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Six Popular Dieting Trends to Watch for in 2014

By Densie Webb, PhD, RD

It’s well known that obesity in the United States is at a record high, and as people search for the holy grail of weight loss, diet books promising quick and lasting results will continue to hit the best-seller list.

Millions of people turn to these books, which lure them in with promises of instant fat loss, a faster metabolism, a flatter belly, and improved health. Few live up to their often-outrageous claims, and some that dictate unconventional eating plans are even unhealthful.

“I tell my clients the only changes that should be made are the ones that can be maintained for life. If you don’t want to have juice for three meals a day for the rest of your life, then don’t start a juice diet,” says Megan Ware, RDN, LD, owner of Nutrition Awareness in Dallas, Texas.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy) cites five promises, or dietary recommendations, often found in diet books that are red flags: rapid weight loss; unlimited quantities of specific foods, such as cabbage soup or grapefruit; recommendations for specific food combinations; rigid menus; and the claim that there’s no need for exercise.

“I tell my clients that fad diets work if you want to lose weight and muscle quickly,” says Michaela Ballmann, MS, RD, CLT, founder of Wholify, which provides nutrition counseling for the Pasadena, California, community. “Just know that you’ll gain all that weight back, and probably more, just as quickly while wreaking havoc on your body, your metabolism, and your psyche.”

Here are six of the most popular dieting trends your patients and clients may ask you about now and throughout the new year:

1. Gluten should be avoided. The premise of this type of diet is simple: Avoid all wheat products or you’ll get sick and fat. For example, the book Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD, specifically warns that eating wheat and other gluten-containing foods can lead to the dreaded “muffin top.”

However, according to Kristi King, MPH, RD, CNSC, LD, a spokesperson for the Academy, there are few studies to back up these claims. Only patients and clients with diagnosed celiac disease or nonceliac gluten sensitivity need to avoid gluten-containing foods.

2. Speed up your metabolism. Diets that promise a silver bullet to boost your metabolism are hard to categorize, though often they involve avoiding specific foods, such as refined sugar, wheat, soy, caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners to name a few. For example, the book The Fast Metabolism Diet by Haylie Pomroy offers a 28-day plan with no calorie counting but includes lots of forbidden foods and a diet plan that suggests eating certain foods on certain days of the week.

While it sounds appealing, Kristen Smith, MS, RD, LD, a bariatric dietitian with WellStar Comprehensive Bariatrics in Marietta, Georgia, says “Metabolism is the process of breaking down the major macronutrients in our body to produce adequate energy. Our bodies don’t recognize individual foods but rather the nutrients within the foods.”

3. Timing is everything. Several popular diets, such as The Shred Diet by Ian Smith, MD, call for specified meal pacing and eating six to seven meals and snacks per day. However, Monica Lebre, MS, RD, LDN, cautions, “Although timing is important, frequent meals and snacks may increase your portions over time and cause weight gain. Hunger and fullness are the best cues for meal spacing.”

4. Food addictions cause weight gain. According to this diet theory, curbing food cravings and restoring the brain’s mood and appetite chemistry are key to weight loss. Some plans, such as the one described in The Diet Cure by Julia Ross, say that each individual’s unique underlying biochemical imbalances can be corrected through diet and nutrition supplements, especially amino acids—but it’s not that simple. “I think it’s possible to help manage brain chemistry through diet, but I don’t think it’s 100% predictable. How food affects our brains is complex,” says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy.

5. Confuse your body to lose weight. “Diet confusion is the key to dropping unwanted pounds, according to some diet plans, such as The Shred Diet, which also advocates a timing approach. The theory is that when you eat the same foods over and over again, your metabolism stagnates and you gain weight; mixing up your diet choices confuses your metabolism to lose weight.

Nevertheless, according to Jim White, RDN, ACSM-HFS, a spokesperson for the Academy, “There’s no hard evidence in the scientific literature that says diet confusion or switching up macronutrients can produce results. However, it could break the boredom of eating the same foods all the time and could provide a psychological advantage.”

6. Food intolerances equal weight gain. The reason for weight gain, according to this theory, isn’t dietary fat, carbohydrates, or even calories but food intolerances. Some diet books, such as The Virgin Diet by J. J. Virgin, CNS, CHFS, point a finger at foods or ingredients that allegedly trigger inflammation and lead to weight gain, including gluten, dairy, soy, corn, peanuts, eggs, sugar, and artificial sweeteners.

According to Joan Salge Blake, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy, “There isn’t any credible research [stating] that these foods are associated with weight gain or that removing them will lead to weight loss.” However, “Eliminating identified food allergens may reduce bloating and a small weight loss,” Smith says.

— Densie Webb, PhD, RD, is a freelance writer, editor, and industry consultant based in Austin, Texas.