The American Heart Association No-Fad Diet is a book published by the American Heart Association (AHA) that focuses on planning weight loss rather than going on a diet in the traditional sense. The first edition of the book was published in 2005. The second edition, published in 2010, runs 450 pages and consists of three major parts: guidelines to losing weight and keeping it off, meal planning and recipes, and a “toolkit” of sample food diaries and other templates.
The first edition of the American Heart Association No-Fad Diet represented the AHA's first attempt to provide guidance for the general public about sensible weight loss. The organization had published a variety of low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-salt, and general “heart-healthy” cookbooks from 1973 onward, but had not yet produced a book on weight loss and weight maintenance. The 2005 edition was about 445 pages, about the same length as the second edition.
The AHA stated in the introduction to the first edition that its reason for publishing the No-Fad diet was its concern about “the growing prevalence of obesity in the United States and around the world and the cardiovascular risks that come as a result…we have written this comprehensive weight-loss book… to provide a science-based, no-fad approach to losing weight for your better overall health and the accompanying decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.”
The AHA's No-Fad diet is the product of an organization that is well respected by the medical community, as well as nutrition and dietetics experts; it is not written by or associated with individual celebrities, bodybuilders, professional chefs, or alternative medical systems. The introduction to the second edition emphasizes the collective input and scientific agreement that underlies the book: “The American Heart Association recommendations reflect the opinions of many experts—physicians, registered dietitians, and specialists in physical activity and behavior modification. Our panel of scientists has reviewed the most current research and come to a consensus so you can cut through the confusion with confidence.”
The subtitle of the book, A Personal Plan for Healthy Weight Loss, makes it clear that the book is the opposite of a one-size-fits all diet; in fact, the reader is expected to do considerable introspection, reflection, note-taking, mathematical calculation, and diary-keeping in the process of working out an individualized weight-loss regimen that will work over the long term.
The No-Fad diet begins with a straightforward statement that there is nothing easy about losing weight and keeping it off, and that people seeking to lose weight must make a lifetime commitment to changing their present lifestyle. The authors of the No-Fad diet attribute the current prevalence of obesity in developed countries to a combination of readily available, inexpensive food and high-calorie snacks combined with lower levels of exercise and physical activity. They note that the replacement of walking to work with commuting by automobile and the displacement of jobs that required physical activity with jobs requiring computer-based skills means that most people expend less energy while at the same time taking in more calories. The diet is based on balancing the number of calories taken in versus the number expended through physical activity.
“Eat well” is about food choices and diet planning. The No-Fad diet offers readers three different approaches to meal planning based on personal preference. The three strategies are identified as “switch and swap,” the “75% solution,” and menu plans devised by the AHA. The first strategy is based on substituting lower-calorie foods for high-calorie foods, such as having a piece of fruit instead of ice cream, or using a vinegar and tomato juice dressing on a salad instead of blue cheese. The second strategy uses portion control—a dieters can have their favorite foods but should eat less of them, such as eating one slice of pizza instead of two, a hamburger patty made from 4 oz. (113 g) of meat rather than 6 oz. (142 oz.) and so on. The third approach, the set of AHA meal plans, is intended for dieters who feel more comfortable having a system to follow. The second edition of the book includes a questionnaire to help readers discover which approach is best suited to them.
Eating well also involves defining one's ideal weight and weight loss goals. The book includes a set of height and weight tables, a body mass index (BMI) table, and a calorie calculator to help readers determine whether they are in fact overweight/obese, how much weight they need to lose to attain their ideal weight, how many calories they presently expend in an average day, and how many fewer calories they should take in to lose weight. The reader is then instructed to keep a daily food diary of what they eat, when they eat it, the food's calorie content, and the reasons for eating it if other than to satisfy hunger (such as boredom, loneliness, etc.). The purpose of the diary is to help the dieter identify emotional triggers for overeating, as well as specific food cravings.
“Move more” is about increasing daily energy expenditure. Readers are expected to analyze their current level of physical activity, followed by setting a personal fitness goal and adding a minimum of 10 minutes of physical exercise each day. Similar to the three strategies for eating well, the No-Fad diet offers three ways to become more active: the lifestyle approach, which consists of integrating fitness activities within the daily routine; the walking approach, which incorporates walking into a daily routine in 10-minute increments; and an organized activity strategy, which emphasizes exercise classes, team sports or group fitness activities, or scheduled workouts. Dieters are expected to record their activity in a log that includes the type of exercise, level of intensity, time involved, and, if applicable, the reason for failing to exercise. Dieters are also asked to assess their progress every six weeks.
Chapters four and five of the No-Fad diet are concerned with weight maintenance and establishing healthy eating and exercise habits in one's family. Chapter four reminds the reader that the first two years following weight loss are the most difficult for maintaining that loss, and that dieters who do not regain the lost weight during those two years have a good chance of maintaining their lower weight permanently. Chapter five offers advice about teaching children healthy eating habits and encouraging them to be physically active.
Part II of the second edition contains menu plans and recipes for dieters who prefer that strategy. There are three sets of two-week plans, designed for 1200-, 1600-, and 2000-calorie daily intake levels. The meal plans are followed by 150 pages of recipes.
Part III of the second edition is a “toolkit” that contains templates for food and exercise diaries, as well as additional tips for maintaining weight loss.
The function of the No-Fad diet is to help individuals formulate a diet and exercise regimen that will allow them to lose weight slowly, maintain the weight loss, and make the changes a permanent part of their lifestyle. The No-Fad diet is not intended to promote rapid weight loss and does not recommend any unusual or eccentric patterns of food consumption or nutritional composition.
The benefits of the No-Fad diet are its association with recognized authorities on nutrition, exercise, and preventive health care, and the soundness of its recommendations. Its outline of three different approaches to eating well reflects an understanding of the differences among human personalities and the need to take human psychology into account when introducing long-term lifestyle changes. The flexibility of the program in allowing food choices rather than imposing a rigid set of meal plans means that people with food allergies, chronic digestive problems, or other health issues as well as those having to cook for or eat with a family, can still benefit from the No-Fad diet. Many readers will also like the book's advice on dining out, eating on social occasions, eating in fast-food restaurants, and similar situations.
While the No-Fad diet does not pose any health risks, it may not appeal to people who want to see rapid results from a weight-loss program. In addition, some readers may find the heavy emphasis on behavioral modification and psychological self-examination off-putting.
The authors of the book note that while their recommendations about physical exercise are moderate and should not be difficult for most readers to implement, people with chronic medical conditions should consult their physicians before beginning an exercise program.
Criticisms of the No-Fad diet surround the book's meal plans, which include foods known to contain trans fatty acids, despite the AHA's acknowledgement of trans fats as being associated with higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. The AHA recommends obtaining less than 1% of daily calorie intake from trans fats, a limit that is not always followed in the meal plans.
The No-Fad diet does not pose any obvious risks to adults who follow the book's recommendations in designing their own meal plans, exercise schedules, and weight-loss regimens. It is possible, however, that people with a history of eating disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may find that the book's emphasis on keeping detailed records of exercise duration and intensity along with “everything you eat and drink,” including habits, such as finishing another family member's uneaten food portion, could trigger an obsession with calorie counting or reduction that sometimes characterizes these disorders.
The AHA's No-Fad diet represents a summary or distillation of recent clinical research in nutrition and weight control rather than a specific diet. Given the book's insistence that weight loss and maintenance is a personal matter, it is difficult to see how a clinical study could be designed to accommodate the variety of individual meal plans and exercise schedules that different dieters could adopt based on the three “circles of success.” There are no clinical studies of the No-Fad diet registered with the NIH, nor are there any studies of the diet reported in the medical literature. In addition, the book has not been reviewed to date by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, again most likely because it reflects the general consensus of medical and nutrition professionals rather than an extreme or controversial point of view. Possibly for the same reason, the book has received infrequent reviews on popular diet websites.
See also Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics ; Body mass index ; DASH diet ; Dietary counseling ; Dietary guidelines ; Heart-healthy diets .
American Heart Association. American Heart Association No-Fad Diet: A Personal Plan for Healthy Weight Loss. 2nd ed. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2011.
American Heart Association. The New American Heart Association Cookbook. 9th ed. New York: Harmony, 2017.
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American Heart Association. “Trans Fats.” http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/FatsAndOils/Fats101/Trans-Fats_UCM_301120_Article.jsp (accessed March 19, 2018).
Matus, Mizpah. “No Fad Diet.” https://www.freedieting.com/no-fad-diet (accessed March 19, 2018).
Morales, Tatiana. “Why ‘No-Fad Diet’ Really Works.” CBS News, June 30, 2005. http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500165_162-705423.html (accessed March 19, 2018).
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 120 South Riverside Plz., Ste. 2000, Chicago, IL, 60606-6995, (312) 899-0040, (800) 877-1600, email@example.com, http://www.eatright.org .
American Heart Association, 7272 Greenville Ave., Dallas, TX, 75231, (800) 242-8721, http://www.americanheart.org .
Rebecca J. Frey, PhD