Promoted by NFL stars, music artists, and social influencers alike, the sheer number of fad diets and cleanses in today’s pop culture can make your head spin. And this confusion is not without consequence. Our 2018 Food and Health Survey found that 80% of consumers come across conflicting information about food and nutrition, and 59% of those said that conflicting information made them doubt their choices. Safe to say, it’s already hard enough to decipher fact from fiction when it comes to making healthy choices surrounding our nutrition, and the frequent celebrity promotion of some diets, detoxes, and supplements doesn’t make it any easier.
Here are three reasons why you should think twice before adopting a restrictive diet or cleanse.
1. Restrictive diets and cleanses are disordered eating in disguise.
Many of the practices and parameters of celebrity-touted fad diets and cleanses fall under what is called “disordered eating.” Disordered eating is a term used to describe a range of irregular eating behaviors that may or may not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder. The difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating is that eating disorders have specific criteria that must be met for a diagnosis according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, while disordered eating is more of an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of unhealthy eating patterns. That is not to say that disordered eating is benign, though—because it’s certainly not. In fact, disordered eating can lead to detrimental consequences, including a greater risk of adverse health patterns like weight cycling, binge eating, bone loss, gastrointestinal disturbances, electrolyte and fluid imbalances, and low heart rate and blood pressure, as well as increased anxiety, depression, and social isolation. Engaging in disordered eating patterns also increases one’s risk for developing an eating disorder.
According to Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, symptoms of disordered eating include:
- Frequent dieting, anxiety associated with specific foods, or meal skipping
- Chronic weight fluctuations
- Rigid rituals and routines surrounding food and exercise
- Feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating
- Preoccupation with food, weight, and body image that negatively impacts quality of life
- A feeling of loss of control around food, including compulsive eating habits
- Using exercise, food restriction, fasting, or purging to “make up for bad foods” consumed
- Withdrawal from friends and typical activities
If you or anyone you know is struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder, please contact the NEDA helpline.
2. Scientific evidence does not support the claims asserted by followers of restrictive diets and cleanses.
Diets or detox cleanses that put rigid parameters around what and when to eat or involve an intense “detoxification” process through supplements, prolonged fasting, or other extreme measures are not healthful or evidenced-based. A healthy eating pattern and relationship with food involves variety, balance, and moderation, and does not arbitrarily omit food groups. What’s more, detox cleanses are unnecessary thanks to our liver and kidneys, so cleanses won’t magically cure the body of toxins (although they often result in unfortunate digestive discomfort). There is a wealth of scientific evidence that demonstrates the ineffectiveness of restrictive diets, and even more evidence to support flexible eating patterns like the Mediterranean Diet, which focuses on nutrient-dense foods but also incorporates sweets and emphasizes other lifestyle factors such as enjoyable physical activity and a supportive community.
3. Restrictive diets and cleanses are intended to produce short-term weight loss, not long-term health and well-being.
It’s not surprising that there is an allure to adopting the same diet as our favorite actor, athlete, or influencer, but it’s important to remember that celebrities are under an incredible amount of pressure to look, move, act, and eat a certain way—and they often hire entire teams to facilitate their picture-perfect images. Understanding the fact that many celebrities feel required by their industries to look a certain way is not the justify their food and diet choices, but it can provide us with more context surrounding their decisions. Remember that when you see celebrities adopting a strict diet or detox cleanse, it’s usually done for extreme weight-loss purposes and to make money via endorsements—not for overall health. As you know, there’s a difference between making decisions based solely on how they will affect our weight in the short term versus how they may impact our health in the long term. The bottom line: Extreme diet and cleanse measures are not necessary or beneficial, and there is a large body of evidence to support that a well-rounded diet benefits our long-term health.
Pass on the next celebrity diet, and remember that nutrition is not one size fits all!
While it’s tempting to believe that what works for one person (or celebrity!) will work for all of us, nutrition is not one size fits all. Restrictive diets and cleanses are often disordered eating in disguise, lacking in scientific evidence, and only focused on short-term weight loss, not long-term health and well-being. If you feel you need help to improve your dietary choices and nutritional health, consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian to examine your own eating patterns and identify strategies for making changes. At the end of the day, it’s best to focus on your own nutritional needs and to steer clear from overpromising fad diets and cleanses—they’re just not worth the hype.