Fad Diets: What’s Wrong With Them?

Hiral Patel

October 13, 2022

Is a fad diet the best way to lose those extra kilos? Probably not. Of course, fad diets are trendy due to their contribution to quick weight loss. The gilded terms in fad diets include slimming herbal teas, weight-loss pills, green smoothie potions, and juice cleanse diet plans. Each of these claims to drastically lose kilos. However, not everything trendy can be sustainable for your health and overall well being. 

Weight gain can be rapid, but weight loss requires great effort and commitment. Fad diets have become trendy, but they might not have reliable scientific evidence backing them up. Furthermore, we see older diets falling out of fashion and being replaced by newer ones as time goes by. Therefore, it is crucial to throw some light on the risks of fad diets so that more people don’t fall into the rabbit hole of diet culture. 

Fad Diets: An Introduction

Diets marketed as the finest and quickest way to lose weight are fad diets. Unfortunately, several fad diets require eliminating meals that include essential nutrients for optimum health. A fad diet might ensure quick weight loss results. However, such weight loss is temporary.

Some fad diets advise you to avoid certain foods at certain times of the day. Others will let you eat some food categories if you consume them with certain other foods. These are the kinds of diets frequently promoted by celebrities or on social media. A research article shows that the growing popularity of fad diets puts pressure on individuals who desire a particular body image. It leads to low self-esteem and perhaps eating disorders. Although fad diets appeal as a simple way to lose weight, they cannot replace a well-balanced weight loss plan customised according to your needs. 

Identifying a Fad Diet

There is no definite cheat sheet for recognising a fad diet, but these broad guidelines can help. The following are characteristics of fad diets:

  • Weight loss diet plans promise to be both quick and straightforward results.
  • Label certain food groups as”bad foods” and eliminate them.
  • Require you to get nutritional products marketed as fat burners, weight reduction aids, and metabolism boosters.
  • Claim that there is no need for you to exercise.
  • Recommendations as per studies that neglect individual or group variations
  • Specific foods are highlighted, such as grapefruit, maple syrup, lemonade, or a unique soup.

Fad Diets: Why Do They Eliminate Specific Food Groups?

Some diets demand that you cut out particular dietary groups. For example, they argue that humans haven’t evolved sufficiently as a species to consume wheat, while others say that some foods aren’t compatible with certain blood types. In addition, fad diets claim particular hormones are to blame for weight gain, suggesting that you need to eliminate carbs. However, it is not advisable because carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient and a valuable energy source.

These are intriguing concepts, but there isn’t enough solid evidence to back them up. Specific health issues, such as allergies or metabolic disorders like celiac disease, requires avoiding particular food groups, but most of us should eat items from each food group every day.

According to a study, diet fads have been around for ages. The Greeks and Romans have used them since ancient times. Nevertheless, at that time, it was more about leading a healthy and active lifestyle. It was Victorians who were the first to adopt fad diets. Now, fad diets continuously evolve to present better versions of themselves, but they are still sceptical.

Some popular fad diets are:

GM Diet

The General Motors Diet generally referred to as the GM diet, is a popular FAD diet that promises to help you lose fat in just one week. It is a seven-day diet plan with strict eating rules for each day. Since it regulates your eating patterns significantly, it may show some results in a week. However, one should remember that the results are not sustainable. Furthermore, it can also lead to several side effects. The most significant drawbacks of the diet are:

  • It does not encourage regular exercise or workouts.
  • It restricts the consumption of whole grains, dairy and seafood. Hence, it deprives your body of many essential nutrients and minerals.
  • The results are short term.

Vegan Diet

Vegan diets have become increasingly popular among dieters seeking to shed pounds. While they don’t include any animal products, nutritionists critique it for being unbalanced and extreme. On the other hand, they get marketed as a clean and wholesome way of eating. Importantly, vegan diets can be healthy or unhealthy depending on the consumed items.

Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet reduces insulin levels and switches your primary fuel source from sugar to ketones. You’re in ketosis when your body doesn’t have any carbs to burn and instead turns to ketones. It shows similarities to the Atkins diet. The macronutrients in the keto diet are divided approximately into 55% to 60% fat, 30% to 35% protein, and 5% to 10% carbohydrates.

Paleo Diet

The paleo diet, also known as the palaeolithic diet, is based on hunter-gatherer diets that existed thousands of years ago. Paleo has been labelled a fad diet due to its dietary restrictions, including dairy, legumes, and grains. Furthermore, experts have pointed out that eating the same foods as our prehistoric forefathers is not feasible nor possible. 

The 5:2 diet

The alternate-day fasting 5:2 diet, often known as the fast diet, is intermittent fasting. This diet entails regularly eating five days a week and restricting your calorie intake from 500 to600 calories for two days a week. As a result, it leads to a calorie deficit and weight loss. The 5:2 diet has been dubbed a fad diet because of the highly low-calorie allocation on the two “fast” days.

Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet is the world’s most well-known low-carb weight-loss plan. The Atkins diet, developed by cardiologist Robert Atkins in the early 1970s, promises quick weight loss without hunger. It has four stages, the first is a two-week Induction Phase in which carbs are limited to 20 grams per day, but protein and fat are permitted. During this phase, your body begins to convert fat into ketones, which it then uses as its primary energy source.

Following that, adherents of the Atkins diet progressively increase their carbohydrate intake in 5-gram increments to determine their “critical carbohydrate levels” for weight reduction and maintenance. 

Fad Diets: Why Should You Avoid Them?

Many fad diets advertise rapid weight loss while ignoring the nutrients your body requires. Unfortunately, these weight-loss strategies rarely work in the long run, and some can even be harmful to your health.

Nutritional Deficiency

Fad diets that severely restrict food groups or nutrients mean that you miss out on the critical nutrients, including dietary fibre, carbohydrates, specific vitamins, minerals, and protective phytochemicals. If you don’t receive enough of these nutrients, you can develop serious health problems.

The amounts of food groups in these diets are often far below those recommended by major health organisations such as the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the United States Department of Agriculture. As a result, you get deprived of the protective health effects that a balanced eating plan provides.

Severely Low-Calorie Intake

Liquid formula diets have a low-calorie intake (about 400-500 calories) and claim to include all necessary nutrients. However, these diets should be followed with caution, as they could lead to significant disorders, including anaemia, vitamin and mineral deficiency, weariness, weakness, and dizziness. Consuming an extreme low-calorie fad diet can also cause rapid weight loss, making you feel tired and nauseous. 

Excess Ketone Production

Research says that due to excessive ketone production resulting from inadequate fat breakdown and dehydration, these diets can be highly harmful. Ketones are stored in the blood and can result in death if present in excess. It is because dangerously high levels of ketones make the blood more acidic. 

Hampers Normal Body Functioning

Fad diets that recommend consuming only one food type, such as the Cider Vinegar and Vitamin B6 Diet, are popular, but they can lead to malnutrition and decreased renal function. In addition, since you miss out on essential nutrients, your immune system becomes weak. As a result, it gradually changes your digestive, muscle, and bone health. 

Fad Diets and Weight Gain

The weight loss from the fad diet is a temporary accomplishment because initial weight loss is typically just a loss of water weight. Following a fad diet comes with extreme limitations. These diet restrictions later result in binge eating, resulting in weight gain. Because of the unsustainable nature of fad diets, you gain back all of the weight you just lost. The diet manipulates your metabolism, making it slow and prompting your body to hang on to extra fat. 

Fat Burners

Fat burners are dietary supplements in fad diets that contain synthetic or natural substances. The products help people lose pounds and get a more sculpted shape. But, contrary to their name, fat burners do not cause fat cells to burn. Some of the ingredients in fat burners might cause weight loss in small amounts. The majority of such supplements, however, have not been scientifically tested. As a result, producers can make any claim they want about their products, even if they don’t have any reliable proof to back it up. In addition, their effectiveness is unknown because the FDA doesn’t control them. 

The Sustainable Way to Diet

The word ‘diet’ originally refers to the kind of food habitually consumed by a community. The modern definition of the same word refers to how you control yourself to eat small amounts of certain foods to lose weight. You might need to alter this restrictive modern definition of the term and accept that you can maintain a healthy weight by consuming nutrient-rich foods in reasonable quantities. 

Individuals who follow fad diets are more likely to develop a “yo-yo” or weight cycling pattern, which involves losing weight, gaining weight, and then losing weight again. Weight cycling, according to some specialists, is harmful. It causes an increased risk of specific ailments, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In addition, weight cycling can throw off your physiology and alter your calorie requirements.

Slow down to give yourself time to transform your eating habits truly. First, calculate how many calories you’ll need each day to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Then, keep a food diary for a few months to track what you eat and drink until eating healthy foods becomes second nature.

Some other healthy diet habits to follow are:
  • Give special attention to your fruit and vegetable intake since they are essential for optimal health. The fibre in fruits and veggies keeps you full longer, suppressing appetite and improving digestion. 
  • Consume lean meats, chicken, and fish, but keep portion amounts in check.
  • You can obtain calcium through low-fat dairy products, supplements, and calcium-fortified meals.
  • Instead of processed foods like white bread, prepackaged cookies, salted nuts, and cereals, opt for whole grains and fresh and seasonal ingredients. 
  • Reduce your intake of calorie beverages like soft drinks, canned juices, etc. Instead, increase your water and other fluids consumption like coconut water, clear soups and herb-infused water. 
  • Breakfast is essential. Breakfast eaters are more likely to maintain a healthy weight. Also, don’t skip any other meals. It is critical to eat consistently throughout the day.
  • Keep a food diary for a few months to track and refer to it when required. 
  • Don’t forget to involve physical movement by walking, dancing, swimming or playing a sport. It will help you gain muscle, boost your metabolism, and improve your general health.
  • Engage in activities that give you joy. It will boost happy chemicals in your brain.
  • Make sure to get the ample rest that your body requires. 7-8 hours of sleep and power naps make a difference in overall wellbeing. 


All fad diets have one concept in common. They offer a temporary cure for your weight problems. When you discontinue the fad diet, the weight loss is usually rapidly recovered. But unfortunately, fad diets don’t emphasise lifestyle changes, which are essential to maintain weight loss in the long run. Therefore, fad diets cannot be sustainable. 

The weight loss and weight maintenance process must be healthy to be effective in the long term. A balanced diet which includes recommended quantities of foods from each food group is an ideal meal for most individuals except people with special dietary requirements. The key is not to let a craving for chocolate ice cream transform into unhealthy binge eating. Instead, consume nutritious, wholesome foods and keep track of daily movements. Consult your physician and dietician for sustainable diet plans, personalised exercises and mindful advice to reach your health goals. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What are the three characteristics of fad diets?

A. Fad diets claim quick weight loss with nutrients changes, promote ‘magic’ foods, and severely restrict food groups or nutrients, such as carbohydrates. Furthermore, fad diets preach that diets can change body chemistry and advise rigid rules that focus on weight loss. They do not consider lifestyle habits like exercise. Instead, they eliminate certain foods and promote the consumption of certain food combinations to make you lose weight.  

Q. Why are fad diets harmful?

A. Fad diets may not work for everyone and can be harmful in the long run. They sound too good to be true and often compromise your nutritional requirements. In addition, the limited food choices in a fad diet lead to restrictive eating, which might turn into disordered eating. 

Q. What is the most common fad diet?

A. Atkins and the keto diet are the most common and famous globally. They make promises of weight loss or other health advantages like lowering insulin levels. Some other typical fad diets are the Dukan diet, paleo diet, 5:2, and south beach diet. 

Q. Is Keto a fad diet?

A. Yes, the ketogenic diet is a typical fad diet. It shares similarities with another popular fad diet called the Atkins diet. The macronutrients in the keto diet are divided approximately into 55% to 60% fat, 30% to 35% protein, and 5% to 10% carbohydrates. 

Q. Is Paleo a fad diet?

A. The paleo diet is a fad diet because it removes dairy, sugar, grains, alcohol, processed foods and starches. Therefore, it restricts many whole-food, health-building food groups. There is no evidence to support paleo as a healthy long-term eating plan. 

Q. Is gluten-free a fad diet?

A. Despite losing popularity as a diet craze, the gluten-free diet has a lingering stigma of being a fad diet. However, a gluten-free lifestyle has become one of the most popular diet styles since it reduces or eliminates gluten. And it is beneficial for people with celiac disease.

Q. What are two reasons why you want to avoid fad diets?

A. First, fad diets cannot meet the daily nutrient intake required for your body. Second, they are not sustainable. Therefore, the results you gain after gruesome efforts are temporary. 

Q. How can you identify a fad diet?

A. A fad diet often claims to give quick weight loss solutions with a negligible focus on individual preferences and lifestyles. It promises a quick fix, promotes restrictive food combinations, and has rigid rules regarding calorie intake. 

Q. What are the pros of fad diets?

A. Like the vegan diet, a fad diet is supposed to be ethical and clean. But, unlike the other diets, you can see faster results. Fad diets like the keto diet help lower insulin levels. It also promotes healthy fat consumption and enables you to find your ideal carb intake level.

Q. Are fad diets effective?

A. Fad diets may work for some people. Still, for most, they are not a long term solution to weight loss because you will eventually gain that weight back when you revert to your regular eating habits, as the very nature of a fad diet is not sustainable. 

Q. What is a red flag for a fad diet?

A.The red flag for a fad diet is the claim to lose weight rapidly without any exercise or lifestyle changes. They’re too restrictive and often glorify eliminating an entire food group. Despite being expensive and challenging, fad diets are not sustainable.

About the Author

According to Hiral, “Striving to be better than yesterday, is the key to achieving any goal that is ahead of you”. As a diet and lifestyle consultant, Hiral intends to help her clients inculcate habits such as healthy eating and regular exercise to improve their lifestyle holistically for a better tomorrow. She also aims to make her clients feel good from the inside-out and bring about a positive change to their overall life.

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