Making the best of a FAD situation

Embracing FAD diets

By Aaron Hoey

Fad diets, they dominate all forms of mainstream media, promising health, body composition and mental cognition benefits that sound fantastic and intriguing to the uninformed consumer. Usually characterised by overly rigid rules or unusual meal compositions, fad diets appeal to those who want quick results, as well as individuals who may have had limited success on other dieting methods.

Most of the evidence for fad diets lies in anecdotal findings, theories and testimonials of short-term results. Funnily, although fad diets are usually demonised by various member of the evidence-based community for their ludicrous rituals and restrictions, there is no shortage of evidence that these unsustainable diets have the potential to produce rapid transformations. These swift changes in body composition can be attributed, not to the fictitious benefits of the diet, as many influencers would have you believe, but rather the low-calorie nature of the diet combined with the strict adherence administered by the wide eyed and hopeful consumer. If a given fad diet was sustainable for an individual, long term weight management would not be an issue. However, the highly restrictive nature of fad diets result in somewhat of a “ticking time bomb” situation, where it is only a matter of time until adherence is compromised, and once the rules or regulations of the fad diet are broken, a blowout ensures which results in any weight which has been lost being regained in an extremely short period of time.    

As coaches, it is our job to cater to the needs and goals of the client, which means we often must accept the trade-off of optimality for practicality. When it comes to long term body composition, we have to assess the trade-offs for varying levels of rigidity and restriction over a range of timelines in order to influence the likelihood of dietary success. As a result, when faced with a new client who is of the preconceived belief that a certain fad diet will yield maximal results, or perhaps a current client who has been struggling to adhere to their nutrition and wishes to attempt a fad diet, we as practitioners can use these situations to our advantage, albeit with extreme caution.

When using a fad diet as a weight loss intervention, education, safety and optimism must be at the forefront of the practitioner’s mind. Remember, it is in both your own and the client’s best interests to see results, so being overly critical of their methods will likely do more harm than good. Express excitement in their decision to make a change, while also taking the time to lay out the framework for the diet they are about to attempt. Be sure to explain in detail the dietary rules and restrictions, while also reminding them of some of the potential barriers they will inevitably face when undertaking the diet. For a client interested in a low carbohydrate-high fat diet, this may mean reiterating that compliance to this diet may result in the elimination of many of their favourite foods. For intermittent fasters, consuming calories at various social events may have to be sacrificed in order to comply with their designated eating window.

In the proceeding weeks, treat them like you would any weight loss client, paying close attention to their rate of loss, their enthusiasm, and their likelihood of compromising adherence. Remind them that their ensuring success is a testament to their ability to remain disciplined and sticking to the caloric deficit enforced by their restrictions. In due time however, it is likely that the rules of the diet they are complying to result in some form of discomfort which threatens to break the rules of the fad diet. This is the perfect opportunity for the practitioner to introduce elements of a more balanced diet into the life of the client in order to ease the pressure of the overly restrictive diet. Priority must be made to reiterate that the client is not “failing” by introducing more flexible and sustainable methods, but rather shifting their dietary focus so as to make the dieting process as easy and enjoyable as possible while still progressing towards their overall health and fitness goals.

Possible methods for increasing the flexibility and sustainability of FAD diets.

  • Low carb high fat > introduce 1 carbohydrate meal into each day.
  • Intermittent fasting > move 1 meal a day to outside the eating window.
  • Food restrictive diets (vegan, paleo) > introduce small servings of restricted foods.
  • Clean eating/meal plan > introduce non-clean foods/off plan foods (often referred to in the industry as “cheat meals”) while ensuring that they are tracked for calories.
  • 5/2 diet > increase calories marginally on low days (reverse diet).

Like it or not, fad diets aren’t going anywhere.  However, it is not our job to criticize or judge the various methods marketed and pushed by fitness influencers and celebrities alike. Our role is simple, to do the best by our clients in the safest manor possible, while educating them so that they may continue to make good decisions even when not under our guidance. While we must abide to the fundamental rules of physiology, our imagination is our only limitation when it comes to determining dietary methods and protocols.

author: Aaron Hoey

Aaron Hoey is a head physique and strength coach at JPS, competitive physique and powerlifter and holds a bachelors in sports science.