How to Tell if a Diet is a Fad Diet

How to Tell if a Diet is a Fad Diet

You're frustrated about your weight, but are tired of seeing limited results. When that pop-up comes up on your computer screen, or you scroll through your Instagram and see amazing before and after pictures of people promoting the latest weight loss trend, it's hard not to get excited.

Unfortunately, however, most of the diets that we hear about through social media on a daily basis are fad diets.

Fad diet creators, of course, don't like hearing they are fad diets. They promote their methods with such vigor and security that it is hard not to believe in it.

In this article, we will give you the tools that will help you see a fad diet from miles away, and not let it trick you, too.

First of all, what is a fad diet?

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, "Fad diets, as their name implies, are short-term quick fixes that actually set many dieters up for weight-loss failure."

The term "fad" refers to an intense and often short-lived enthusiasm for something that doesn’t have a strong, well-supported base. A fad tends to be "in fashion" for certain periods of time, before being replaced with the next one.

Why should I avoid fad diets?

There are lots of potential dangers that can result from following fad diets, many of which are specific to the diets themselves. In general, however, some of the biggest risks or downfalls of following a fad diet are:

  • Quick weight re-gain that follows a quick weight loss
  • Too low in energy or a certain macronutrient
  • Can lead to nutrient deficiencies
  • Are not sustainable in the long-term
  • May cause significant mood change
  • Often aren't based on significant research
  • Often focus on the superficial aspects of weight loss while ignoring the health aspects of weight loss

None of these risks are anything to laugh about. They may seriously compromise your health, as well as your self-esteem.

How can I tell if a diet is a fad diet?

If you are looking seriously at starting a new diet that interests you, there are a series of questions you can ask yourself to determine whether it is a viable long-term diet that implies a major lifestyle change, or whether it is a short-term fad diet that will set you up for failure.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do the results promise you will lose more than 4 pounds a week?
  • Are certain food groups excluded?
  • Is it trying to sell you a product?
  • Does it use testimonials, rather than scientific research, to try and prove its effectiveness?
  • Did the diet gain popularity out of nowhere or as the result of one book or study?
  • Is there a celebrity promoting the diet?
  • Does the diet promote a specific food that it claims is the key to weight loss and health?
  • Is there independent research that supports or proves the claims made by those promoting the diet?
  • Is exercise explicitly excluded from the plan?
  • Do they use before and after pictures and testimonials?

And the most important question: Do the results seem too good to be true?

If you answered yes to at least two of these questions, there is a good chance it is a fad diet.

Examples of fad diets:

The Pennington Biomedical Research Center of Louisiana State University published a nutrition series listing categories of popular fad diets, including:

  1. Low carbohydrate, high fat diets: Fat intake is up to double the recommended amount, protein intake is up to 4 times the recommended amount, and carbohydrate intake is extremely low. This causes water loss and protein loss, but it is perceived as pure fat loss.
  2. Low fat and very low fat diets: While there are low fat diets specialized for people with specific conditions, for the most part, low fat diets are very low in calories, and may lead to deficiencies in fat-soluble vitamins. Additionally, popular low fat foods aren’t necessarily healthy for you.
  3. Cure-all foods: Diets that promote a specific food that is the key to weight loss are fad diets. Diets need to be varied and complete in order to avoid deficiencies and ensure sustainability.
  4. Liquid diets: They control calorie intake, resulting in calorie loss in the short term. Similar to low fat diets, they may be prescribed to people with specific conditions, but as a therapeutic measure rather than a weight loss measure.

If you still find that you are intrigued by a certain diet, even if you are convinced it is not a fad diet, make sure to talk to a registered dietician before you take it on. This will help you make the right decisions for your specific idiosyncrasies and health, and avoid any negative repercussions while working to reach your weight loss goal.


Pennington Biomedical Research Center: Fad Diets Defined