Fad diets are not the answer to finding a balanced lifestyle

Photo by Darien Funk

In the deadline-ridden, budgeted lives of university students, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise can be hard. The popularity of fad diets, which promise quick weight loss with debated proof, complicates matters.

“We plan everything in our lives except for our nutrition,” Tom Hazell, a kinesiology professor at Laurier said. 

“Every fad diet is bad,” Hazel said. “Most of them do work in the short term, but when you get off the diet, there’s something called the yo-yo effect where you gain that weight back.” 

From cleanses that replace solid foods with juice to the now well-known intermittent fasting where meals are only eaten during certain times, fad diets are everywhere. The Keto diet, which was the world’s most Googled food topic in 2020, consists of high-fat, low-carb foods with moderate protein. 

“I don’t think there’s anything magical about only eating fat and low-carbs,” Hazell said. “People want to pick on a macronutrient that’s bad, but really, too much energy is bad.” 

He suggested eating enough protein and healthy fat, while basing the rest of meals in carbs to fill our activity levels. 

“A diet just has to be something you follow,” added Hazell. “So if you can live on intermittent fasting, it can be effective as long as it’s what you’re meant to do — same with Keto.” 

For many, the trickiest part of dieting is consistency — two out of five regular dieters quit within the first week and just 20 per cent make it to three months. After all, cost, convenience and social factors tend to interfere. 

“You could certainly eat junk food. As soon as those diets start telling you what you can’t eat, there’s gonna be a point in time where it’s not realistic anymore,” Hazell said. “But if you focus on what you’re eating five plus days a week, you can allow some flexibility.” 

The key is meal planning, which limits less nutrient-dense foods. Hazell also recommends small habits, such as taking half a restaurant meal home instead of finishing it all at once. 

While it’s no secret that diet and exercise go hand in hand, the relationship is more direct than appears. “There’s lots of research that suggests exercise can induce appetite suppression,” Hazel said. “The idea is when you exercise, you’re likely to eat less than you would’ve with no exercise.” 

High intensity interval training (HIIT) has become a favourite workout due to its time efficiency and weight loss payoff. Results from a PhD study done by Hazell show HIIT to reduce more fat mass than continuous intensity workouts, all while taking less time. Another of his studies suggests HIIT exercise may cause less calories to be consumed in recovery, leading to its effectiveness. 

“If we’re going to leave people with a message, it’s that they should check in on how they’re eating — not every day, but routinely over the weeks,” Hazell said. “Having an idea of what should be on your plate is a good place to start and Canada’s Food Guide is not a bad illustration.”

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