5 Fad Diets: RD Reviewed

We wanted to review some of the more popular “diets” or programs that are trending right now to really see what they were all about. We are all looking for the easiest fix, let’s see if any of these stack up to what a Registered Dietitian would recommend…


Weight Watchers Freestyle

(Written by Kristen, AKA Pepper)

Summary: Each day & week is based on a points allowance determined by age, gender, height, weight, and weight goal. Points are established by the program based on calories, saturated fats, sugar, and protein. You can participate in the program strictly online or through in-person meetings.

You may have heard from Oprah that Weight Watchers recently redesigned their program to what is now called ‘Weight Watchers Freestyle’ (#WWFreestyle). This new program has a larger focus on overall health and wellness rather than strictly weight loss. I decided to enroll in the program to see what it was all about. I had never participated in the WW program, but I had a general understanding of what it entailed: counting points.

The new design attracted me for a few reasons… first there are 200+ FREE FOODS. This is very exciting for the FOMO side of me – with this many options, I’m pretty sure I won’t be hungry or feel like I can’t eat anything. In addition, these ‘free foods’ are free of points & free of tracking! Which in my case, significantly reduces the intimidation and burden of tracking.

I decided to enroll in the in-person meetings to get the full experience (it’s also conveniently held at my workplace so I can attend on my lunch hour). My first meeting took place at the beginning of January. There were ~10 women in the group and the leader was so fun and energetic. She taught us about the Freestyle program and encouraged us on our journey. After the meeting I decided to log into my online account and track my points for the day… *Insert Funny Story* I totally thought I was having a “healthy day” and was already planning how many points my after-work snacks and dinner would amount to. Unfortunately, after entering what I had eaten for the day (post lunch) I had already consumed 21 of my 23 allowable points…

Flushed Face on Apple iOS 11.2

My first thought: they stumped the dietitian!!! Not only was this a comical moment for me, it was also a teachable moment. My oatmeal for breakfast and Nature Valley bar at lunch contained a lot of unexpected points! Although these are both healthy whole-grain choices, they do have a substantial amount of carbohydrate (25 & 29 respectively) with relatively low bulk. Note to self: do not spend 7 out of 23 points on one granola bar! On the other hand, I realized I didn’t eat as many free foods (fruits, veggies, legumes, etc.) as I could have to maximize my satiety. Needless to say, the first day was a bust. I learned a lot, but did not stick to my point allowance. Like with any lifestyle change, it takes time!

Another thing I LOVE about this program is that the focus is on overall well being. Each new member receives three little booklets:


The mindset booklet is my favorite. The focus of this book is on listening to our bodies, thinking & talking positively about ourselves, and making the best choices that allow us to be our best selves.

Recommendation: I would recommend this program for those who are looking for a healthy lifestyle change that includes a supportive community, accountability, inspiration, and balance. This program teaches healthy habits and life skills that are essential to being your best YOU!

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(Written by Hilarie, aka Cayenne)

Thought of as a short-term nutrition reset, designed to change your life in 30 days. The idea is to cut out certain foods completely for 30 days that could be a causing inconsistent energy levels, aches and pains, inability to lose weight, skin conditions, etc.

Foods Allowed: Vegetables, fruit, eggs, meat, seafood, nuts/seeds, healthy fats, coffee, tea, water, herbs and spices

Foods not allowed: Sugar, dairy, alcohol, grains, baked goods/desserts, nitrates/sulfates, msg/carageenen

My thought: Overall, I get the idea behind it, but I don’t think this is sustainable long term. After all, how many of you have tried Whole 30 multiple times? It probably worked the first time and you did feel better (all crappy foods were cut out, of course you’re going to feel better!). Then you finish the 30 days and now what? Life returns to normal and you’re unable to maintain such a strict diet long term. The concept to eat more “clean” and do a little diet reset to relearn portion control and see what’s actually in your food makes sense, but I don’t think you need to be this strict to feel better. My other problem with this diet is that there are foods on the no list that I think should be a part of a healthy diet, and in my opinion no foods need to be cut out completely forever. Also, it will take a lot longer than 30 days to change your life! I think this is what draws people in, the idea that in one month everything will be better. But to see long term success you need to make small, sustainable changes over time. Here is a closer look at why I think you should think twice before trying the Whole 30.

Cutting out food groups and ingredients completely makes dieters have an all or nothing approach, a negative feelings towards food and is unrealistic long term.

Yes, we should cut back on baked goods and desserts but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for them in moderation or for special occasions. When something is cut out completely you start to create a negative feeling towards it and I don’t think you should ever feel bad for enjoying a dessert or especially not a healthy rice and bean dish because it is on the no list. This all or nothing mentality is also not realistic long term. You’re eventually going to try these foods again, be at a dinner party where you don’t know the ingredients, or want a glass of wine at dinner. This diet never allows you to learn how to incorporate these items into your lifestyle in a healthy way. Instead of cutting them out completely, learn about healthier versions, appropriate serving sizes, and how to enjoy a piece of cake without feelings of guilt or failure.

Food groups are cut out that should be included in a healthy diet, especially grains, legumes and dairy.

Healthy grains are an excellent source of essential nutrients such as fiber, iron, and B vitamins. There are definitely better and worse grains, but that doesn’t mean grains should be eliminated altogether. The thought is grains cause inflammation and inconsistent energy levels, but this is not completely true for all grains. Refined grains tend to contain more simple carbohydrates (some baked goods, candies, white flour) and are quickly utilized for energy by the body because of their simple chemical structure. Blood sugar rises faster and falls faster causing a quick spike and drop in energy levels. Whole grains tend to contain more complex carbohydrates (whole grains, brown rice) and have a more complex chemical structure and take longer to digest, therefore having a less immediate impact on blood sugar. Complex carbohydrate foods also tend to be higher in fiber which also slows down digestion. As for causing inflammation, grains made of simple carbohydrates are rapidly digested causing reactions in the body that are pro-inflammatory. However, whole grains actually have been shown to reduce inflammatory markers. For more information on carbohydrate myths refer to: Busting the Top 10 Carb Myths

Legumes (beans, peas, lentils) are also healthy items to include in your diet. They are an excellent source of protein and fiber which increase satiety, stable blood sugars and assist with weight management. So why are they on the not list? This is mainly because of the high levels of anti-nutrients, which is claimed to lead to poor nutrient absorption and inflammation. Yes, there might be a problem if legumes are not prepared properly or they are a large majority of your diet, but most of us would benefit from including them as a part of our diet. When should they be avoided? If you have a true gut dysfunction (IBS, Celiac, Crohns, etc.), then the high fiber content and chemical compound may worsen these conditions and should be avoided temporarily during flare ups for gut healing. More info

Dairy: (To avoid an extra long post, refer to the following links). In summary though, milk proteins are thought to promote inflammation and therefore disease. However, it has actually been found that dairy is more likely to be associated with reduced inflammation (see here). Also refer to a previous post Is Dairy Necessary?.

In summary:

Pros: This diet forces you to really look at what is in your food and read the ingredient list. This is something we should all practice. You will most likely feel better and lose weight (however, I don’t think it is sustainable). There are also many free resources and you don’t necessarily need to buy in to adapt the Whole 30 concept.

Cons: This diet restricts some food groups that should be included in a healthy diet. It is also very strict diet and isn’t realistic or sustainable long term. It is not individualized, and eliminates any potentially problematic foods and ingredients for all people. Once you are off the diet and you feel better, you won’t be know which of the off limit foods was problematic for you. Therefore, it would be more beneficial to experiment with the ingredients individually instead of eliminating them all at once.


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(Written by Kati, aka Salt)

Summary: Aims to cut out “processed” food, grains, dairy, sugar and potatoes as if only to eat foods that may have been consumed during the Paleolithic era. GUYS hunting, gathering and cooking food over the fire IS a process! Did people during that time live long, prosperous lives? I don’t think so…

In theory, this diet makes sense, but this is how it isn’t working for you:

  • Just because something has gone through processing, does not mean it is unhealthy. Washing your vegetables is a process…
  • Avoiding grains is DUMB! FIBER is a huge under consumed nutrient in today’s population and grains provide even more than that, including protein and B vitamins
  • By avoiding grains, you swap with fat (yes your coconut oil and bacon are loaded with saturated fat, the kind that sticks to your arteries)
  • You avoid potatoes – but why? Yes, they are a starchy vegetable, but if you are trying to eat healthier and think bacon is the answer, you have bigger problems
  • Low-fat dairy foods are great sources of protein, calcium and vitamin D, but if you would rather eat an entire bag of spinach with sardines on top, that’s an alternative option
  • You may lose some weight, but weight is not an indicator of overall health and if too much of the wrong fats are consumed, it may have impacts on your cardiovascular system
  • Protein: is NOT a nutrient of need, there is no protein problem or deficiency among our general population. Learn more from Pepper’s Post

Recommendation: Would not recommend Paleo diet as an eating solution, as it is unrealistic, can be expensive and focuses too much on avoidance and not enough on addition of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Rather, I would adopt principles from it like avoiding excess sugar and empty sources of calories like candy, pop and desserts and add those principles to a balanced plate and frequent exercise.


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(written by Kristen, aka Pepper)

Summary: DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This is an approach to eating that supports life-long heart health. Studies have shown that following this diet can reduce blood pressure (if high), and lower LDL (aka: lousy) cholesterol. The DASH diet fits into the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and is recognized as an overall healthy eating pattern. It is promoted by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The diet itself provides recommendations for intakes of whole grains, lean meat/poultry/fish, vegetables, fruit, low-fat/fat-free dairy products, fats & oils, sodium, nuts/seeds/legumes/peas, and sweets based on different energy levels. The diet is low in saturated and trans fats (unhealthy fats), rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, & protein, and lower in sodium.

Sodium reduction is what this diet is best known for, and can be the most challenging aspect for people who currently eat a westernized diet. Sodium is hidden all throughout our food supply; it’s in breads, sodas, canned goods, frozen entrees, snacks, chips, etc.! The DASH diet recommends sodium intakes remain below 2300mg/day but some doctors/dietitians may recommend sodium intakes as low as 1500mg/day (for reference, that’s less than 1 teaspoon of salt!) for further reduction of high blood pressure.

Recommendation: Collectively, the Spice Girls all agree that following the DASH diet is a healthy way to eat! It promotes health through food, focuses on fresh choices, variety, and balance.  For more detailed questions on this diet or your sodium intake, please refer to our expert: The Salt Lady.


<coming up next…>

5.) Zone