Should You Really Try the Latest Weight-Loss Trend?

Let’s be honest: You aren’t likely to click on a snooze-inducing headline like “Eat More Vegetables and Protein, Less Fat and Sugar to Lose Weight.”

Which is why health and wellness sites are always on the lookout for the next hot, new trend, like drinking black, mucky lemonade filled with charcoal or gulping down tablespoons of coconut oil.

But the desire for that shock factor may end up misleading readers with sensationalized headlines and oversimplified conclusions.

“The media tends to blow up a research study and create headlines that target people’s fears,” says Krista Haynes, R.D., and nutrition manager at Beachbody.

Another problem with weight-loss trend stories is that there are too many bold, generalized recommendations based on little solid scientific evidence, says Lisa Hayim of thewellnecessities.com, M.S., R.D., nutritionist based in Great Neck, N.Y.

“One day, low fat is best for weight loss, the next, we wake up to learn that high fat is best,” she says. “These trends don’t take into consideration that every person is different, and their ability to metabolize and use nutrients is very different depending on their gender, age, body composition, and exercise regimen.”

So before you try that “magic” diet/food/ingredient/drink/etc., to lose weight, you should take the time to examine it with a critical eye.

 But What About the Studies?

 Many reputable publications will include links to the actual studies in their articles to provide substantiation, but readers who are scanning to get to the “good stuff” probably don’t click through to read them.

But if you’re intrigued enough to take a new eating trend for a test drive, you shouldcheck out those links: “Go to the source (preferably the peer-reviewed journal that it was published in),” Haynes says.

Reading dense medical studies probably doesn’t sound like fun, but the good news is that it isn’t actually difficult to figure out if a study is worth taking seriously — if you know what to look for.

Here are some easy ways to fire up your B.S. detector when it comes to examining the truth behind the latest weight-loss trends.

Take headlines with a grain of salt

Headlines have to highlight the article’s “hook”; there’s no space to include the fine print, such as “Preliminary Research Suggests…”).

No one food or exercise routine is likely to single-handedly overhaul your health, for example, so a headline like “Eating Kale Slashes Heart Disease Risk by Half” should be regarded with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Consider the subjects

Find out who or what the study was done on before adopting a new diet trend. Were the subjects human beings, rodents, or cells in a petri dish?

Most scientists consider it irresponsible to base recommendations for humans on the results of rodent studies, which is why some publications won’t report on animal studies at all.

But others will, so you might want to wait until similar results are found in humans before making any big changes to your eating habits, especially when the safety of a trend is largely unknown.

Even if a study was done on humans, consider whether its results might apply to you. So you may want to ask yourself whether a study of 17 20-year-old males has any bearing on your life or health.

Or whether a study trumpeting “Walking Three Times a Week Cuts Your Risk of Death by 30 Percent” might be applicable to your life when the subjects were 70-year-old women with diabetes.

The size of the sample is also important. It’s much less meaningful if a study reports that a risk for disease “doubled” when researchers only studied 12 people.

Consider the funding source

Who funded the research? The government doesn’t conduct its own studies to evaluate health product claims, so they’re dependent upon companies’ own research. (Remember, for example, that many of the studies touting the amazing benefits of pomegranate juice were sponsored by POM Wonderful, the company that produces… pomegranate juice.)

The reality is that most research is funded by companies that have a financial stake in the results. That doesn’t mean that those studies are always unreliable, but it does mean you should consider waiting until more evidence emerges to support a health trend.

Most studies will include a section that discloses where funding for the research came from and a section in which the authors disclose any affiliations with parties that might have a vested interest in the results.

Another thing to look for: Sometimes it’ll appear as though a health story is based on research when instead the news is about a summary paper a scientist presented at a conference.

Although the idea might be solid, be more skeptical of those types of research stories, because they haven’t been reviewed by scientists’ peers or editors of quality scientific journals yet.

Remember the “safety in numbers” rule

Don’t put your faith in a trend for which there’s just one published study, Haynes says: “One study doesn’t mean there’s a cause-and-effect relationship. Reproducing the same results over and over is the best way to judge the outcomes of the studies,” she says.

Here are five examples of trends you’ve probably read about, but might not have realized that the science behind them is a tad iffy at present, whether it’s a lack of any research or lack of research that can be applied to you.

Although some of them might have health benefits, the jury is still out on whether they should be considered a viable weight-loss tool.

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