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How to win a debate with a fad dieter

Ever tried having a reasonable debate with a fad dieter? Here are some tips.

As a population, we seem vulnerable to the never-ending parade of sensationalised diets that offer us benefits outside the realm of reality.

Food faddism has ingrained itself within our culture. Today it’s the paleo diet, last week it was the juice detox, last year it was the hCG diet and once upon a time it was yoghurt enemas – gross, right?

The problem is that there is no such thing as a nutritional silver-bullet and fad diets will never be able to match a healthful, balanced diet, full of minimally-processed food for long term vitality, weight control and enjoyment.

But if you’ve ever tried getting this sensible and scientific point across to the fad dieter, you’ll know it can be frustrating and futile. So we’ve come up with a few tips.

1. Listen

Don’t simply sit there waiting for your turn to talk. Listen to what the fad dieter is saying so you can pick up on the fundamental flaws in their argument. Make sure you pay close attention because they will probably masquerade their opinion as fact more often than you realise. 

2. Think before you speak

Ask yourself if it’s worth your time and energy to debate the ups and downs of the latest dietary trend. Once you confront the fad dieter you have to commit to the very end. Otherwise, you lose by default and give them a false sense of dietary security.

3. Be calm, polite and intelligent

Never give in to your emotions. The more you keep your cool, and the fad dieter loses theirs, the more it suggests that you are in the right and they are in the wrong. Combine this with your unconditional politeness so any onlookers can see you are not only a nice person, but you are also reasonable.

4. Use convincing evidence and be clear with your statements

Now it’s time to use your abundance of good sense and scientific knowledge. You can do this by referring to the latest meta-analysis or literature reviews (eg. this coconut oil evidence paper (PDF)). The conclusive power of this evidence will destroy the fad dieter’s brittle knowledge formed from cherry-picked studies. However, make sure you communicate in simple English because you won’t convince anyone if they can’t understand you.

5. Sandwich your argument

It’s often too easy - and tempting - to 100% ridicule a fad dieter’s claims. If you really want to bring them across to your way of thinking, you need to assure them that not everything they’re doing is necessarily wrong. The best way to do this is to acknowledge the valuable parts of their diet – even if it kills you on the inside. The truth is, some of the fad diets are actually a step forward for those of us who fill ourselves with highly-refined, sugar-coated and heavily-salted junk foods.

6. Re-engineer their diet rather than rubbish it

After you have established the positives of their fad diet, you can start suggesting ways of improving it. This is when you rise to stardom by showing off your superior nutrition knowledge. An eloquent rendition of our nutrition guidelines will probably do the trick.

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