So you want to lose a few pounds? Great! There’s nothing wrong with wanting to shed some weight to feel your best and maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, when it comes to weight loss, there are tons of “lose weight quick” schemes and trendy fad diets that aren’t sustainable and will disrupt and harm your gut microbiome.
If you’ve read any of my blogs or social media posts in the past, you know just how important it is for your physical and mental health and your overall wellbeing to maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
While it might be tempting to dive head first into some of these weight loss trends after seeing “results,” I am here to clear up some misconceptions and give you the truth behind the fads! Don’t believe everything you see on social media!
The facts on fad diets
Our society is obsessed with weight and how to lose it! It seems like everywhere we turn there is a new dieting trend, cleanse, or scheme being marketed to us. While most diets will help you to shed a few pounds in the short term, many of them are ultra restrictive or cut out major food groups which is harmful to your gut and not sustainable for maintaining a healthy weight.
I will preface this post by saying that only you and your doctor know what is best for your body, and there are medical reasons why a doctor might prescribe a certain diet to their patients (for instance, Keto was developed to manage epilepsy in children.) But it is always a good idea to do your research and consult your doctor before starting a new diet.
Red flags to look out for
Low fiber/low carb/high fat diets (HFD) like keto have been shown to disrupt the gut microbiome, making it pro-inflammatory. This has been linked to colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease (among other diseases.) This unfavorable change in the type and number of gut bacteria in your microbiome and can lead to an imbalance called dysbiosis which has been associated with obesity, enhanced gut permeability (leaky gut), inflammation, and chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune conditions.
Here are a few pitfalls of the keto diet specifically:
- Processed foods, dairy, and artificial sweeteners allowed in keto diets can cause gas, bloating, nausea, and diarrhea.
- Insufficient fiber intake can increase your risk of constipation.
- The long-term effects of keto are unknown but it has already been linked to a number of chronic illnesses.
What does science say?
Let’s discuss a study published in the British medical journal in 2018. Researchers split 217 healthy 18 to 35-year-olds of normal weight into three dietary groups by altering the ratio of carbs– white rice and wheat flour– and fat –mostly soybean oil– but otherwise, keeping fiber and protein content the same. The three diets were: low fat (equivalent to 20 percent of energy intake), moderate fat (equal to 30 percent of energy intake) and high fat (accounting for 40 percent of energy intake.) They followed this diet for 6 months.
The results? The numbers of beneficial bacteria that produce short chain fatty acids, including butyrate, had increased in the low fat diet group. Butyrate is a key energy source for bowel cells and has anti-inflammatory properties. By contrast, the numbers of these beneficial bacteria had fallen in the high fat diet group, while the ‘unhelpful’ bacteria had increased. For some perspective, large amounts of these ‘unhelpfuls’ are usually found in people with chronic conditions, like type 2 diabetes.
The higher fat diet was associated with significant and potentially detrimental changes in long chain fatty acid metabolism, resulting in higher levels of chemicals that are thought to trigger inflammation. The opposite was true for the low fat diet. Although this study didn’t specifically follow a ketogenic diet and all groups had the same fiber and protein intake, it highlights the effect of a high fat diet on the gut.
Stay away from low calorie diets
Dramatically low-calorie diets have a similar effect. A recent study from researchers in Germany and the U.S. found that a “very low calorie diet’ – meaning a diet of just 800 calories per day – resulted in a severe lack of energy caused by an unhealthy gut. The study, which observed 80 overweight women, showed that such an extreme diet could change the composition of your microbiome and result in increased inflammation. You cannot run on fumes! Nourishing your body with enough healthy foods is essential.
… A parasite cleanse?
Parasite cleanses or deworming are typically not needed in western countries and may be detrimental to your gut microbiome and health. Because guess what? Gastroenterology docs routinely test patients for parasites and, if positive, we can give them an anti-parasitic medication to get rid of those nasty unwanted guests!
These trendy cleanses and deworming methods (like taking ParaGuard and other supplements) are a common craze right now on social media. Unfortunately, this is a surefire way to rid your body of the essential good bacteria in your gut and destroy your microbiome. These methods are not FDA regulated and I strongly advise against them. I encourage you to seek the guidance of a GI doc if you think you might have a parasite.
Coffee and other enemas also disrupt the microbiome and can cause unnecessary inflammation and damage to the lining of the gut. If you need a colon cleanse or enema because you have GI symptoms, a GI doc will help guide you as to which one is best for you.
A healthy weight loss method (that your gut will thank you for!)
I know I might sound like a broken record here, but gut health is the foundation for positive health outcomes! By keeping a balanced gut microbiome flourishing with good bacteria, you will feel good mentally and physically and weight loss will come along as a part of the package.
Focusing on your gut health is the most sustainable, and health conscious, way to invest in your body and future health. This involves making sure that you are consuming a wide array of nutrient-dense foods to fuel your body (and your gut) along with other healthy practices like exercise, spending time outside, and ensuring you’re getting enough sleep.
I am a big fan of plant-based diets which are naturally rich in micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, as well as healthy fats, plant-based protein and unprocessed carbohydrates, making it appropriate at every stage of life. Research shows that whole food plant-based diets and plant-forward diets may prevent heart disease, Alzheimer’s and many other diseases. Here are a few tips and tricks to make the transition.
The key takeaway
Our bodies are extremely complex systems, and it is critical to be very mindful about how we are treating them. While your friend’s cousin’s wife might’ve lost 40 lbs fast through the latest fad diet, there are so many other factors to take into consideration when making decisions about your health. We only get one body in this life and it’s important to make informed choices.
I know there is so much information out there to filter through that it sometimes gets confusing, but make sure that you are relying on the experts and being patient with your body. Sustainable weight loss does not happen overnight, and a well-balanced lifestyle is the best method to look and feel your best!
I’m always here to help!