Spoof diets

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In 2014 a group of VoYS members decided they wanted to take on fad diets, because even the silly stuff  isn’t without consequence – people actually introduce malnutrition through overly restricted diets, they buy expensive products and exotic foods, and they lose heart following unsustainable diets when they need to make a significant health change.

Diets are a very good way to eat what’s good for you and lose weight, but the decent ones are drowning amongst conflicting advice, dodgy nutrition claims and self-styled gurus in newspapers, lifestyle magazines and all over your Facebook feed. Asking for evidence can help to distinguish the bogus from the beneficial, and VoYS members came up with a few rules of thumb that can help you weigh up new diet fads (e.g. unless you’re in extreme training, you probably don’t need a high protein diet; and unless you’re pregnant or seriously ill, you are unlikely to need a daily regime of vitamin supplements).

So, to make more of a public fuss about the stream of fad diets, our VoYS network made up five of their own fad diets and mixed them up with five ‘real’ diets that have been doing the rounds. Can you tell the spoofs from those lacking in proof? Take the quiz!

Top tips

VoYS also teamed up with relevant specialists in the network to give their opinions on these diets – and share some things to remember when you see similar claims in the future.

    • Ask for Evidence. If you’re being sold a product or asked to believe a claim then you deserve to know whether it’s based on evidence – or imagination.
    • Immune boosting. You can’t and you don’t need to.
    • Detox. It’s a marketing myth – our body does it without pricey potions and detox diets.
    • Superfood. There is no such thing, just foods that are high in some nutrients.
    • Cleansing. You shouldn’t be trying to cleanse anything other than your skin or hair.
    • If it sounds too good to be true … it probably is.

Comments

Leah Fitzsimmons, biochemist and VoYS member: “Never mind about being tempted by that slice of cake – don’t be tempted by fad diets. When you see extraordinary claims, always ask for evidence.”

Jon Poole, chief executive, Institute of Food Science and Technology: “Personal diets and nutritional health more broadly, are very complex areas. Many people latch on to particular diets through just word of mouth or from articles in the popular press. Unfortunately the impact of some of these diets can be, at best, ineffective and, at worst very unhealthy. For this reason, it’s important to have sound food and nutritional science underpinning any diet choice. It is also important that this is soundly but simply communicated.”

Catherine Collins, British Dietetic Association: “Let’s be realistic about fad diets – they don’t work. They don’t accelerate weight loss because they’re not sustainable long term. If you plan to lose weight you need to recognise you’re committing to a marathon, not a sprint. They don’t improve your health, nor act as a talisman to protect you against cancer, Alzheimer’s, or whatever health risk is the media focus du jour. Fad diet promoters never let sound nutrition get in the way of persuasive marketing to the public, but rely on the publics’ lack of knowledge on diet and health to promote their dietary myths and generate financial profit.”

Dr Ellie Cannon, GP and author: “New diets are being made up at an alarming rate. If you are concerned about your weight, look for evidence based advice.”

Susan Ringwood FAED, chief executive, Beat: “Diets don’t work – If they did, you’d only do it once.”

Select coverage

Sugar-free diet alert: Yes, sugar is bad for you… but cutting it out totally could kill you, experts warn, Daily Mail, (28 July 2014)

Take the dodgy diet test, the Guardian (28 July 2014)

Diets under investigation, Xposé Entertainment (28 July 2014)

Let’s just say it: you golden people, you make me sick, Yorkshire Evening Post (29 July 2014)

Cutting sugar completely could kill you, New Zealand Herald (29 July 2014)

Weighing up Dodgy Diets, Dr Anusha Seneviratne’s blog (28 July 2014)

Fad diets – #AskForEvidence, Alex Buchan’s blog (4 Aug 2014)

Read a collection of tweets and coverage in this Storify.

Thanks

The following VoYS members worked on this project: Agnieszka Piotrowska, Alison Clark, Anusha Seneviratne, Charlotte Dunbar, Chris Creese, Claire Marriott, Daisy Hessenberger, Elizabeth Glennon, Erika Nitsch, Fergus Guppy, Grace Gottlieb, Helen Coulshed, Kate Waller, Kristian Le Vay, Leah Fitzsimmons, Lizzie Tilley, Lucy Hagger, Madeline Burke, Rob Hagan, and Tanya Hart.