Tried one of the trendiest diets of 2019 yet? Because the promise of “dropping five kilos in three days” is seriously appealing, right? But the truth is that a lot of the time these “get-slim-quick” fad diets do more harm than good, so it’s important to separate what works from what doesn’t.
Here, a breakdown of the top three crazy-diet-fads of 2019 so far – the science, the B.S. and the bottom line.
The Snake Diet
Mimicking the eating patterns of a snake, the idea is that human bodies haven’t evolved to eat as consistently as we do and are better suited to eating patterns that throw back to the days of scarcity. The Snake Diet has less to do with what you’re eating and more to do with when.
Think intermittent fasting… but next-level. This diet suggests keeping your eating window to a strict one to two hours with 22 hours of fasting. The perk? Instead of pure fasting, you get to drink “snake juice” – a mixture of water, potassium chloride, Himalayan pink salt, baking soda and food-grade Epsom salts. Yum.
The science: Fasting can be beneficial and you’re going to lose weight.
Of course you’re going to lose weight. Before even considering the possible benefits of being in a fasted state for a set period of time each day, if you’re only able to eat for one to two hours, you’re going to consume fewer kilojoules.
There is some science that backs the benefits of intermittent fasting. One of the largest claims: a drop in insulin levels during the fasted state fires up fat-burning. Available studies tend to agree. Animal studies have also shown promising results on fasting’s effect on blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. But… these results are based on much more conservative fasting patterns.
The B.S.: It’s great for your overall health.
Twenty-two hours of fasting is extreme. Dropping your kilojoule intake to a level below your basal metabolic rate (the minimum amount of kilojoules to keep your body functioning at a rest state) means your body will start trying to readjust to its new kilojoule budget. After the first big weight dip, your body starts adapting to its new caloric restriction, slowing down your metabolism, holding on to available fat stores and breaking down muscle for energy.
Nutrients in snake juice simply won’t meet your needs. Also, one day of snake juice contains 4 000mg of sodium – nearly double the amount you should be consuming per day. Besides ODing on sodium, you’re likely going to find yourself lacking other essential nutrients that would be near impossible to consume in such a short window.
The bottom line: If you’re set on trying intermittent fasting, give it a go. As long as you’re keeping track of your macro-nutrient needs and ensuring your intake of essential vitamins and minerals doesn’t take a dip, you could reap the possible benefits of fasting while maintaining your overall health and wellbeing.
But… Such a tight eating window is unnecessary and potentially dangerous. As far as the snake juice goes? Skip it.
Anything to do with “detox”
This buzzword has been blazing its way through fad-health circles for a while now, whether it be a 10-day juice-only cleanse or some exclusive (read: expensive) tea. These diets claim to cleanse your body, ridding it of “toxins” and getting it functioning optimally again.
The science: You’re going to lose weight.
You can lose weight quickly on a detox, but this is mostly due to a loss in fluids and carb stores, not fat cells. Result: You pick up the weight when you return to normal eating. If you’re juicing, you’re probably not consuming anything near the amount of kilojoules you usually do, so you’re going to see a drop on the scale. And that’s great – if you’re interested in temporary weight loss that’s impossible to maintain for any extended period of time without wreaking havoc on your metabolism and nutrition. Yup.
The B.S.: You need to actively detox.
Your body already functions as it should. Your organs are hard at work, doing their job to make sure your body gets rid of the things it doesn’t need and makes the most of what it does. Unless you have a medical condition that affects the functioning of your liver and other organs, your own body is already doing everything a “detox diet” promises.
The bottom line: Skip the juice. If you’ve got your heart set on cleaning your system out, rather opt for a lifestyle adjustment. Cutting down on alcohol does wonders for your liver. And while your body does a great job at detoxing you of most chemicals, organic pollutants, heavy metals and BPA are difficult to flush. Watch out for the types of plastics you’re using for food and drink. Better yet, switch to glass to decrease exposure to BPAs and heavy metals and grow a few of your fave veggies to reduce your intake of organic pollutants.
READ MORE: Can Chia Seeds Really Help You Lose Weight?
The Carnivore Diet
Popularised by Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, this otherwise obviously unnatural diet had gained some traction recently. The carnivore diet promotes eating only animal products, encouraging the intake of red meat and salt exclusively. This means no veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, starches, legumes or grains. The diet is supposed to help with weight loss, digestive problems and overall health and performance.
The science: You might lose weight and you might be cured of… something.
Yeah, it’s possible you’re going to lose weight by eating a really restrictive diet. Not because you have to consume less food, but because there’s so much you can’t eat. (You’re not going to be mindlessly munching on strips of steak at the movies. Trust us.) Plus: All your sweet treats and greasy indulgences are a no-go. Protein is also satiating, so you’re going to be feeling full a lot of the time.
It’s also possible that the carnivore diet is going to cure you of symptoms you might have been experiencing from other food intolerances. Due to the elimination of almost all food groups and such a large exclusion of possible irritants, the carnivore diet could remove symptoms related to a gluten intolerance. Obviously, this has less to do with the benefits of eating meat and more to do with the logic of an elimination diet.
The B.S.: All you need is meat.
While this might be true in terms of the basic needs for survival, it’s far from an ideal diet if there are other options available to you. We need a variety of vitamins and minerals to function optimally – and you just can’t get that from meat alone. Meat also has zero fibre, which is essential for good gut health and a healthy immune system.
The bottom line: There are no long-term studies assessing the risks of the carnivore diet. All the reliable science so far promotes eating as balanced a diet as possible with a focus on whole foods and minimisation of processed foods. Amen.
It’s important to recognise that for every crazy new diet that does the rounds, someone is cashing in on its popularity. This is why marketing information is not sufficient evidence to buy into a diet trend.
If it sounds too good (or weird) to be true, do a quick survey of the available facts and possible risks. Fad diets are more often than not backed by experiential testimony, which doesn’t meet the standard of proof required to be considered fact – or even to be considered safe. When it comes to putting your body, health and wellbeing on the line, there is no better time to exercise your scepticism.