The 6 Worst Diet & Exercise Trends of 2014

In today’s very fast-paced world, most people expect immediate results when it comes to diet and exercise. As a result, a number of fad diets and dramatic athletic routines are all the rage—but can people really count on drastic approaches to get healthful and long-term results? In most cases, the answer is no, according to Janet Brill, PhD, RDN, CSSD, FAND, a Pennsylvania-based nutritionist and author of several books about nutrition and exercise.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," she explains, pointing out that in the process of trying to achieve the “perfect” body by restricting menus and heating up exercise, people can actually be putting themselves at risk for serious injuries and health problems.

Here are 6 of the worst diet and exercise trends Brill has seen in 2014:

1. Very Low Carb, Grain-Free Diets

Very restrictive diets (such as the Whole30®) that are high in protein and prohibit foods like grains aren’t new, but they’ve recently been gaining popularity, thanks to Instagram and some widespread efforts to ramp up a social networking component for followers. But Brill says that the concept of these diets is flawed: They’re based on eliminating grain, sugar, dairy products, and legumes (in the case of The Whole30®, for 30 days) with no slip-ups. If you break the rules at all, the diet requires restarting over completely, in order to reset your body and eliminate cravings.

"The diet wants people to eat unprocessed food without sugar, salt, or unhealthy fat, and that’s fabulous," Brill says. However, she warns, the diets go too far in cutting out grain. "We are so fearful of wheat, yet it’s the staff of life," she says. She recommends that people who want to lose weight adopt a balanced eating plan that doesn’t eliminate any food groups, but instead teaches people to make nutritious choices that they can stick with over the long-term.

2. Going Gluten-Free Unnecessarily

People who’ve been diagnosed with gluten intolerance or with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that prevents the small intestine from being able to absorb nutrients, need to avoid gluten, a protein in wheat that helps it bind together. But for the rest of the population, there’s no need to go gluten-free, according to Brill. Yet she says that a growing number of people are under the misconception that choosing gluten-free foods will help them lose weight. She points out that what most people don’t understand is that gluten-free foods aren’t low calorie, plus many of them are low in nutrients such as vitamin B, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fiber, which can put people at risk for deficiencies if they eat gluten-free without taking supplements to fill in the gaps. In addition, gluten-free foods are usually more expensive than their counterparts. This means your health, your waistline, and even your wallet can benefit from skipping the gluten-free trend.

3. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has recently been named a "superfood," Brill says, with many people believing that it offers some important health benefits, such as boosting the immune system, improving brain health, and accelerating weight loss. As a result, it’s becoming a popular alternative to fats such as canola oil and butter. 

People use coconut oil in a variety of recipes—adding it to smoothies, and even spreading it on toast. But Brill cautions that people should do some research before they follow this trend: Coconut oil is 90 percent saturated fat. Saturated fats can raise your cholesterol levels, and a third of the saturated fats in coconut oil is in the form of myristic and palmitic fatty acids, which can pose big dangers for your heart. The American Heart Association recommends getting no more than 5-6% of your calories from saturated fat, making coconut oil something to use in moderation, or even to skip entirely.

4. Protein Powder

If you’re tempted to splurge on those expensive tubs of protein powder you can find on grocery store shelves and online, Brill says you’d be better off saving your money. Body builders have typically turned to whey, soy, or casein protein shakes to build muscle and also to help their muscles to recover after a workout. But Brill says that most recreational athletes, unless they are vegan, get plenty of protein in their daily diet and don’t need to supplement in this way. She suggests that people eat a low-fat yogurt, or make a smoothie out of non-fat milk and peanut butter for a protein boost.

5. Hot Exercise

Yoga, spin, and cycling classes held in warm or hot rooms (up to a steamy 105° or 110° F) are all the rage at many gyms and exercise studios. Brill says that this is a dangerous trend: She points out that the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletic facilities keep their temperature between 68° and 72° F degrees. Participants often believe that when they sweat profusely, they are burning off more calories and getting rid of toxins. However, Brill and other experts say that at such high room temperatures, people are likely to have lower performance and they may actually be burning fewer calories than they would doing a more reasonable workout in a cooler room. The warmer environment can also make it easy for people to overstretch their muscles and sustain injuries. In addition, working out at extreme temperatures can put people at risk for heat exhaustion or even heat stroke, a potentially fatal condition in which your organs shut down.

6. High-Intensity Interval Training

This is a form of workout that alternates short bursts of intense exercise with milder periods to let the body recover. "If you’re Superman, high-intensity interval training can be great, but for the large majority of us, it can be dangerous," Brill says. "These are very intense exercises that need to be done in proper form." For people who aren’t trained to handle such intensity, such exercises could put them at risk of injury or health issues, she adds. Therefore, a more reasonably paced workout would be safer for your health and your body over the long term.

Janet Brill, PhD, RDN, CSSD, FAND, reviewed this article.  


Brill, Janet, PhD, RDN, CSSD, FAND, nutritionist and author. Phone interview Oct. 15, 2014. 

"Saturated Fats." American Heart Association. Page accessed October 28, 2014.