What are fad diets?

Laura Katleman-Prue
Nutrition & Dietetics
Fad diets often capitalize on particular nutritional trend - such as the low fat craze or the high carbohydrate craze. They stray from a moderate, healthy balanced nutritional agenda and can lead people to embrace extremes that may compromise their health. 
Angela Lemond
Nutrition & Dietetics

Fad diets are trendy ways that people eat to lose weight. They usually involve the elimination or drastic reduction of specific foods with the promise of quick weight loss and little to no need to exercise. In today's day and age with obesity rates so high, it is understandable that fad diets are so tempting to people. Unfortunately, weight loss is rarely sustained. In fact, many people not only regain the weight but gain even more than when they had started.

Instead, commit to making small changes over time that will yield a slow, progressive weight loss. Eat plenty of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and grains. Make at least half of your grains whole, and choose extra lean meats and poultry in reasonable portion sizes. Choose low-fat milk dairy and take in a moderate amount of healthy fats that are found in fatty fish, nuts, and both vegetable and olive oils. Balance your energy in (food) with regular energy out (exercise). Aim to get in at least 30-45 minutes of moderate to vigorous cardiovascular activity in most days, and challenge your muscles regularly to minimize losses that occur with age. This is the best long term approach to weight management.

Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics

Fad diets are generally based on popularity or food trends, and not scientific research. Fad diets pose problems; some are not effective, while others can lead to health problems. If you have some weight to lose, it’s important to consider all the benefits and drawbacks of a diet before committing to it. Some popular fad diets, such as the Cabbage Soup diet, can work for a short time. The longer-term problem that many people encounter when adopting these diets is that they are difficult to stay on. If you follow the diet exactly, then you will lose weight. But most fad diets are so restrictive that the dieter has trouble staying on the diet for longer periods of time.

Heather R. Mangieri
Nutrition & Dietetics

Fad diets are diets or programs that have been created and marketed for weight loss or promoted as a way to feel better or cleanse the system. They are generally restrictive eating plans that offer magical claims and false promises, promise rapid weight loss and omit essential nutrients. Fad diets will often recommend eliminating or severely restricting certain food groups, such as carbohydrates or dairy or they will encourage followers not to eat certain foods at the same time.

Losing weight and keeping weight off requires a healthy diet foundation including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, low fat dairy and a little healthy fat. Having a healthy foundation, that is calorie controlled, allows us to enjoy our favorite treat on occasion without worrying about gaining weight.

Rosanne Rust
Nutrition & Dietetics

What are fad diets? According to Merriam-Webster, a "Fad" is a practice or interest followed for a time, with exaggerated zeal! The key words here are "a time" and "exaggerated". Generally, fad diets are a way of eating that can only be tolerated for short periods. "Diet" also implies a finite time period. You want to follow a healthy eating pattern you can live with for the long haul. This includes modifying your behavior - making healthy food choices and staying fit. It's not just about "what" you eat however, but also examining the "how" and "why" you're eating.

Louise Goldberg
Nutrition & Dietetics

Fad diets are 'meal plans' that are intended to promote certain health outcomes (typically weight loss). They are often very restricted with little to no scientific evidence to back up the claims. One way to identify a fad diet is if it recommends to completely eliminate one or more food groups or nutrients (e.g. carbs), rather than focusing on healthy food choices within those categories. Before starting any severely restrictive diets, discuss with your doctor or dietitian to ensure your safety.

Jessica Crandall
Nutrition & Dietetics

Fad diets are truly what they state- a Fad- they come as quickly as they go and do not support healthy habits and long term weight loss.

Here is a great way to identify a fad diet:

Here are some tips on fad diets and why they should be avoided:

Amy Jamieson-Petonic
Nutrition & Dietetics

Fad diets are usually nutrition, or non-nutrition programs that tend to claim rapid health results with little scientific merit. Fad diets tend to eliminate whole food groups, or offer some other type of extreme touting rapid weight loss, or significantly improved health in very little time or with little effort... Sound too good to be true? It usually is... Most fad diets are not based on science, and can be dangerous. Examples of fad diets include the Atkins diet (eliminating all carbohydrates), the maple syrup diet, and the cabbage soup diet. None of the programs provide lasting weight loss, and may even lead to additional weight gain when you go "off “of them. A sound diet includes fresh fruits and vegetables, 100% whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, and little added sugars or saturated fats.  

Sarah Worden
Nutrition & Dietetics

Fad diets are generally a diet plan a person can stick to for the short term, but are hard to maintain long-term. There are a few reasons they cannot be maintained. First, they generally cause a lot of weight loss quickly, usually because on these diets calories are very restricted. A person can stick to this low calorie diet for a short while and see some positive results, but it is difficult (and unhealthy) to stick to a very low calorie diet long-term. Second, these diets often focus on a particular food or food group or avoid a particular food group (think grapefruit diet, low carb diet, the cookie diet). Again, it may be possible to limit food choices short term, but we live in the real world with restaurants, vacations, families and temptations. Sooner or later a person will get run into an event that will enable them from sticking to this strict diet. Third, fad diets are generally not balanced diets. Our bodies are made to thrive on a balanced diet with food from a variety of food groups. For the best results and the healthiest body, it is best for one to eat a balanced diet and stay away from fads. 

Doreen Rodo
Nutrition & Dietetics

Any diet that boosts rapid weight loss is a fad diet because the only way to lose weight and keep it off is to eat healthy, watch your portion sizes and exercise. Many people try fad diets such as the Atkins diet without realizing that they can be doing more harm than good. When you eliminate any food group, your body is missing out on essential nutrients. The Atkins diet is high in saturated fat and low in carbohydrates which can lead to all sorts of complications, one being heart disease. So ignore any false promises of quick weight loss with fad diets and just gradually add healthy foods to your diet, and if permitted by your doctor, start an exercise plan.

Fad diets, as their name implies, are short-term quick fixes that actually set many dieters up for weight-loss failure. Fad diets often lack variety, omit essential nutrients needed for health and label certain foods as bad or foods to avoid. Some fad diets attribute almost magical qualities to certain foods. Avoid getting fooled by the promises of fad diets by contacting a registered dietitian.

Continue Learning about Weight Loss Diets

The DASH Diet: Eat This Way to Prevent Pain
The DASH Diet: Eat This Way to Prevent Pain
You've heard the rumors. Or maybe experienced the misery yourself. A kidney stone attack is like no other pain on earth. But a simple choice may help ...
Read More
What should I eat when I'm on a weight-loss plan?
Judy CaplanJudy Caplan
Anything that you have determined is on your plan! Having a plan is the first place to start. When y...
More Answers
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the South Beach Diet
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the South Beach DietEverything You Ever Wanted to Know About the South Beach DietEverything You Ever Wanted to Know About the South Beach DietEverything You Ever Wanted to Know About the South Beach Diet
Get the high-protein and lower-carb secrets to losing up to 13 pounds in two weeks.
Start Slideshow
Is Injecting HCG for Dieting Safe?
Is Injecting HCG for Dieting Safe?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.