The truth about fad diets

The truth about fad diets

Team ErbologyErbology

Fad diets make empty promises and lure you into thinking that they can fix all your problems overnight. Unfortunately, that is never the case. Let’s uncover the truth about fad diets.

June 27, 2022 8:43 am

What are fad diets?

Fad diets are promoted as quick fixes to achieving rapid weight loss. More often than not, their promises seem too good to be true, and that’s because they are! Let’s unravel the truth about fad diets. 

Many fad diets require you to completely cut out entire food groups which your body needs for normal health and functioning. Most of these diets lack any credible scientific evidence and in fact, they can be dangerous and put your health at risk.

There are countless examples of fad diets, and the rate at which companies advertise new ones does not seem to be decreasing anytime soon! The popularity of fad diets increases thanks to celebrity endorsements or heavy media promotion. 

Some fad diets praise the benefits of specific foods, for example cabbage ( the cabbage soup diet) or raw foods (raw vegan diets), just to name a few. 

Others focus on specific macronutrients, such as low carb diets (Atkins), high carb diets (the Pritikin principle), high fat diets (paleo), high protein diets (Dukan).Some fad diets claim that certain foods should only be eaten as specific times of the day, while others only allow certain foods if they are eaten in combination with other foods. 

Some of these diets may be appropriate in very specific circumstances under the guidance of a doctor or dietitian. However for the most part, they are largely unnecessary and can lead to health issues. 

The truth about fad diets

By cutting out major food groups, you are likely to miss out on essential nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals, thus leading to deficiencies and in the worst case scenario, illness. 

In addition, when fad diets do permit certain food groups, the amounts that they recommend are often largely below or above the standard recommended amounts as established by regulatory governing bodies. 

One thing’s for sure, the truth about fad diets is that they offer an overnight solution to what is essentially a lifelong issue. 

Weight loss does not happen overnight no matter what fad diets lead you to believe. What’s more, when you stop following a fad diet, you will most probably gain back any weight you have lost, and perhaps more weight on top of that. 

Understandably, when it comes to weight loss, most people wish to see results as soon as possible and ideally immediately. Who would say no to a proven effective and extremely rapid weight loss diet solution? Unfortunately this is not realistic and it promotes an unhealthy mindset. 

The main issue with fad diets is that their focus is not behavior change or healthy lifestyle modification. In fact, this is exactly what people who wish to lose weight require in order to sustainably balance their weight. 

Unfortunately,  the truth is that most fad diets are not sustainable in the long-term. Healthy weight loss takes effort and a bit of patience. Healthy varied eating combined with regular movement is the key to sustainable, long-term weight loss and maintenance.(1) 

Related reading

“Weight loss does not happen overnight no matter what fad diets lead you to believe. What’s more, when you stop following a fad diet, you will most probably gain back any weight you have lost, and perhaps more weight on top of that.”

How do I know if a diet is a “fad diet”?

Most fad diets have several factors in common which will allow you to spot them fairly easily. 

Here are some typical tell-tale signs of a fad diet:

  • Promises of quick overnight or very short term (days/weeks) fixes
  • Grandiose claims that seem too good to be true (they are)
  • Recommendations based on a single study or no science at all
  • Assigning moral value to food, declaring there are “good” and “bad foods
  • Unsubstantiated claims which are not supported by reputable scientific organizations
  • Claims made based on small scale studies that are not peer-reviewed or of dubious nature 
  • Complete elimination of one or more food groups (grains, protein foods, dairy, fruit, vegetables)
  • “Testimonials” touting the benefits of the diet 

Fad diets can cause health problems 

Fad diets are typically unbalanced which means you are likely missing out on one or more nutrients. Side-effects of fad diets can include weakness, fatigue, dehydration, nausea, headaches, constipation and nutrient deficiencies. 

It is common knowledge that a balanced diet is beneficial for your health. Thus if you follow a fad diet which excludes entire food groups and/or nutrients, you may not gain the same benefits. There haven’t been enough studies to conclude whether fad diets are safe in the long-term or whether they increase the risk of disease. 

Forget the fad, sustainable weight loss is key  

Sustainable weight loss is a combination of different factors. It is highly recommended that should you embark on a weight loss journey, that you enlist the help of a qualified registered dietitian who can provide credible and effective advice and support. 

In addition, steer clear of fad diets with empty promises and instead focus on the following pillars:

1. A varied diet 

By definition, fad diets are not varied. They exclude foods and nutrients and assign moral value to foods, declaring certain foods as essentially “evil”! 

There is no such thing as inherently  “good” or “bad” food, there are simply foods which benefit our health and those that don’t. There are also foods that are “sometimes” foods, foods that are not typically considered “healthy” yet, if consumed sparingly, can definitely be included within a varied, healthy and balanced eating pattern. 

For example, birthday cake is typically not considered “healthy”, most of us would agree with that! However, does that mean that in order to be a healthy person you must never have a slice of birthday cake ever again? Of course not. 

Such extreme restrictive behaviors can be detrimental to our mental health and can end up causing more harm than good. 

Moreover, willpower is a limited resource and it can only last so long before you need to replenish it. 

Inevitably, most people who severely restrict certain foods will reach a breaking point where they “give in” to the “bad” food they were trying to avoid. This can lead to vicious cycles of binge eating as well as eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia. 

Sustainable eating means including a wide variety of foods in your diet: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products (or plant-based alternatives), lean protein (or plant-based alternatives, nuts and seeds, and a “sometimes” food once in a while.

2. Eat what you enjoy 

Also, making sure that you eat foods that you actually enjoy is important! Eating healthy shouldn’t feel like a chore. Some of us hate brussels sprouts because we have (not so) fond memories of them from our school cafeteria, overcooked and mushy. 

When we learn how to cook vegetables properly, whether they are roasted, stir-fried or air-fried, and seasoned to perfection, we may just find that we appreciate them a lot more. Although if you still can’t bear the thought of brussels sprouts, that’s also ok! There are plenty more vegetables to choose from! Forcing yourself to eat foods you hate just because they are “healthy” will make eating an unpleasant experience for you and ultimately set you up for failure. So don’t be afraid to choose the foods that you enjoy the most, get creative and look up new ways to cook veggies to make them more interesting, and you’ll soon be on track to a happier and healthier you! 

3.The hidden trio: fats, sugars and liquid calories


There are several types of fats, those that provide beneficial effects for your health and those that can be detrimental if consumed in excess. Saturated and trans fats in particular can have negative consequences on your health. Trans fats are perhaps the number one type of fats to avoid, they are very closely linked to cardiovascular disease. 

These fats are typically found in deep-fried foods and foods containing hydrogenated oils. Not to mention that these foods are also very high in calories and low in nutritive value, thus they would be hindering any weight loss goals. 

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in extra virgin olive oil, almond oil, avocadoes, nuts and seeds are excellent for your heart health and overall health. However, they are still high in calories, so if your aim is weight loss, make sure you consume these in moderation. 

There is no need to follow a no-fat or low-fat diet for weight loss, but you also don’t need to dress your salad with half a bottle of olive oil, one to two tablespoons should suffice.

Hidden sugars

Foods that are high in refined sugar are often high in calories and low in nutrients. Examples include all sorts of candy, store bought cookies and cakes, ice cream and desserts. If you choose to eat these foods, they are “sometimes” foods. Be aware that many products disguise sugar as other ingredients ( fruit juice concentrate, corn syrup, fructose, brown sugar, cane sugar…these are all refined sugars which have essentially zero nutritional value).

Liquid calories

Last but not least, paying attention to what you drink is important if you are looking to achieve weight loss. In fact, many people don’t realize that the energy from drinks can quickly add up and lead to an energy surplus because drinks do not promote satiety in the same way that food does. 

So whilst eating 500 calories worth of food in  a burger may leave you feeling quite full, a 500 calorie cocktail will not have the same effect. It is very easy to consume excess calories through drinks alone. The main “offenders” in this are unsurprisingly, soda and alcohol. 

If you drink alcohol, moderating your intake will not only help you with weight loss but also with your overall health in general. Furtherm