Why Fad Diets Are Bad and How to Avoid Them

Close-Up Of Drinks In Glass Bottle On Table
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A fad diet is any trendy diet that promises fast and easy weight loss, like baby food diets, alkaline diets, Paleolithic diets, gluten-free diets, cleanses and fasts, etc. They're tempting, and the advertisements for the fad diets lure you in with grandiose claims of weight loss.

Just imagine—no need to worry about counting calories or exercising, just follow the rules and the extra pounds fall right off. They don't work, so don't fall for the fad diet hype.

Fad diets are bad because they don't address the problems that caused you to gain weight in the first place. Once you're through with the fad diet, you'll probably gain the weight back as you reestablish old eating habits. Fad diets are also bad because they usually require the elimination of foods that aren't bad for you, which can result in nutritional deficiencies.

Signs It's a Fad Diet

How do you know you are looking at a fad diet? Typical signs include:

  • Claims of fast and easy weight loss.
  • Elimination of certain food groups or "bad foods."
  • Requires you to buy dietary supplements impressively labeled as fat burners, weight loss aids, and metabolism boosters.
  • Tells you that foods need to be correctly combined for proper digestion to occur.
  • No need for exercise.
  • Highlights specific foods, such as grapefruit, maple syrup, and lemonade or special soup.

Eliminating? Combining? Why?

Some diets require you to eliminate certain food groups. Some of these dietary authors claim humans haven't evolved enough as a species to eat wheat, and others say specific foods don't match certain blood types. These are interesting hypotheses, but there's not enough reliable evidence that supports those claims. Certain health conditions require the elimination of particular food groups due to allergies or metabolic disorders such as celiac disease, but most of us should choose foods from each food group every day.

A few fad diets require you to combine specific types of foods. The claim here is that your body can't digest carbs at the same time it digests proteins or with fats. But that's absurd. Your digestive system utilizes specific enzymes for digestion of different foods, and they don't cancel each other out—in fact, they all work quite nicely together.

What About Fat-Burners?

Don't fall for the claims of extreme weight-loss "fat-burner" supplements. Take your eyes off the svelte woman (who just lost 30 pounds in a few weeks!) and look down at the bottom of the ad. You will see a disclaimer in tiny letters, "weight-loss not typical, your results may vary." That means most people don't lose much weight.

What Is the Best Way to 'Diet?'

Fad diets typically lead to individuals developing a pattern called "yo-yo" or weight cycling, which is losing weight, gaining weight, and then losing it again. They repeat this pattern for many years. Some experts believe that weight cycling is unhealthy. It may increase the risk of developing certain diseases, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Weight cycling can disrupt your normal physiology and impact your caloric needs.

Short-term diets are not nearly as effective as adopting a healthy, balanced diet that you can follow for a lifetime.

Start by getting the word "diet" out of your brain. You want to make a lifestyle change that will allow you to maintain a healthy weight by eating nutrient-dense foods from all of the food groups in the amounts that are right for your body. And you don't need to completely eliminate anything—even an occasional treat is okay.

Slow down and give yourself enough time to really change the way you eat. You didn't gain 30 pounds in one month so don't expect to lose it all so quickly. Determine how many calories you need each day to reach and maintain a healthy weight. Keep track of everything you eat and drink with a food diary for a few months until eating healthful foods becomes a way of life.

Allow room for small treats. Most of us get sugar cravings that aren't good for us but taste yummy and the longer you fight a craving the worse it gets until you finally bury your face right in a bag of greasy potato chips.

Eating should be pleasurable as well as nutritious, so go ahead and indulge a little (before the cravings turn to monsters). The United States Department of Agriculture's old food pyramid and new MyPlate.gov allows you to have about 100 discretionary calories every day so you can enjoy a cup of soda, a handful of chips, half a candy bar, or a small cookie. The key is not to let the cup of soda turn into a 64-ounce super-sized soft drink every day, let the handful of chips become a big bag of chips.

Healthy Eating Tips

  • Pay extra attention to eating fruits and vegetables. They are the key to good health.
  • Choose whole grains instead of processed white bread and cereals.
  • Cut back on caloric beverages and drink more water.
  • Enjoy lean meats, poultry, and fish, but watch your portion sizes.
  • Get enough calcium with low-fat dairy products, supplements or calcium-fortified foods.
  • Cook with heart-healthy canola and olive oils.
  • Don't skip breakfast. People who eat breakfast tend to stay at a healthy weight.
  • Don't skip other meals, either. Eating regularly throughout the day is important.
  • Start your dinner with a soup or eat a salad as your dinner.
  • Keep a food diary for a few months until choosing nutritious foods becomes a habit.
  • Don't forget about exercise; physical activity builds muscle increases our metabolism and helps improve our overall well-being.
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Gardner CD, Kiazand A, Alhassan S, Kim S, Stafford RS, Balise RR, Kraemer HC, King AC. "Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN diets for change in weight and related risk factors among overweight premenopausal women: the A TO Z Weight Loss Study: a randomized trial." JAMA. 2007 Mar 7;297(9):969-77.
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison University Health Services. "Fad Diets."

By Shereen Lehman, MS
Shereen Lehman, MS, is a former writer for Verywell Fit and Reuters Health. She's a healthcare journalist who writes about healthy eating and offers evidence-based advice for regular people.