Why Fad Dieting Comes and Goes So Quickly

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM


A clock on a plate, depicting intermittent fasting and fad dietingDiet fads come and go so quickly, it can be nearly impossible to keep up with all of the facts. Today we will be taking a look at 8 diets that are the leaders in fad dieting. We will take a look at each diet and examine the pros and cons. There is no mystery to whether your diet impacts your health or not; we know that they do. However, what the actual health impacts may be are a little harder to decipher. Let’s take a look at these top 8 fad diets, and see their impacts on the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response.

Fad Dieting and the NEM Stress Response

The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response system is an innovative way of seeing how the systems of the body function together. The NEM system acts as a visual lens which we can see the functions of the body, that would otherwise be unseen. There are six circuits in the NEM Stress response; metabolic, inflammation, detoxification, cardionomic, hormonal, and neuroaffect. In a healthy body, these six circuits work in unison, and an ideal environment for a healthy life would be present.

Top 8 Fad Diets:

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is pretty self-explanatory, but is low on the radar of the fad dieting scene. Each particular plan may vary a bit. The overall concept is not eating for a certain amount of hours. This is most commonly 16 hours of no eating, or fasting, leaving an 8-hour window where you can eat all of your meals. This diet has been coined “The 8 Hour Diet” or “The Fast Diet”. There are variations of the diet that add calorie restrictions on varying days. But, all in all, intermittent fasting is exactly what it sounds like.

The pros of intermittent fasting

Advocates of the diet claim the diet work because when you fast, you can reduce your hormone fluctuations (i.e. insulin). Hormones such as insulin can raise after you eat, and can store fat in your body. Additionally, it is in many senses a calorie restrictive diet, fewer calories obviously mean weight loss will naturally follow. This diet appears to help certain hormones of the NEM system to equalize to healthier levels.

The cons of intermittent fasting

When you are fasting, you are likely to be hungry. This can increase mood swings and cause crankiness. You may be apt to become “hangry” as they say. These issues may make it difficult to stick to a long-term diet plan.

Vegan Diet

Vegan diet, one of the most popular fad dieting scenesThis, for many, is a complete overhaul of the diet. The vegan diet is absent to all animal products including dairy, eggs, fish, and meat, though honey is up for debate. This type of fad dieting, if practiced correctly, can be a diet rich in fruits, grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts and vegetable oils. When the diet is properly designed and balanced, it can be one of the cleanest diets there is.

The pros of the vegan diet

The heavy dose of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, makes the vegan diet high in nutrients like potassium, and fiber. It is also high in antioxidants and other key minerals. Furthermore, the diet is low in salt, saturated fats, and empty calories. The vegan diet has a myriad of healing benefits which arise from eating whole foods and fresh produce. This diet can really shed the pounds when it is done right. Despite what most people think, plants like broccoli, beans, and lentils are high in protein. As long as the diet is balanced, there is no need to worry about protein intake. When this diet is balanced, it can lead to a strong balance in most, if not all of the NEM circuits, especially the hormonal and inflammatory.

The cons of the vegan diet

When the diet is not well balanced, this diet can create a false illusion of health and can be one of the worst diets there is. For example, many vegans eat heavy amounts of vegan junk food without remorse. Oreos and almond milk are vegan after all, and so are many other nutritionless foods. Practicing a vegan diet is more than avoiding animal products, you must also take care of yourself. Furthermore, there are a few nutrients like B12 and vitamin D that need to be supplemented as they are largely absent in the diet. If this diet is unbalanced, it can be more harmful to the NEM stress response than most other diets. Care must be taken to ensure this diet is done correctly.

The DASH Diet

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension which unsurprisingly was developed with the goal of helping patients to manage high blood pressure. It is a low-fat, low-sodium diet, and is commonly prescribed by healthcare professionals like cardiologists. The direct effects of this diet would not cause weight loss, as that is not its intention. But if practiced in the long run, may lead to weight loss.

The pros of the DASH diet

Due to the heavy doses of whole grains, vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy options, this diet is loaded with potassium, calcium, and fiber. It is also low in fat and sodium, which comes with some obvious benefits. The DASH diet has been shown in clinical studies to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, lower blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. All of this is, of course, excellent for the carionomic, and other circuits of the NEM.

The cons of the DASH diet

This diet is not an overnight success story; it involves long-term lifestyle changes in order to work. This can be a deterrent to those that want to stick to the diet. However, a dietitian can set you on the right path, and lead your diet to succeed. Also, this diet is not for junk food fanatics as they are to be eliminated under this diets’ guidelines. That being said, this diet may be necessary for those that have heart conditions.

The TLC Diet

TLC diet, one of the most popular fad dieting scenesThis one was created by the National Institute of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program and is endorsed by the American Heart Association. The TLC diet stands for Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes. This diet requires a dramatic cut in fats, especially saturated fat. This diet is unsurprisingly focused on lowering cholesterol in the blood.

The pros of the TLC diet

This diet claims to lower cholesterol in the body by 8-10 percent in only 6 weeks. This is a diet which the entire family can follow. Calorie limits for men are 2,500 and 1,800 for women makes this diet hardly “calorie restrictive”. The main focus is cutting saturated and trans fats, which is a wise choice for anyone looking to avoid heart disease. This diet may have some impact on the NEM stress response particularly the cardionomic. That being said, this diet is created for the sole reason of limiting cholesterol, and may not have many impacts on the NEM stress response beyond that.

The cons of the TLC diets

You will be limited in the amount of saturated fat that you can consume as only 7% of your calories can come from saturated fat. You are also limited to a consumption of 200mg of cholesterol a day. These two values are not easy to determine so this diet can take a bit of planning and calculation. There are also other strict requirements, which, without the assistance of a dietician can be difficult to maintain.

The MAYO Clinic Diet

This diet promises results, but they won’t happen fast. This diet is focused on lifestyle requirements, like not eating in front of the TV, or eating mindlessly. It’s simple guidelines and has been claimed to help dieters shed 6-10 pounds in just two weeks.

The pros of the MAYO diet

This diet focuses on healthy lifestyle changes and encourages exercise. Making this diet unique, the focus is not only on the food itself but is also in your habits. This means no food group is off limits, so this diet may be a bit easier for those that don’t want to give up certain foods. But don’t be deceived….

The cons of the MAYO diet

This diet starts with a restrictive phase called the “Lose it!” phase. It requires some deprivation and restricts sugar intake, full-fat dairy and eating out. The second phase is the “Live it!” phase. This phase calls for calorie counting, and also focuses on the number of servings eaten per day. Proper proportioning is a must, which can make this diet a bit restrictive.

Low-Carb Diets

Low-carb diet, one of the most popular fad dieting scenesMany popular diets fall in this umbrella diet category. Most notably, the Atkins fad dieting program. Though it is not as widespread as it once was, it is still making its rounds through the diet circuits. Other low-carb diets include the South Beach diet®, The Zone® diet, Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet®. All of these diets advocate low-carb eating, but also allow for generous portions of protein and fat.

The pros of low-carb diets

Proponents of this diet claim that by restricting, or eliminating carbohydrates and sugars, that weight loss will follow. Of course, this appears to make sense. High carb diets can cause the body to store excess fluids so if you cut carbs from the diet, your body should then release fluids and henceforth cause you to lose weight. Some on this diet have even reported improved blood sugar levels, which is one factor that can also lead to weight gain. This diet is safe for the short term, but long-term effects are not yet totally understood.

The cons of the low-carb diet

This diet allows you to indulge in fats and proteins. This can lead to going overboard on items like butter, bacon, and eggs, that many other diets place in the off-limits category. Due to the high saturated fats, this can lead to a sharp rise in cholesterol. Also, due to the lack of foods with carbs, nutrient deficiencies can occur. Other common side effects of this diet include a headache and constipation. This diet is perhaps the only diet which can have a negative impact on the NEM stress response, whether it is practiced correctly or not. Especially, in the long term.

The Paleo Diet

Paleo diet, the newest fad dieting scenePerhaps one of the newest diets on the fad dieting scene, this diet is based on the theory that our bodies will fair better on the foods of our caveman ancestors meaning an elimination of processed foods which are, as you may know, the basis of the modern diet.

The pros of the paleo diet

This diet eliminates processed junk foods, which have often been associated with chronic diseases like inflammation, diabetes, and joint pain. Foods which are allowed include wild fish, grass-fed meats, poultry, eggs, fruits, nuts, and vegetables, all of which tend to be nutrient-dense. It is also high in heart-healthy fats like fish, olive oil, and avocados. Dairy, grains, legumes, starches, processed foods, alcohol, sugar, and substitutes are off limits, but overall, you may feel better once those pounds start to drop. This diet and any diet rich in whole foods can be beneficial for the inflammatory, and cardionomic circuit of the NEM system.

The cons of the paleo diet

Without grains, this diet is low in carbs. You may also feel deprived when you first give up a lot of the junk food that may be present in your diet. Due to the fact that this diet is restrictive and will eliminate many food groups, supplementation may be required. This diet may be difficult to follow in the long run, as it is so far removed from the modern diet. Special care needs to be taken to maintain a healthy NEM stress response through supplementation and meal planning.

The Mediterranean Diet

This diet is balanced and heart-healthy. Furthermore, it is well researched, advocates an active lifestyle, and social eating. The Mediterranean diet is one of the easiest to follow of the fad dieting scene. It is loosely structured and advocates an increased intake of whole foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, seafood, and olive oil.

The pros of the Mediterranean diet

If your goal is an amazing heart-healthy option, without the focus on weight loss, this diet is what you are looking for. It is easy to follow. The diet focuses mainly on increasing consumption of healthy foods and avoiding junk foods. This diet also encourages cooking at home, and family or social meals. Perhaps, best of all, this diet allows for a little bit of red wine once a day. This diet, like the paleo, is rich in whole foods making it one of the diets in the fad dieting craze that is excellent for improving cardionomic, and inflammatory circuits of the NEM stress response.

The cons of the Mediterranean diet

This is not necessarily a weight loss centered diet, though it may help you to lose weight. The reduction of red meats, poultry, dairy, and sweets may not be for everyone. This diet requires a bit of a tweak to your shopping and eating habits, but all in all the studies say it’s worth it.

What’s the Point?

Most of these eight fad diets, with the exception of the low-carb diet, are safe and possibly even healthy. The DASH and TLC diets are excellent for those that have had conditions that require them to cut cholesterol. Diets rich in whole foods are likely the best diets from the fad dieting craze for the NEM stress response system. The three diets, vegan, paleo, and the Mediterranean diet, likely carry the widest range of benefits for the NEM stress response as a whole. Every diet is highly personal to you, and you should do your own research when deciding which diet is for you.

© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Truth is many diets in the fad dieting scene are very overrated, and some are even dangerous. That being said there are quite a few that are actually quite effective, and can lead to a healthier life. The healthiest diets may just surprise you.


Fad dieting