Every year has its fads. 2001 was the year of head-to-toe denim, frosted lip gloss… and eating low-carb. 2003 brought us fedoras, hoop earrings, and the famous South Beach Diet. Along with fashion and music, food has its fads, too. And while some of these fads focus on the fun and fashionable things people are eating (unicorn bread, anyone?) many of the trends that develop focus on weight loss.
This phenomenon isn’t anything new; strange diet solutions have been a thing since the early 20th century, when being thin started to come into fashion. You would gawk at some of the ridiculous diet trends your parents probably tried. What did 2018 add to the fad diet timeline?
When it comes to weight loss, people are willing to try all kinds of wild tactics, just so long as they’re promised that the tricks are “healthy.” The wellness industry knows this very well — and has come up with some wacky and weird diet solutions this year. A diet that cures depression? A cake made of chia seeds? All they need is the approval of one doctor, an industry-funded study, or a willing celebrity to endorse their trend and voila! People are almost always eager to try for themselves. Until, of course, other doctors and health experts warn them not to.
The results promised by these regimens and products begin at weight loss — but with the rise of body positivity and other movements, the industry has begun to promise so much more. Some of them claim to improve gut health, de-bloat, de-stress, eliminate anxiety, or even balance your hormones. The results certainly sound miraculous. Some of these treatments and products even claim to elongate your life. But the health risks posed by some fads could actually end up doing the opposite. Here are the most popular trends of the year (and a little advice on whether or not you should try them).
Teas claiming to help with weight loss have been all the rage on Instagram. Celebrities such as Iggy Azalea and Khloé Kardashian (whose diet is already pretty extreme to begin with) have publicly sworn by them — with the hashtag #ad tacked on the end. But can you really sip the pounds away with flat belly teas? Probably not. Many of these teas are actually just laxatives. Iggy Azalea, for instance, recently advertised a tea made with senna, a laxative substance that (according to the Mayo Clinic) can worsen stomach or bowel problems and interfere with certain medications. The discomfort and side effects probably are not worth the few pounds you probably won’t even lose.
The ketogenic diet, or the keto diet for short, claims to turn your body into a “fat burning machine” through extreme restriction of all carbohydrates. It started as a treatment for epilepsy and Parkinson’s; now, it has dieters everywhere eating bacon-stuffed avocados and avoiding pasta like the plague. A fast-track to weight loss that involves eating all the bacon you want? It sounds too good to be true! (So long as you don’t mind breath that smells like nail polish remover.) And advocates of the diet swear by the weight loss and apparent health benefits it delivers.
But is the keto diet really safe? “Despite the current popularity of a keto diet, there is no long-term evidence showing it is effective or safe,” said author, speaker and frequent television guest Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT. Turns out, there are some concerning consequences of eliminating carbs from your diet. And, as registered dietitian and Arivale coach Ginger Hultin explains, “there is a possibility of kidney damage, nutritional deficiencies, and side effects including constipation, dehydration, fatigue, and nausea.”
In addition to the health concerns, the diet may not be sustainable long-term. “The most common frustration I see with people who have attempted the ketogenic diet is yo-yo dieting afterwards,” Dana Harrison, registered dietitian behind Eats 2 Know, said. “If you break the rigid restrictions over time (ex: in social settings or just because), weight regain usually occurs, and it does so quickly. Despite all of this, the ketogenic diet has been researched as a prescribed diet in regards to health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and brain conditions.” If you don’t have those health conditions, though, there’s not a lot of evidence that eating only keto-friendly foods will keep you healthy for long.
Intermittent fasting is a blanket term used to describe diets wherein you are only permitted to eat during predetermined windows of time. Some intermittent fasters don’t eat for entire days. The current version attempted by some Silicon Valley tech gurus involves fasting for multiple days in a row, achieving what they believe is “biohacking.” A few of them told The Guardian that eating this way makes them feel “a mild euphoria” and intense levels of cognitive focus. Others who practice intermittent fasting eat every day, but consume all of their daily calories in four hours. Most iterations are more moderate, instructing adherents to eat during an 8-hour window of the day and fast for the other 16, for example. Kourtney Kardashian reportedly swears by this particular method.
Advocates of the diet claim humans are meant to eat this way, citing some particularly suggestive studies that seem to show that fasting staves off Alzheimer’s and extends lifespan. However, many dietitians express grave concern over the lack of research on side effects. While a lab rat may benefit on a cellular level, these studies fail to account for human reactions to stress and the limitations these diets impose on everyday life. “Intermittent fasting might result in an obsession with food, bingeing behaviors, hunger, feeling low energy, etc.,” explained registered dietitian Jillian Greaves. “Research on intermittent fasting in humans is limited and short in duration.”
Overall, Greaves said that the benefits of the diet don’t appear superior to those of the usual recommendations for healthy eating. “Physiologically we know our bodies work best when they get fuel consistently every 3 to 4 hours,” she said. “This helps with stable blood sugar and energy levels as well as satiety. Everyone is different, but I do not feel there is enough research to recommend fasting at this time.”
Modern science works under the assumption that humans are omnivores — but these dieters disagree. This wild weight loss craze involves eating red meat (and pretty much just red meat) for every meal. The slabs of steak are sometimes slathered in butter or topped with eggs to supplement some nutrition. But other than that, it’s red meat or bust. The carnivore diet grew in popularity in 2018 after endorsement from a few right-wing activists and sprouted a sizable online community through Reddit and Instagram. Who needs vegetables, anyway? According to science, you do. When dietitians were consulted about the healthfulness of this meat-heavy diet, they were more than a bit skeptical.
In January of 2018, Gwyneth Paltrow’s company blog posted a raving recommendation to self-perform a coffee enema. They may be taking the title “Goop” too seriously. Coffee enemas, and all other enemas, colonics, and various methods of colon cleansing, are a really bad idea. They are also completely unnecessary — your body can detox all on its own. (More on that later.)
Enemas were first diagnosed as a medical treatment in the 1800s. That’s the same medical era that prescribed swallowing leeches to get rid of a cough and gave narcotics to crying babies. The practice was largely condemned by the American Medical Association in 1919, and more recently, the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology called them “not merely useless but potentially dangerous.” Dangers of enemas include “rectal burning or perforation; infections (including sepsis, which can be life threatening); severe electrolyte imbalances (which have actually killed two people); colitis, and heart failure,” Donnica L. Moore, MD, told The Daily Meal. Flushing your colon in this way could actually kill you. If you fell for this tip, the only thing you really need to flush is your Internet history — and seek your health advice elsewhere.
Keep up with the Kardashians all you want, but you might want to steer clear of their diet advice. Earlier in 2018, Kim Kardashian was criticized for advertising her use of Flat Tummy Co. appetite-suppressant lollipops. According to the brand, the candies contain an ingredient that staves off appetite — in other words, it helps you ignore your natural cue that your body needs to eat. These lollipops may or may not work; they’re considered a dietary supplement, and therefore are not actually regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. But you know what definitely works to get rid of hunger? Eating food. And doing that is actually quite healthy, unlike relying on these products to avoid your appetite. Kim Kardashian was bashed online by other celebrities and many health experts for advertising a product that may promote disordered eating. You may want to (lolli) pop these in the trash.
The only “clean” eating you need to worry about is making sure you wash your produce. Foods aren’t “clean” or “dirty,” unless you’re choosing between a rinsed tomato and one you pulled fresh off the vine. “What is clean eating?” said registered dietitian Dana Harrison. “Sometimes I like to ask a group of people this question and hear their answers, which end up rarely being the same. Clean eating is a phrase that doesn’t have an exact definition, and I find that each person makes it their own.”
Most advocates of clean eating advocate eliminating processed foods and focusing on whole food ingredients such as vegetables, grains, and meats. And sure, adding lots of nutrient-rich foods to your diet will probably help you feel better, mentally and physically. But eating an Oreo here and there won’t derail your body’s functioning, nor will it taint the cleanliness of your colon — and viewing simple food choices as essentially a high-stakes battle between good and evil is not a very healthy approach.
“The idea behind it is positive,” Harrison says, “but I find it’s become a label that can come with some negative connotations. Clean vs. dirty; I should eat this, I shouldn’t eat that.” Condemning certain foods, such as processed foods, contributes to the idea that you need to eliminate entire food groups from your diet in order to be healthy — which, in turn, could be damaging to your mental health.
Jet-black ice cream, charcoal fish and chips, and venom cheese — all of these oddly-colored foods have one thing in common: They’re made with activated charcoal. Activated charcoal is a porous form of carbon that’s used either as a powder or in a pill form. You might have thought this trend burnt out in 2017, but in 2018 it was added to many smoothie bowls, recipes, and “wellness” drinks and tonics. Some people take activated charcoal pills daily. The idea is that the absorbent nature of activated charcoal makes it a detoxifying agent — removing the “bad stuff” from your digestive tract. However, activated charcoal doesn’t discriminate when it comes to what it absorbs. The substance is going to soak up anything that surrounds it in your stomach, including your food, vitamins, and maybe even medication. Some people believe that ingesting activated charcoal could counteract birth control pills. Will activated charcoal kill you? Probably not. But it’s best to be informed before eating or drinking the compound — otherwise you may suffer some consequences.
Gone are the days of traditional juice cleanses — but the concept of a digestive detox has (unfortunately) stuck around in 2018. Mushroom elixirs, lemon- and charcoal-infused waters, and restrictive diet plans are advertised with the promise of “detoxing” your body. The popular chain Pressed Juicery, for instance, sells a “Charcoal Detox Shot” and a “Celery Juice,” both of which they claim can help with detoxification. But the body doesn’t actually need to detox at all. According to the National Institutes of Health, “There isn’t any convincing evidence that detox or cleansing programs actually remove toxins from your body or improve your health.” Your liver, on the other hand, does work to remove toxins from your body — and it actually requires a variety of nutrients to work properly. Depriving yourself of food in favor of these tonics could do more harm than good. “I like to encourage my clients to show their liver some love by eating well balanced meals,” registered dietitian Jillian Greaves said. “Include more foods with nutrients that support liver health, such as broccoli, beets, garlic, nuts and seeds.”
As ardently as you might have hoped that weight loss belts and other wearable “fat blasters” died in the days of Jane Fonda, they are unfortunately making a comeback. Kim Kardashian has been advertising her waist trainer for over four years, ignoring the backlash she receives in response. Thanks to her and other celebrities, in 2018, people are still buying them. Waist trainers, for those who are unfamiliar, are essentially corsets designed to “train” your waist into an hourglass figure. Some brands also claim to work magic on your workouts, making them more effective at burning fat and building muscle. Based on what science, you ask? None. This is some Titanic-era logic, folks. Ask Kate Winslet: Corsets are no fun. But alas, the celebrity endorsements continue. In September, Jordyn Woods (good friend of Kylie Jenner) started selling pants with built-in waist trainers as part of her self-described “size-inclusive” clothing line. Oh, the irony.
Cauliflower is the new bread — or at least that’s what this trend would have you believe. Cauliflower pizza crust, cauliflower pasta, cauliflower rice, cauliflower mac and cheese… It seems like every carb under the sun has been replaced with florets of fresh cauliflower. But cauliflower is not, and will never be, an adequate replacement for the nutrients in these sources of carbohydrates. And as a result, it is not likely to ever feel as satisfying. Don’t misunderstand — cauliflower is great. It’s nutritious, versatile and (when prepared right) definitely delicious. “But if someone is replacing all grains and starches in their life with cauliflower, they are likely missing out on other important energy and nutrients,” says registered dietitian Jillian Greaves. “I’m all about finding creative ways to include more vegetables, but we still need to think about well balanced meals and meeting our basic macronutrient needs. I love my veggies, but there is no substitute for real pizza in my mind!”
Cryotherapy is a type of full-body physical therapy wherein you expose the body to subzero temperatures for short periods of time while nearly naked. Some cryotherapy involves temperatures lower than 200 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The health benefits promised by these therapies include things such as alleviating muscle soreness, clearing up acne, and preventing wrinkles. Some venues that offer the therapy even claim it can help you lose weight and improve your mood. However, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), there is no actual research backing these claims. There is evidence that such extremely cold temperatures can seriously injure the skin. The AAD says that these risks include suffocation, memory loss, frozen limbs, rashes, and frostbite. A frozen limb is as severe as it sounds — one woman who experienced this consequence had to thaw her arm slowly afterwards, suffering third-degree burns and painful swelling.
Trying an elimination diet is, essentially, exactly what it sounds like: eliminating a food or food group from your diet. A person with a dairy allergy, for instance, will likely be put on an elimination diet. Since they’re allergic, they avoid eating dairy. “These can also be very helpful for people who are having GI distress, bloating, and abnormal digestion,” registered dietitian Haley Hughes said. “It doesn’t hurt to use this diet as a technique to assess intolerances; it can be effective without serious risk of side effects like certain medications or invasive surgeries.” But recently, many people without corresponding health conditions (or with erroneous, self-diagnosed food intolerances) have given these diets a try. If you don’t have a health condition, going gluten-free, dairy-free, or free of pretty much anything else is actually pretty unnecessary. Despite what your favorite Instagram influencer might tell you, eliminating gluten probably isn’t going to solve your acne, anxiety, or depression. It will, however, be hugely inconvenient. And some elimination diets (such as a dairy-free diet) have uncomfortable and even harmful side effects.
Carb cycling is a diet trend that’s grown popular in the fitness community. The dieter will alternate their carb intake daily, weekly, or monthly in the hopes that strategically-timed carb consumption will manipulate their body composition. A person may, for instance, go ham on a ton of carb-heavy foods one day and then omit all carbs from their diet the next. The carb-loaded days are typically low-fat, while the no-carb days typically involve eating a lot of dietary fat.
Supporters of the diet claim that science is on their side. However, there aren’t actually any reliable, controlled studies on carb cycling at all. “The concept of ‘carb cycling’ is a fictitious, made up fad that not only has no basis in science but is also unnecessarily complicated and confusing,” said author, speaker and frequent television guest Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT. “All intact foods contain some combination of the three macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat), and trying to micromanage them can steer you in the wrong direction.”
Omitting nutritious foods (many of which have carbs) in the hopes of weight loss could do more harm than good. “A health-promoting, disease-fighting diet contains plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes,” Hever said. “These foods happen to be higher in carbohydrates, but that means they have plenty of crucial fiber, too. Eliminating or minimizing intake of these foods has long been shown to promote most chronic diseases.” Here’s a much healthier form of carb cycling: Ride your bike to a nearby bakery. That sounds more fun, anyway.
With sugar on this year’s naughty list, many have taken to avoiding their most beloved dessert foods. Instead of eating actual pie, cake, or cookies, people have begun creating their own diet-friendly versions. Keto truffles made of cacao and coconut oil. Brownies made of sweet potato and artificial sweetener. Companies are selling protein cookies and low-calorie ice cream. Halo Top even outsold Ben & Jerry’s and became the top-selling ice cream brand in the United States. There’s no denying these desserts are popular. And one has to applaud the creativity of some of these low-sugar concoctions. Almost-zero-carb cheesecake, anyone?
But gorging on these not-so-sweet treats might not be such a great idea. In moderate amounts, eating these foods isn’t harmful, per se — it’s just not that satisfying. But eating excessive amounts (as one is psychologically inclined to do when feeling food-deprived) of these items could be. “A lot of these ‘diet ice creams,’ for example, claim 300 calories for the entire pint,” explained registered dietitian Bari Stricoff. “To achieve that, they often use sugar alcohols, which have fewer calories than normal sugar and do not raise blood sugar levels. But, when sugar alcohols are consumed in large quantities, they can cause digestive issues. These may include gas, bloating, diarrhea, pain, etc.” Additionally, depriving yourself of the foods you actually want to eat (like the real cake and cookies you’re craving) could have adverse effects on your health long-term. “In not allowing ourselves to have the ice cream or real dessert we truly enjoy, we can end up obsessing over the ‘forbidden’ food,” explained registered dietitian Melainie Rogers. That can result in a rebound effect, causing binging.
If you’ve walked into any Sephora, Ulta, or Anthroplogie lately, you’ve probably seen these odd-looking contraptions. They’re called jade rollers and they’re made with jade stones meant to be rolled strategically across your face. They originated in China in the 17th century; certain patterns of rolling these precious stones are rumored in the modern day to remove toxins and ease inflammation (in other words, clear up acne). You store them in your freezer, so they stay nice and cold (and clean) for your topical use. This tool can be soothing if you’re using it solely for self-care. It’s basically like a freezing-cold face massage. But some purveyors of the product claim that the rollers can thin out your face or even stave off wrinkles. These claims are unfounded — experts say that while the tool may drain some lymphatic swelling from your cheeks, it won’t have any lasting effects on face shape or fatness.
Of the many powders that were sold this year, collagen was one of the most popular. People advocated adding the powder to your coffee, smoothies, dinners, or even desserts with the promise of health benefits. Collagen is, essentially, a structural protein that serves as a building block for your bones, muscles, and other tissues. It’s also a critical component of your skin, serving to bind it together and maintain its strength. A decrease in collagen production is one of the reasons your skin wrinkles as you age. The powders sold for consumption claim to counteract aging and boost hair growth and skin health and even give you stronger nails. Some say they are the ultimate beauty supplement. Companies typically make these powders from animal bones, skin, and cartilage.
Some preliminary studies have suggested a few benefits, almost all of which are related to pain reduction — not beautification. A couple of small studies show the supplements could increase skin elasticity. However, the research on this is very preliminary — far from sufficient to prove any kind of lasting benefit. Dr. Mark Moyad warned Time that these powders are probably not a cure-all — and that they might contain other more harmful fillers such as heavy metals or creatine.
2018 was a year of overwhelming production of nutritional supplements, including drinks infused with the nutrients of multiple spinach servings and personalized vitamins. These supplements often include large amounts of minerals, electrolytes, or adaptogens. No amount of supplementation can balance out a nutrient-deprived diet; but they can be useful to fill in the gaps when needed. “Supplements can be important for addressing specific nutrient deficiencies,” explains registered dietitian Jillian Greaves. “However, a lot of what is out there being marketed is either not necessary or not providing a real health benefit, so it’s important to check with a credentialed health care provider before starting a supplement.” The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t actually regulate these supplements and pills; do your research before relying on them.
To perform a saltwater cleanse, you would down an entire glass (or more) of saltwater on an empty stomach. According to some health bloggers, this trick can provide a number of health benefits, ranging from balancing hormones to reducing pain and inflammation. Because of these bloggers and other advocates, the trend grew in popularity. But don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, kids. Drinking a cup of saltwater is a really bad idea. Adding large amounts of salt to the digestive tract is actually frequently prescribed before a colonoscopy because it works as a laxative — the excess salt flushes your colon with water and, well, “flushes” everything out. This isn’t something you should do regularly, or really ever. Not only can the cleanse result in severe dehydration, but it is also totally pointless. The science is clear: Your body does not need to be “cleansed” or “detoxed” of anything. It performs those functions all on its own. And relying on what’s essentially a laxative for weight loss is probably not smart, either. So unless you’re getting a colonoscopy, don’t do this.
A “sugar cleanse” is a set period of time, usually around a week to a month long, wherein a person eliminates all added sugars from their diets. You might think that this is relatively benign. After all, what’s the harm in cutting back on a few sweets? Advocates of sugar cleanses claim that since Americans eat so much sugar, trying to eliminate it entirely for a short period of time can help raise awareness and improve overall health.
But you’d be surprised how difficult it can really be to eliminate added sugar — and how few actual benefits there are to doing so. Sugar is in more foods than you’d think; so cutting all of these foods out could cut a great deal of time and freedom from your day, too. Going to eat or drink with friends becomes difficult when you can’t eat any added sugar. You might spend large amounts of your time looking into the contents of your food, instead of just enjoying it. Additionally, you could experience some consequences to your mental health along the way. “When we end up ‘falling off the wagon’ or we choose to reintroduce these foods to our diet, it can often create an ‘out of control’ feeling that may lead to binging,” explained registered dietitian and eating disorder specialist Melainie Rogers. “Not only can this be harmful for our bodies physically, it also has a psychological impact.” And is eating some added sugar every now and then really that harmful? Nutritionists almost never advocate eliminating it entirely — here’s what they say you should do instead.
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