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The Truth about Fad Diets

Posted on January 17, 2019 by Dr. Claudia Pastides
Over 50s eating healthy over dinner table

The words “Happy New Year” have only just passed our lips and the whole world is already eagerly throwing itself at a variety of healthy eating trends and fad diets as part of the infamous New Year’s Resolution.

Over the years we have been told that diets are bad for us. They’re not sustainable, will only result in short term weight loss and that we will just end up piling it all back on. But is this always the case?

It is not impossible to lose weight

When approaching dieting in a gradual, supported and positive way that is tailored to the individual, people are much more likely to both achieve and (importantly) sustain weight loss.

The main thing that failed diets have in common is that they are too restrictive and don’t suit everyone’s lifestyle, making them difficult to stick to.

On top of that, they often restrict whole food groups, eliminate necessary nutrients and completely ignore the fact that there is much more to weight loss than purely counting calories in versus calories burned. Food is not just fuel. It is a huge part of our lifestyle, culture and relationships.

The following are a few very popular but restrictive diets that many find unsustainable:

The Keto Diet

• This high-fat, very low carbohydrate diet typically means eating fewer than 50 grams of carbs a day. That’s less than 3 slices of bread a day or 3 potatoes.

• It works by making your body burn fat to make energy (instead of burning carbohydrates) and it puts the body in a state called ‘ketosis.’

• The problem with this diet is that the high fat content combined with limits on nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables and grains is a concern for long-term heart health.

Intermittent fasting

• There are a few ways of approaching this diet. One is by having a number of days a week where you eat a very low number of calories (you might have heard of the 5:2 diet for example) and the other way is to eat only during certain hours and skip certain meals of the day.

• This diet works by essentially limiting the number of calories that go in and several studies have found lower blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels with fasting.

• It works well for some as it permits moderate eating outside of those restricted days or hours, however many cannot keep this diet up as life inevitably gets in the way. For example, you might be faced with celebrations or meals out on the restricted days or during the restricted hours that make it almost impossible to stick to fasting.


• Melissa Hartwig, the creator of the Whole30 diet, recommends eliminating “the most common craving-inducing, blood sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days.”

This diet involves (for a whole 30 days) consuming no:

  • Sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Dairy
  • Junk food
  • Certain additives (such as MSG)

Some like this diet because it doesn’t involve calorie counting but it is a pretty unforgiving and restrictive diet that states if you break the rules, you have to start the 30 days all over again.

So, what is a healthy way to lose weight when you’re over 50?

I asked registered nutritionist and director of Sano, Heather Richards, whether there is anything she recommends in particular to anyone over the age of 50 who is trying to lose weight.

She confirmed that with age it “becomes harder for us to balance our blood sugar levels, resulting in more cravings, potential for overeating and weight gain” and that this can make weight loss harder.

Her tips are to only eat at mealtimes, avoid snacking and make sure you are getting enough omega 3 essential fatty acids in your diet “by eating Sardines, Mackerel, Anchovies, Salmon and Herring (SMASH) at least 3 times a week”.

Regardless of age, it is important to focus on small and realistic changes, such as cutting back the sugar in your tea until you no longer even like your tea with sugar in it, or by removing biscuits from the weekly shopping list. These relatively small changes can make a large impact over time and are more likely to lead to sustainable weight loss.


Please note: The materials in this post are in no way intended to replace the professional medical care, advice, diagnosis or treatment of a doctor. The article does not have answers to all problems. Answers to specific problems may not apply to everyone. If you notice medical symptoms or have questions about the topics raised in this article, please consult your doctor.