Nutrition can be a confusing business, especially for clients bombarded with conflicting messages and information on a daily basis. As a health and fitness professional, you play an important and influential role in guiding clients, within your scope of practice, to follow effective and sustainable nutrition plans to achieve their health and weight loss goals. These efforts include making them aware of the negative effects of various restrictive diets on their fitness efforts and long-term goals.
Many diets initially appear to be a good choice for weight loss thanks to rapid results, both in pounds and inches lost, but it’s important for both trainer and client to look at the bigger picture. These diets often focus on significantly restricting food groups or calories, which is contrary to the recommendations of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that stress adequacy, balance, calorie control, variety and moderation. Your ultimate goal should be to deliver results, not just over a four- or 12-week program, but for a lifetime. Most popular restrictive diets are strictly short term.
ACE’s mission itself is not just tied to the short-term payoffs, but “is to ensure people have access to well-qualified health and fitness professionals and health coaches, and science-based information and resources on safe and effective physical activity, so they may get active, establish healthy behavior, and live their most fit lives.”
Restrictive diets do not support this mission or your client’s needs.
In fact, highly restrictive diets can have the opposite effect. Research has even linked these programs to weight gain, unhealthy eating patterns and nutritional deficiencies. By cutting out entire food groups and relying on strict rules for success, these diets leave out the essential nutritional education component that can help build life-long healthy eating habits. On top of that, by often drastically cutting calories, these programs can leave clients unable to adequately engage in the fitness programs they need to build muscle, burn fat and most effectively achieve their health and fitness goals.
While you most likely wouldn’t suggest something like the Grapefruit Diet to your clients, there are many diets out there that might seem like good options, but are in fact too restrictive to benefit your clients for more than just the short term. Here are a few to be aware of:
The Dukan Diet
What it is: This four-phase, high-protein approach to weight loss is built on extensive rules that must be followed to the letter in order to succeed. There have been no clinical trials completed to study the diet.
The Downside: Foods are highly restricted, especially during the first two phases, even though amounts are unlimited. Healthful ingredients such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables are restricted. The lack of variety and strict rules can make it difficult to maintain.
The Medifast Diet
What it is: This medically supervised program is made up of prepackaged foods, shakes and snacks, and a single meal of lean protein and vegetables, all limited to 800 to 1,000 calories per day. Research is limited and primarily funded by the Medifast company.
The Downside: Due to the severe calorie restriction, there are also restrictions for exercise, especially during the first two to three weeks of the program. For those who are able to maintain the plan, it can be difficult to transition back to a healthy and sustainable nutrition plan without regaining weight.
The Body Reset Diet
What it is: This diet is a low-calorie, short-term program comprised primarily of plant-based smoothies, with the goal of boosting metabolism and rapid weight loss. While it does include plenty of healthful fruits and vegetables, no research has been completed on its potential benefits, risks or effectiveness.
The Downside: Who really wants smoothies all day, every day? It can be a difficult diet to maintain with such a limited menu. This 15-day program lacks the essential educational component, making it difficult to maintain the weight loss after transitioning back to a long-term nutrition plan.
Give your clients the guidance they need to succeed in their fitness efforts. Avoid recommending or supporting restrictive diets that can inhibit your client’s fitness efforts. Instead, offer the right tools, support and nutrition program to set clients up for success and the real results they expect.
Staying Away from Fad Diets. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
MacNeill, J.A. and Miers, P.G. (1996). Nutrition education is as effective as calorie restricted diets in promoting weight loss. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 96, 9, A56