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5 Ways to Spot a Fad Diet

Lots of today's popular diets take advantage of our desire to drop weight quickly. Unfortunately, though, "quick-fix" diets don't work.

Here are 5 clues that a diet may be more about empty promises than real results:

  1. The diet is based on drastically cutting back calories. Starvation-type diets that require the body to fast often promise quick results. But our bodies simply aren't designed to drop pounds quickly. In fact, doctors say it's nearly impossible for a healthy, normally active person to lose more than 2 to 3 pounds per week of actual fat, even on a starvation diet.

    Here's the trick that very low-calorie diets rely on: The body's natural reaction to near-starvation is to dump water. So most, if not all, of the weight lost on quick-weight-loss diets is not fat — it's just water. And the body sucks this lost water back up like a sponge once a person starts eating normally again.
  2. The diet is based on taking special pills, powders, or herbs. These are usually just gimmicks — and the only thing they slim down is your wallet.

    Some diet pills contain laxatives or diuretics that force a person's body to eliminate more water. Just like restricted-calorie diets, the weight lost with these supplements is mostly water, not fat.

    Other supplements claim that their ingredients speed up metabolism; suppress appetite; or block the absorption of fat, sugars, or carbohydrates. For most diet supplements, there's no reliable scientific research to back up their claims. And doctors consider diet supplements risky for teens because not much is known about how the ingredients affect the growing body.
  3. The diet tells you to eat only specific foods or foods in certain combinations. There's no reliable scientific proof that combining certain foods works. And limiting the foods you eat means you might not get all the nutrition you need.
  4. The diet makes you completely cut out fat, sugar, or carbs. Depriving our bodies of needed food groups is a bad idea (especially when they're still growing). It's better to eat smaller portions in well-rounded meals (meals that contain lean protein, whole grains, fruits, veggies, and low-fat dairy). When your body gets the right balance of nutrition, it's less likely to send you willpower-busting cravings! Eating smaller portions also helps you set good eating habits that will help you keep the weight off.
  5. The diet requires you to skip meals or replace meals with special drinks or food bars. As with diets that ban certain food groups, skipping or substituting meals can mean you don't get the nutrition needed to support healthy development. Plus, you miss out on the enjoyment of sharing a satisfying meal with friends or family.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: October 2013

 
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Related Resources:
ChooseMyPlate.gov
ChooseMyPlate.gov provides practical information on how to follow the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It includes resources and tools to help families lead healthier lives.
National Center for Nutrition and Dietetics
Offering nutrition information, resources, and access to registered dietitians.