nagging factors; more often women will have a combination of several. But the underlying imbalances don’t often become clear until they begin to feel symptoms of perimenopause and menopause and seek solutions.

I find that many of my patients have a “frozen metabolism” from years of fad dieting. Once they jump off the merry-go-round and discover healthy eating patterns that can be sustained, and make sense for their individual biochemistry, things can change.

My Concern with Fad Diets

Popular diets do work for some people. And some of the more recent plans are much better about promoting balanced eating patterns. But studies show the average weight loss after one year on some of these diets is just five pounds! Still, we keep trying. At any point in time, 44% of the women in this country are on some kind of aggressive diet.

Most of these plans simply don’t take individual differences into account. To have the most success, you have to find the right plan for you – not for anyone else. We still have so much to learn about how specific elements factor into individual biochemistry, but there’s been enough research in recent years to convince me that a diet that touts one way of eating for everyone who tries it probably won’t work.

So What Does Work?

I have found through years of my patients’ — and my own — trials and tribulations that paying attention to a woman’s individual body chemistry and her emotional history leads to successful, long-term health and weight loss.

And that’s exactly what I do with women who come to me. My new Women’s Transformation Programstarts with careful listening and individual testing to see what might be going on in your body. Then, with careful monitoring and support, I lead women through my program, which combines the use of homeopathic drops to get your metabolism working properly and a well-balanced, carefully designed restricted calorie eating plan.

If you aren’t in Maine, I have some exciting news coming. I’m preparing to launch my online Slim By Choice™ coaching program which will offer three levels of membership to give you the tools and information you need to transform your weight – and your life – no matter where you live! Some are doing this remotely now!

I understand that it’s not the right time for everyone to jump into a full program, and that there are so many women out there experimenting with popular diets. So I want to say that in general, the diets that are most effective (with the least adverse effects) tend to be those that encourage a balanced ratio of protein, fat and carbohydrates in every meal. It’s also important to find a program that acknowledges that every woman is different, with unique factors that impact her ability to lose weight.

Putting It All Into Perspective

I’ve developed my perspective on popular diets through more than 30 of experience helping women figure out their weight issues. My position is rooted in the belief that eating well and often is a necessary, enjoyable, and healthful act. Over the years I have adapted my recommended Nutritional and Lifestyle Guidelinesto reflect the healthful eating and lifestyle habits that lead a majority of women to hormonal balance, sustained weight loss, and overall well-being.

As important as eating a healthy diet is, the real key is to learn to accept yourself for who you are and ultimately love yourself. The body you have is the most valuable house you’ll ever own – and the only one that stays with you for a lifetime!

Your personal blueprint is a treasure map to natural weight loss and lifelong health that no popular or radical diet can ever replicate. I hope you’ll remember this when you’re considering any diet, and remember that good, healthy food is not the enemy. Listen to your body, and your own inner wisdom, and I have confidence that you’ll find the right path to good health and happiness.

Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD

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