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Fad diets: Let’s talk about paleo

What’s a fad diet? Are they good or bad? Could you tweak them to make them work for you?

First let’s talk about the global $192 billion dollar weight-loss industry that not just survives, but thrives by marketing to Americans and enticing them to “try the next diet” with no worry as “this new diet is personalized and different.”

Need proof that the weight-loss industry doesn’t have your best interests in mind?

When I was early in my coaching career, the company I was working for was pitching a lifestyle health program to a well-known weight-loss company that you’ve been hearing about for decades.

The healthy lifestyle program included exercise coaching using heart rate-based training. The weight-loss giant rejected the program because exercise slows hunger and would hurt the packaged-food division of the company that was marketed as a health-building program.

So, how do fad diets fit into it all?

Fad diets are defined as diets that are extremely popular for a short period of time and often promise unreasonably quick weight loss or health improvements without much scientific data to back their claims. These diets include the packaged meal industry, meal replacement, as well as plans such as paleo, low-carbohydrate, high-fat, high protein and plant-based diets.

The problem is that fad diets generally don’t work, and the failure rate of these diets should be a huge red flag for consumers. The industry knows that 90% of people who lose weight will not keep it off long term.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The good news is there are a few fad diets that are supported by science, can be sustainable long term, can produce significant weight loss and, most importantly, can build health. The key is knowing where each of them falls short so you can adjust.

Over the next few months, we’ll dive into the pros and cons of three of the best fad diets on the market, what’s good about them, what’s bad about them and how to decide whether they make sense for your health and lifestyle.

Today, let’s start with paleo.

Yes, it’s considered a fad diet, and it currently has the largest following of any diet on the market. Paleo followers eat like our paleolithic ancestors ate because of the belief that our human body hasn’t evolved enough to digest and absorb the anti-nutrients in legumes, grains and dairy. These foods are believed to lead to modern disease.

Paleo focuses on eating quality vegetables, seafood, fruits, spices, berries, nuts and seeds, and meat, and drinking plenty of water, while enjoying your daily “bullet-proof” coffee. This diet removes dairy, sugar, grains, alcohol, processed foods and starches. Paleo is classified as a fad diet in the industry as it restricts many whole-food, health-building food groups.

However, let’s be clear that the paleo diet has improved the food quality of America. Following this diet will teach you all about food quality. Paleo is “clean eating on steroids” with its grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon and loads of organic vegetables. If you want to clean up your diet to eat cleaner food, paleo could be beneficial. Other benefits are: Paleo has also shown to reduce belly fat; improve how insulin works in your body; reduce blood pressure; reduce blood sugar; and reduce cholesterol while still having substantial weight loss.

Paleo falls short by eliminating entire food groups such as grains, legumes and dairy. Anytime you eliminate entire food groups, it’s difficult to sustain a diet and maintain health. Being diligent in replacing nutrient deficiency that arises from removing food groups is important. A few vitamins and nutrients that fall deficient while following paleo include calcium, B vitamins and resistant starch.

Fad diets are not meant to be your lifetime eating plan because they fall short in nutrients and can be extremely difficult to maintain long-term. Stay tuned, as next month we will talk about the second most popular fad diet today – the Ketogenic Diet, which allows you to eat all the dairy and cheese that you missed out on with paleo.

Fran Sutherlin is a local registered dietitian, health coach, speaker and owner of Sustainable Nutrition, which has offices in Durango and Bayfield and offers virtual-coaching options. She can be reached at 444-2122 or fran@fransutherlin.com.

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