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3 questions to ask yourself before starting a new weight-loss diet you found online, according to dietitians

Kashmira Gander   

3 questions to ask yourself before starting a new weight-loss diet you found online, according to dietitians
  • The British Dietetic Association shared three easy ways to decide if a diet is worth your time.
  • Blindly following diets can be dangerous, the BDA said.

As we head into "new year, new me" season, it's only natural you may consider trying a new diet. Many people do. It's especially tempting when your social media is filled to the brim with videos from glowing influencers, promoting their simple new eating plan.

The British Dietetic Association, the professional organization for registered dietitians in the UK, said in a press release that clients ask year-round about weight loss hacks that they've learned of on social media, citing fads such as the carnivore diet — but they're a particularly hot topic in the new year.

Every year, they remind their clients to be skeptical of quick fixes they see online, adding that a large social media following doesn't mean a person is qualified to advise on diet and health. Rapid weight loss can lead to disordered eating, which can in turn "easily" progress into an eating disorder, one BDA dietitian said.

Caroline Bovey, registered dietitian and chair of the BDA, said: "Most of us wouldn't take a drug to deal with a medical condition without seeking medical advice or being confident that it had been properly tested. And yet, some of us are persuaded to completely change what we eat, often overnight, based on something someone with very little, if any, nutritional expertise says worked for them."

To help you through the maze of lifestyle tips in January, the BDA has shared three questions everyone should ask themselves before starting a new diet.

Whose advice are you taking?

Registered dietitian and BDA spokesperson Anna Groom said: "Always question what you are watching, do they remove a whole food group? Do they recommend one particular superfood? Do they recommend a particular supplement?"

Business Insider previously reported that "superfood" is a meaningless term, nutritionally, and that no one food can make a diet healthy. And, depending on a person's needs, dietitians also generally prefer to take a "food-first" approach to health, rather than relying on supplements.

If in doubt, Groom said, seek advice from trusted sources such as public health bodies or a registered dietitian.

Is the information evidence-based?

Before and after weight-loss photos do not count as evidence, the BDA said.

One way of discerning if a diet is evidence-based is to check if multiple robust studies have found it to be beneficial. Beware of health influencers misinterpreting data to support their point, as BI previously reported.

"It's very rare that you would have one scientific article that proves something demonstrably," Claire Wardle, co-director of the Information Futures Lab at Brown University's School of Public Health, previously said.

Registered dietitian and BDA spokesperson Jennifer Low said: "So many unqualified people are giving out nutrition advice. Often, because they do not have the training that registered dietitians and registered nutritionists have, they will be pushing their own health beliefs, rather than advice grounded in evidence and years of clinical practice."

Does the advice take your needs into account?

BDA registered dietitian Alexia Dempsey said that while diet or lifestyle plans pegged to the new year may seem like they offer all the answers to improving self-esteem, they're unlikely to give the support an individual needs to succeed.

"And, then when it doesn't work out long-term, it drives their view of themselves lower," she said.

"Big changes rely on willpower, which is hard to maintain long term. These off-the-shelf plans are often not sustainable for our social and cultural habits. They can't meet the individual needs or requirements of everyone who follows them, so are often destined to fail, which is why we have to come back every year to talk about this subject," Dempsey said.

How to lose weight safely and sustainably

As BI previously reported, safe weight loss happens when a person is in a small calorie deficit, allowing them to drop around one to two pounds a week. A sustainable diet is one that is not overly restrictive, featuring protein, carbs, and fat.

The Mediterranean diet, for instance, is considered to be one of the healthiest ways to eat, and BI's nutrition reporters follow the 80/20 principle to avoid bingeing on less nutrient-dense foods.