How to Avoid Fad Diets

feet on a scale
Fad diets can be tempting if you want quick results. © [2008] Jupiterimages Corporation

Fad diets are easy for just about anyone to fall for. When you first decide to lose weight, it can be tempting to do something drastic. You feel like you just can't spend one more day overweight. This mind-frame sets you up for falling for the empty promises of scams. Here are some pointers on how to avoid fad diets.

A Top Sign of a Fad Diet

The most common sign that a diet is a fad diet is that it promises quick weight loss.

Fad diets make unrealistic promises, such as, "Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!". Diets that lead to rapid weight loss (more than about two pounds a week) are not nutritionally sound and are almost always too restrictive to be adhered to for any considerable period of time.

Fad Diets Bring Results... Temporary Ones

The weight you lose when you start a fad diet is comprised mainly of body fluids or water weight. The catch is that this weight usually comes back -- with a few extra pounds added, too. Losing so much weight, so soon, gives dieters a sense of accomplishment, but when the weight inevitably returns, the cycle starts all over again.

The temporary results can often lead to frustration, depression and a sense of failure. The sad part is, people often follow fad diets because of these very same feelings, so they get caught up in a cycle of constantly going on and off unsound diets. In the end, they feel worse, and sometimes, weigh more than they did in the first place.

More Typical Signs of a Fad Diet

Here are some more clues that you're considering a fad diet:

  • Fad diets are typically very low calorie, which is unhealthy and can even be dangerous. Most people can lose a substantial amount of weight on a diet of around 1,500 calories a day, which allows for at least three 300-400 calorie meals and two 100-200 calorie snacks. If a diet requires you to eat fewer than 1,200 calories a day, if you are a woman, or fewer than 1,400 calories a day if you are a man, it is not nutritionally sound.
  • Fad diets usually require sudden, drastic changes, such as completely eliminating an entire food group or cutting your caloric intake by too many calories. Making such rapid changes does not prepare you for returning to normal eating or teach you how to make important lifestyle changes such as portion control or making better food choices, skills which are crucial for long-term weight management.
  • Fad diets are often low on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, which means they are short on the foods that provide many important nutritional needs, resulting in malnutrition and poor health. Depending on the type of diet plan, it may be deficient in protein, carbohydrates, fiber, or important vitamins and minerals, or they may provide too much protein. Fad diets do not provide guidelines for a healthy, long-term eating plan.

More Ways to Recognize Fad Diets

  • Fad diets often stress the importance of eating certain foods together or never eating different types of foods at the same time (e.g. never eating protein the same time as carbohydrates), which is sometimes referred to as food combining. Fad diets often require you to eat a very limited meal plan that must not be deviated from at any time. The monotonous meals make the diet even more difficult to stick to.
  • Some fad diets overemphasize one particular food or type of food. Diets that require this type of eating never provide a balanced, nutritional eating plan. Any balanced diet includes a variety of foods, and no one food group should be relied on entirely or completely eliminated.
  • Fad diets virtually ignore the importance of exercise. Being physically active is key to maintaining weight loss. Exercise is also an important aspect of improved cardiovascular health and disease prevention; diet alone cannot provide as many weight and health benefits as both diet and exercise. Any reliable weight loss plan will encourage you to get moderate exercise several times a week.
  • Lastly, if a diet warns you to stop following its recommendations after a set period of time, it should be avoided. The only reason a diet would recommend you discontinue it in a certain number of days is it could be harmful if you do. Any healthful, balanced diet should be adaptable as a part of a permanent lifestyle that leads long-term weight maintenance.

    Say Farewell to Fad Diets

    The only way to successfully lose weight and keep it off is to take in fewer calories than you burn. To do that, you need to watch how many calories you eat and move more.


    Federal Trade Commission and International Food Information Council Foundation. Weight Loss: Finding a Weight Loss Program that Works for You. 12 Feb 2008.

    U.S. Food and Drug Administration and National Association of Attorneys General. FDA/CFSAN The Facts About Weight Loss Products and Programs.