Every new year gives us an opportunity to say goodbye to some of the less appealing trends of the previous year. And when it came to health fads, 2013 was no exception. The year that brought us some inspired trends (see: bike-sharing programs and whole food diets, for example) also included a few truly bad ideas in the arenas of diet and fitness. Let's have a look at the trends we're hoping to say goodbye to in 2014.
Apparently, 2013 was the year in which everyone decided to have an opinion about how female parents should treat their bodies.
When 35-year-old Lea-Ann Ellison, a mother of three and CrossFit enthusiast, posted a photo in September of herself performing an overhead squat eight months into her third pregnancy, the Internet lost its mind.
"If anything happens to your baby due to your stupidity, I hope you'll be able to handle your guilt. Pregnancy is NOT the time to be taking stupid risks," said one commenter on Facebook.
Meanwhile, Maria Kang, a fitness trainer who was proud of her ability to keep trim while keeping up with her three young sons posted a photo of herself in a sports bra and shorts with the phrase "What's your excuse?" written above her head. Cue the outrage. Some people interpreted her aggressive captioning as an attempt to shame moms in worse shape than herself; others were concerned about her parenting abilities if she prioritized fitness. Managing to bait mom-shamers while doing some of it yourself? So 2013.
"I think people are quick to judge pregnant women," obstetrician Brittany Stofko, DO, of Penn Medicine, told HuffPost Healthy Living's Sarah Klein at the time of the Lea-Ann Ellison controversy. "If she's fit and she's healthy and she's doing this under the supervision of her obstetrician, I think she can safely continue."
Let's all take a page from Stofko and leave the concern to the supervising medical professionals.
Extreme caveman diet
Eschewing refined flours and sugars in favor of whole fruits, veggies and meats can only be a good thing, but some Paleo adherents took the diet too far this year with a radical offshoot, The Whole 30 diet. This eating plan requires a 30-day commitment in which the dieter can't eat refined sugar, flour, processed oil and alcohol, but also eschews health-promoting foods like fiber-rich whole grains and legumes, protein, calcium-rich dairy and heart-healthy coffee. What's more, after a month of deprivation, Alexandra Caspero, RD explained to Health.com, many dieters are apt to rebound.
A visit from Uncle Rhabdo
The enduring popularity of CrossFit and other push-yourself-to-the-limit workouts has caused a rise in a rare condition known as rhabdomyolysis, in which the muscles grow so overworked that cells begin to die off, causing a toxic buildup of myoglobin in the blood stream, in turn overloading the kidneys as they try to filter out the dangerous protein. It can lead to kidney failure, sustained muscle loss and even death.
Eric Robertson wrote in his essay about the culture of rhabdo-causing sports, most centrally CrossFit:
Once a muscle tears, damaged, fatty scar tissue replaces the injured muscle tissue. The result is a permanently damaged muscle, and a decreased ability to strength train. The irony of pushups causing flabby arms underscores the age-old mantra: There really is too much of a good thing.
Unnecessary gluten-free eating
Every year needs a vilified food compound and in 2013, the wheat protein, gluten, was on the proverbial chopping block. For those with celiac disease, meaning a debilitating immune response to gluten, or a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, eating gluten-free is the sensible thing to do. But for the rest of us, gluten-free eating is nothing but a trend: It won't help you lose weight and it certainly won't improve your diet if you're choosing gluten-free junk like cookies, white breads and other refined carbs.
Extreme mud runs
Tough Mudders, Warrior Dashes and other extreme obstacle courses ask participants to jump over fire, crawl through claustrophobic tubes and endure long swims. According to a report in the Baltimore Sun, extreme fitness events have left athletes paralyzed, suffering from electric shocks, hypothermia and other injuries.
And in 2013, the drowning death of a man at a Tough Mudder in West Virginia marked the fourth death related to an extreme obstacle course event.
While most events go off without a hitch, the rate of injury has companies reviewing their safety guidelines.
This year saw the continuation and even growth of the juice fasting trend in which fashionable companies like BluePrint and Organic Avenue concoct three-, five- and seven-day fasts in which one only drinks a series of vegetable and fruit juice cocktails with the occasional nut milk thrown in. Juice fasters swear by their liquid diet as a detoxifier and weight loss supplement, but the truth is, there's nothing we can eat that will "detoxify" us -- our livers do that work for us. And weight loss? Chances are, it's all water weight coming off. Meanwhile, many of these juices, if they contain fruit juice, offer a huge hit of sugar without the mitigating fiber of a whole piece of fruit -- not exactly healthful.
And, as Laura Schwecherl at Greatist pointed out:
Some researchers note that depriving the body of nutrient rich food could weaken its ability to fight infections. And since calories literally mean energy, reducing caloric intake can lead to fatigue and dizziness. Lean muscle mass may also be lost if the body is continuously deprived of protein.
This radical vegan diet gained some notoriety on Instagram, thanks to the food blogger Loni Jane Anthony, who follows the eating plan, in which a day's food is comprised of 80 percent carbs (mostly from fruit), 10 percent fat and 10 percent protein. The result? Well, it looks a lot like this:
A nearly all-fruit diet is lacking in many of the essential elements of food that make us feel satiated, energized and happy, such as zinc, iron and B-12, according to an analysis by Women's Health magazine. What's more, all that fruit can cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash, actually making you hungrier than you would by eating something more protein and fat-packed. Ironically, this could lead to weight gain, Women's Health reported.
Earlier on HuffPost:
While the American College of Sports Medicine has listed certified fitness pros as their number one trend for the past six years, the number of accredited trainers, coaches and others continues to surge. And with so many beloved trainers emerging on Twitter to join the national discourse, it's no surprise that accredited fitness professionals will continue their rise. What's more? Those pros are getting out of the gym and starting their own businesses, reports Well + Good NYC.
About 38 percent of the health apps that smartphone users download are fitness-based. And that number is only going to get bigger -- one estimate from market research company Abiresearch suggests that the fitness apps market will grow to $40 million by 2016 -- up from just $12 million in 2010. That means we'll total nearly a billion downloads over the next three years. And given how effective those apps can be, if used correctly, doctors may start recommending them for increased fitness -- that'll particularly help the baby boomer generation, who are more likely to download a health-related app that has been recommended by their doctor.
Self-monitoring -- formerly the purview of data nerds and navel-gazing techies -- will go mainstream this year, thanks to an increasing number of smartphone apps that help you easily store data on your own behavior -- and a collection of wearable devices, from Nike Fuel to LarkLife, that do all the work for you. What is self-monitoring? It's keeping track on the minute data of your day -- things like what you eat, how well you sleep and how much you move. Download the data and analyze your own behavior on a spreadsheet.
Mobile, portable classes are the wave of the future -- thanks to the rise of beloved celebrity teachers who can't be everywhere at once. Set up your iPad for a yoga class with the simulated feeling of individualized attention. Open up your laptop and decide what kind of class you'll do that day -- on your own time.
Gluten-free foods are necessary for the nearly two percent of the population who suffer from Celiac disease and the estimated 10 percent with a non-specified gluten allergy. But somehow, thanks to highly visible gluten-sensitive celebrities and fashionable, charming gluten-free bakeries like Babycakes, eating without gluten is all the rage. While it may not lead to weight loss, it does have a side benefit of increasing demand for a gluten-free options that make eating easier for those with Celiac and other sensitivies. But you don't have to go to a specialty shop for your pastries sans gluten any longer: now giant, national chains like Domino's Pizza are offering specifically gluten-free fare. They might be the first, but they won't be the last.
The kind of juice that won't stay shelf-stable for a year? That's the stuff that will invade your supermarket, your mall court and your Starbucks, if it hasn't already. With $5 billion in revenue this year and projected growth of four to eight percent, healthful, all-natural and raw fruit and vegetable juices (think Organic Avenue, Cooler Cleanse -- but also Jamba Juice) will explode onto the mainstream market. And that growth projection may even be conservative: Starbucks' CEO Howard Shultz vowed to sell juice "in the same tonality that we have reinvented, over the last 40 years, the basic commodity of coffee," reported Barrons.
While previously on the fringe, mainstream gym goers are now getting hip to the practice. There are many reasons for women to get into heavier weight lifting -- among them, healthier bones, greater muscle definition and cardiovascular health, according to Well + Good NYC. And now the practice is gaining popularity, thanks to CrossFit and boot camp classes that encourage heavier lifting.
Everyone from HuffPost blogger Jeff Halevy to New York Times' resident sports science writer, Gretchen Reynolds are talking about the power of the short, intense workout. Using HIIT -- high intensity interval training, gym rats can reach their fitness goals in less time than it takes to whip up a raw protein smoothie. Even a short workout can have a big impact -- one study found that just 15 minutes of exercise each day can add three years to your life.
While the majority of gym goers have a regular membership and central location, there remains a proliferation of boutique specialty studios -- yes, the traditional yoga and pilates studios, but also CrossFit, FlyWheel, Soul Cycle, Refine Method and Physique 57. What's more, third-party companies are growing to help you manage, purchase and organize your a la carte choices. Want to mix pilates with yoga, CrossFit and FlyWheel? No problem, according to places like FITist.
If you haven't tried this equipment-less form of weight training, you certainly will in 2013. The American College of Sports Medicine listed it in the top three trends they are anticipating for 2013 -- thanks to its effective, no-fuss approach and cheap execution.
Most people will admit that they work out in the hopes of looking good and achieving the vague goal of better health. Functional fitness is a little more specific: as WebMD explains, it employs strength training to "improve balance, coordination, force, power and endurance to perform activities of daily living." That's especially great for seniors, who need a bit of extra training to maintain their daily physical abilities.
Zombie runs, color runs, mudders... if you're paying attention to the amateur race circuit, you have no doubt noticed the proliferation of themed events -- and that will only keep growing in 2013, if the popularity of such events is any indication.
Those who are opposed to genetically-modified organisms in their food -- everything from grains to fish -- aren't known for staying quiet. Just recently, anti-GMO activists hijacked Cheerio's Facebook page. But following the defeat of California's Proposition 37, which would have been the first legislation to require GMO labeling, the community is bound to get louder than ever.
Clarification: Language has been changed to reflect that the four obstacle course related deaths occurred at distinct events, sponsored by different companies.