It seems like every year a new diet pops up. Although your friend may have had luck with the latest trend, it doesn’t mean that your body will respond the same way. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to clean up your diet and try something new. However, you should never jump right into something without giving it some thought. Not all diets are created equal. Before starting one, you’ll want to ask yourself some important questions to help decide if it’s beneficial for your well-being.
“Many diets are overly restrictive and can actually do more harm than good,” says Registered Dietitian Carrie Walder, MS, RD. “They may cause nutrient deficiencies, may negatively impact your energy levels and productivity at work or school, can negatively impact your social life, and may even contribute to anxiety and disordered eating habits down the road.”
Some diet changes can have a positive impact on your health. But if you’re not careful which one you choose, it may end up backfiring. “I personally am not a fan of restrictive diets or any of those short term ‘cleanses’ or ‘detoxes,’” says Walder. “Rather, I think it’s important to find ways to integrate healthier habits into your lifestyle—ones that can stick for the long-term.”
If you’re starting a diet, you should ask yourself these seven questions to make sure that you’re keeping yourself safe and healthy.
What is your goal?
It’s important to dig deep and come up with some realistic goals when starting a diet. “If the goal is to lose 20 pounds in a month, that’s not really feasible without delving into some really unhealthy behaviors,” says Registered Dietitian Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD. “I always encourage people to figure out a goal that has nothing to do with numbers on the scale, such as running a 5k and feeling great doing it, or having the energy to play with your kids.”
Is this diet for the short-term or long-term?
Consider whether this diet is encouraging a “quick-fix” or if it’s setting you up for long-term success with your health. “Programs that promote short-term change are designed so that you come back and spend money on the program again,” says Registered Dietitian Mandy Enright, MS, RDN, RYT. “They are intentionally designed to fail without following their plans. Programs that promote long-term behavior change and teach skills such as cooking, grocery shopping, or meal planning have better long-term success outcomes.”
Does exercise play a role?
Nutrition and exercise are the marriage that makes a healthy lifestyle. “Any ‘diet’ that tells you can lose weight without doing any exercise is not legit,” says Enright. “A healthy lifestyle should promote fitness with cardio, strength, and flexibility to keep the body healthy, functioning, and burning calories. If the diet doesn’t require any exercise, then be careful because it’s not helping to change behavior for a successful long-term outcome.”
Does this diet involve food or supplements?
It’s important to consider whether your diet is focused on food. “If a program is telling you to drink shakes several times a day or take pills, that is not changing the behavior that is causing the weight gain in the first place,” says Enright. “It is simply swapping one bad choice for another. Vitamins and herbal supplements don’t have adequate energy to sustain your daily needs. This can actually lead to a slowing of your metabolism in the long term.”
How will this diet impact your social life?
Ask yourself how starting a new diet will impact your time spent with friends and family. “If the diet is so restrictive that you’re never going to be able to go out for dinner, try new restaurants, or enjoy food with your partner/friends/family, it’s going to be really hard to stick to,” says Walder. “Not only will you likely feel miserable or isolated, but it may negatively impact your relationships, too. No diet is worth that.”
Will the diet make you unhappy?
Getting healthy is important, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to get fit. However, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your mental health in the process. “I understand [that] the diets are difficult, but they shouldn’t make you absolutely miserable,” says Rizzo. “If you’re starving yourself and barely have the energy to work and perform your daily functions, think twice about the diet [that] you’re on.”
What other positive results will this diet bring besides weight loss?
Weight loss is one obvious benefit of starting a diet, but you don’t want to only fixate only on how your body looks. “This goes back to setting an attainable goal,” says Rizzo. “Don’t just focus on numbers on the scale. Think of the other positive attributes of this diet, like how it will make you feel.”
Starting a diet can lead to some great changes. But, you want to make sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons and staying as healthy as possible—both mentally and physically.