Researching Fad Diets: Do Your Homework!

fad diets

I think by now you all know that I’m not a fan of fad diets. But I can sit here and tell you that they suck until I’m blue in the face, and it still might not matter. 

You want what you want, and I get it. I’m not here to tell you that you’re wrong for wanting ANYTHING. 

But I am here to arm you with knowledge. If you’re going to cave and give in to your fad diets, I want you to do your research. And I’m here to help you with that!

RELATED: 3 Things to Know Before Beginning Your Next Diet

How Can I Help?

So right now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that if I disapprove of fad diets, then how can I possibly help you decide on which one to try next? I’ll be honest, my hope is that you’ll ultimately decide against all of them. But what I want you to see the research for yourself, and make your own decisions. 

One of the great things about being a Registered Dietitian is that I had 7 years of unbiased training. No one was trying to sell anything when educating me, for instance. No one was trying to sway me one way or the other about any sort of controversial nutritional opinions. I learned the straight-up facts about the human body and the physiology, biology, and chemistry of the body, plus the straight-up facts about all of the nutrients and the roles they play in the body.

Part of this training ALSO included how to RESEARCH properly. And that’s the part I want to help you with right now.  I want you to be able to make your own decisions. And to do that, you have to know where to get your information.

Where to Start

The first thing I want you to do is this: question and challenge ALL nutrition advice that comes your way through word of mouth or social media. Keep this mind- anyone can say anything that crosses their minds, both in real life and online. 

When someone starts telling you about the new fad diet they just started, stop yourself from falling into the trap. Maybe it’s a good choice for you, but maybe it’s not. Remind yourself, that just because it’s working for this person (right now) does not mean it will be right for YOU. And it does not mean that it’s sound or safe advice. 

If it’s something you want to look into, then go ahead. I highly encourage you to do your research.

What to Look For

When you’re looking for information online, you want to look for scientific research studies first and foremost. Don’t get sidetracked by blog posts or chat forums or Facebook threads. These are just any person on the internet saying whatever they want. Yes, some blogs do only publish relevant and well-researched information. But you need to consider the author when going this route. Most importantly, is the person qualified or does this person cite resources to qualified information?

When looking for scientific research studies, there are some other things you want to consider as well. Not all scientific research provides accurate results. Some are preliminary and only show associations and not cause and effect or necessarily anything concrete. This means that they can be interpreted differently by different groups of people. So you also need to look at who is publishing the research. If for instance, Nestle is publishing the research, they’re going to interpret their findings, or perhaps inadvertently place a bias on the study in a way that leads people towards their products and not away from them.

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Below is a list of things to consider when reading research studies (1,2,3,4):

  • Who funded and published the study? As I said above, whoever funded and published could inadvertently affect the study to benefit themselves.
  • How well is the study designed? Did they have a control in the experiment? Are there any limitations that could affect the findings?
  • How long was the study conducted? If it was only for a short period of time, this skews the findings. Longer studies will show a more accurate representation of the data.
  • How big was the sample size of the study? The sample size is the number of subjects tested. If there are only 10 subjects, this could create drastically different results as opposed to hundreds of subjects.

Reading about Fad Diets

Now, I realize that the chances that you’ll actually sit through and read real research studies are slim.  You’re not a healthcare professional or a statistician. You’ve got your own special talents that make you, you, but chances are, research is not one of them.

So let’s talk about reading the articles that you actually want to read! 

First, I want to reiterate- question and examine every article (2). You need to ask yourself questions as you read ANY piece of information, whether it’s a blog post, a newspaper article, a magazine article, a website, or a social media account. 

Below are some questions to ask:

  • Who is the author? Are they qualified? What are their credentials? Do they cite their resources when it counts? Can you even FIND the author? You should be able to find out who wrote the article easily. (1,3,4)
  • Where is the document from? Is the website a .com? .org? .edu? .gov? (3)
    • .coms just mean they are a business. They still need to cite their work just like anyone else, but they may not. Plus, keep in mind, anyone can create a .com 
    • .org or .edu or .gov usually mean more credible information, however, you should still continue to question and examine. Find out who the author is, and look for their research.
  • What is the motive of this person writing this article? Are they biased? Trying to sell something? (4)
  • How did this person collect the data? Are the conclusions they drew reasonable based on the data that was provided, or are they interpreting it based on their own personal opinions?
  • Is this article only providing “anecdotal evidence” (1) or actual research-based evidence? Anecdotal evidence is basically a compilation of personal stories. They are not controlled or factored with the many variables that may be present. It cannot determine actual conclusions, and furthermore, there could be missing facts that may even present danger. 

What NOT to Rely On When Researching Fad Diets

  • “Too good to be true” kind of information (2). Basically, anything that makes any of kind guarantees or claims for dramatic results. When it comes to nutrition, there is no one magic key that will “fix” everyone. Therefore, if it’s real and sound and relevant advice from a qualified professional, they will NOT make a guarantee that sounds something like Lose THIS MUCH weight in THIS MUCH time, or “Guaranteed results” or “Get a 6 pack in 6 weeks”. They simply cannot know that this is true, and is the mark of a fad diet that will not work. 
  • Testimonials. Don’t get me wrong, I love testimonials. When they’re used correctly. One person’s experience is not a reliable source. So don’t look at a testimonial that someone wrote about having lost 10 pounds doing this diet and assume that you’re going to also lose 10 pounds, that the diet is safe, or that the diet even works in the long term. One person’s story does not take into consideration other variables that could be affecting this person’s experience. Take testimonials exactly for what they are- a personal story of why that one, single person was happy with the diet or program or service. Not how it will help you. Not as research on the safety or reliability of the diet or program. Simply- this person was helped in the way that this person was looking for. That’s it. When reading testimonials, use them only as supporting factors in your decision, not as your total research. Use them to determine if people were happy with the customer service, support, and reliability of the person you are seeking guidance from for a program that you’ve already decided to try, to ensure you’re enlisting the right help. But not to decide if the program or diet is reliable.  Also, keep in mind that a good testimonial should be honest and not just full of words that they think you want to hear. If you read a testimonial and it sounds like a pushy salesman at the mall kiosk- run!
  • Websites trying to sell you something. If you happen to see some information given to you from someone trying to sell you something, take it with a grain of salt. Look it up somewhere else. If you can’t find it anywhere, run. If you find it but the evidence is lacking or non-existent, run, or at least proceed with caution. 
  • Social Media Influencers. Anyone on social media with thousands of followers is considered an influencer. These people are being paid to promote products. That being said, ethical businesses will promote products they believe in. So I’m not saying that this means the product or program or diet is bad just because someone is promoting it. But look at the person promoting it. Do you trust this person? Do they have authority or qualifications as a nutrition professional (ahem, Registered Dietitian)? And, do they use the product themselves, or do they just appear to be posing with it? If all that checks out, continue to examine and research and look further. 

Where To Find Good Nutrition Resources

Still Don’t Know What You’re Looking At?

I want to help! Please feel free to email me questions to amanda@happilynourished.net. Also, you can also download my free guide: 5 Steps to Take Now to Stop Calorie Counting for Good and get started on ending all of the crazy on-again-off-again fad diets once and for all!

fad diets

References

  1. Nutritious Life. (2019). Instagram Health Trends: How to Tell Fact From Fiction. [online] Available at: https://nutritiouslife.com/professional/instagram-health-trends-fact-fiction/slide/1.-learn-to-read-science,-not-just-cite-it/ [Accessed 26 Sep. 2019].
  2. Mayo Clinic. (2019). Nutrition claims: How to tell fact from fiction. [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/nutrition-claims-how-to-tell-fact-from-fiction/art-20300972 [Accessed 26 Sep. 2019].
  3. Libguides.wpi.edu. (2019). Guides: Nutrition: Evaluating Nutrition Information. [online] Available at: http://libguides.wpi.edu/nutrition/evaluate [Accessed 26 Sep. 2019].
  4. Ods.od.nih.gov. (2019). [online] Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/Health_Information/How_To_Evaluate_Health_Information_on_the_Internet_Questions_and_Answers.aspx [Accessed 26 Sep. 2019].
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