Every once in awhile, there’s a new health fad that is being trumpeted as the cure for all ills.
The process is achingly familiar by now. It tends to begin on Instagram with celebrity endorsements of a product, exercise, or just a way of thinking. The celebrities claim that this thing has changed their life, improved their fitness, and claim it is this new innovation (rather than the gentle hand of the PhotoShop brush) that is responsible for their new look.
The newspapers are next to pick up on it. They will report the trend and then either argue for it (if they too have advertisers wanting to sell the product) or against it (if it competes with their advertisers). Soon the news moves onto the blogs, with a crowd for and against developing.
In the midst of all this – and the consumerism that’s at its heart – it’s difficult not to be cynical. Why should you ever believe a health fad?
First, let’s figure out the kind of “innovations” that have been presented to the public in this manner in the past. You’ll soon see a connection in the way they develop – essentially, taking an old idea and spinning it as new to benefit a new generation. And, of course, to profit off it!
Fad #1: Yoga
Yoga was the defining exercise practice of the mid-2000s. From Madonna to former Spice Girls, there were more yoga videos than you could shake a stick at. It was the revolution! We were all going to be bendier, healthier, just outright better.
While yoga is not quite the forefront of the health picture anymore, it’s never really gone away. There’s still due attention paid to it by medical practitioners and celebrities alike, and thousands are grabbing their yoga music and mats every day to try and improve their health.
Of course, yoga was nothing new when it became a fad – it has historical roots dating back centuries.
Fad #2: Gluten-Free Food
For those with Celiac Disease, the idea of eating food free from gluten (i.e. not containing any wheat, malt, barley etc.) was nothing new – it was a staple of life for them. Eating these foods when you have Celiac Disease can make you very unwell in the short term (gastrointestinal distress) and even cause cancer in the long run.
Then the health fad nuts got ahold of the idea that gluten-free was the answer to everything. Various claims began to circulate that it would improve your life and help weight loss. A champion tennis player credited going gluten-free with his sudden increase in form. Suddenly, gluten-free wasn’t just a choice forced upon you due to a medical condition: it was a lifestyle.
Fad #3: Paleo Eating
There’s something about the idea of a paleo diet that makes sense to us. The idea of eating as the cavemen ate! What could be simpler? After all, it got us to this point didn’t it? Those foods have got to be beneficial, or else humanity wouldn’t exist!
Paleo is the simple concept of not eating processed foods. Meals should be derived from vegetables, healthy fats, and unprocessed meat. It’s a return to a simpler world where a snack is a handful of nuts rather than a packet of crisps.
As inevitably happens with any diet fad, the claims of weight loss were legion. Then there are the claims it can improve your health in more ways than it’s possible to count.
Fad #4: The 5:2 Diet
The 5:2 diet is relatively simplistic. For five days per week, you eat ‘normally’. For the other two days, you fast.
It has been championed far and wide for weight loss and maintaining a healthy body. It was impossible to miss the endless reports of whether or not it worked, advice from nutritionists, and the virtues and problems it presents chewed over.
Other examples of these “fads” would be Zumba, keto diet and exercise – and many more than it’s possible to count.
So What Do They All Have In Common?
There are a few unifying factors between all of these diet, health, and fitness plans.
- They take a scientific basis and expand on it for a lifestyle option.
- They are popularised by celebrities and the media.
- They all make claims to great health improvement and weight loss.
The wording we’re using here suggests that these things are inherently bad: fad. A fad is meant to be a fly-by-night solution rather than a genuine lifestyle change. They promise the world and deliver very little.
Or do they?
Healthcare Science Is In A Constant State of Flux
The simple fact is that there is no “right” way to diet, exercise, or maintain your health. We have theories – a balanced diet, moderate exercise – but they are just theories. Good science should always be open to new evidence and ideas. There are so many strings to research that it makes sense that developments will happen and be introduced to the world.
That means that if you dismiss these health fads and trends out of hand, you could really be missing out. They might genuinely have stumbled on something that works.
People who practice yoga, for example, report a higher quality of life both physically and mentally. Those on the paleo diet do lose weight. These are good fads, which have introduced different practices that people can stick to and maintain.
Then there are the less successful fads. The 5:2 diet, for example, is great in the short term but notorious for how poorly it works in the long run. Zumba might be fun for awhile, but like all exercise styles, it has its problems keeping people’s attention. As for the favourite of the early 21st century – the Atkins Diet – we know now it can outright make you ill.
So how can you tell the difference?
What’s the key to differentiating between the fads and trends that might help you and the ones that are problematic?. If you stumble across an idea and are wondering if you should try it, then ask yourself a few key questions.
Question #1: “Is Someone Trying To Sell Me Something?”
With yoga or the paleo diet, no one is trying to sell you anything: they’re talking about a lifestyle change. You don’t have to buy special pills or sign up for a specialist discussion; you can follow along with free resources (such as YouTube videos of yoga or just buying more fruit and veg when you shop).
There might be books on the subject which can aid these ideas, but they’re not necessary. If you have to buy something to be able to follow it properly, then be very dubious indeed.
Question #2: “What Does Scientific Consensus Say?”
It’s easy enough to find the opinion of the science community on something you are considering. Just Google the name of the idea (let’s call it the Amazing Plan for this example) like so:
“Amazing Plan + science + evidence”
Speech marks and all. That should bring up the opinions of the scientific community. Spend a little time wading through the results until you find a consensus.
It’s also a good idea to speak to your doctor about anything you’re tempted to try. They will be able to tell you not only if it’s a good idea in general, but if it’s a good idea directly relating to you and your health concerns. They might even be able to guide you towards options and resources so you can get the most out of any lifestyle changes that it makes.
Question #3: “What’s The Harm?”
Trying to eat more vegetables with paleo or doing a few stretches with yoga aren’t harmful, as you will soon discover if you do them for yourself. However, with the “bad” trends, online forums will quickly reveal if there is a potential harm caused by a new trend.
Take account of personal experiences from people who have lived it. Ideally this should be sourced from forums rather than magazines/blogs – often, magazines and blogs are being paid to promote a product, so they’re unlikely to say anything bad about it. Look for genuine user experience. If you do find a blog post or magazine article that you think is genuine, there should always be a disclosure if it’s a paid advertisement. It’s often at the bottom in small print. If you find it, keep that in mind when following the opinions and advice offered.
Sometimes, the public is made aware of a change to health and fitness that is genuinely beneficial. So rather than dismissing a new idea for health improvement or self-help out of hand, apply a few questions and some discerning thinking before deciding to go ahead. Finally, there is always the option of running any plans you have regarding your health and well-being by your doctor first – it’s always a good step before making any changes, just to be on the safe side.