We Take a Look at the Most Popular Fad Diets of the Past 30 Years and Pick The Top 10 Dumbest Fad Diets to Ever Be Unleashed on Dieters.
The Fad Diet.
Nothing exemplifies the American obsession with quick fixes more than the seemingly endless parade of fad diets cooked up by everyone from modern snake-oil salesmen, to slick Internet entreprenuers, to corporate product marketing teams looking for a new way to sell an old product.
The formula for a fad diet is pretty consistent:
Take a single ”miracle food” , add a little glitz and glamour in the form of a celebrity (nevermind whether she actually uses it, just mentioning it will suffice), sprinkle on some big weight loss promises, mix in some mis-applied clinical research, finish it up with a heaping spoonful of dramatic before-and-after pictures and you pretty much have a recipe for the classic fad diet.
The Top Ten Dumbest Fad Diets below go by many names and often have many variations.
Like a virus, some of these diets just seem to naturally mutate once they are released on the Internet, so tracking down their origins or even how they work can be difficult. In this regard, they have more in common with urban legends, than eating plans.
How Do You Qualify For The Top Ten Dumbest Fad Diet List?
Qualifying for this list of Top 10 Dumbest Fad Diets is pretty easy.
Any diet that focuses on a single food as the “secret” to weight loss gets immediate consideration. Also, any diet that includes extreme calorie-restriction, seemingly arbitrary eating rules (or lists of forbidden foods without explanation), or is nutritionally unbalanced earns a place in the list. Also, there is a whole class of pure B.S. diets concocted by saavy, but unscrupulous Internet marketers, that instantly earn the distinction “Dumb Fad Diet.”
In most cases, the fad diets below just defy common sense, which is the ultimate definition of “dumbness” in my book.
Are All of Top Ten Fad Diets “Unhealthy?”
Only two of the diets below — the Special K Diet and the Alkaline Diet — could be considered marginally legit or “healthy.”
The Alkaline Diet makes some questionable scientific claims that make it dumb, but in comparison to its company like the Lemonade Diet, it looks downright healthy.
Same goes for the Special K Diet, which earned a place on this list not because it’s particularly bad for you, but because it’s a great example of the growing phenomenon of “Corporate-crafted” fad diets used to push a food product. Kellogg isn’t the only company doing this, they just happen to be the ones I’m picking on today.
With the exception of the Kimkins Diet and maybe the Lemonade or Detox Diet, it’s unlikely any of these diets will cause lasting harm. The duration of them is generally too short for serious nutritional deficicencies to develop and the sheer dumbness and monotony of most of them will make them self-limiting.
However, serial crash dieting can cause nutritional deficiencies over time, as well as possible health issues, including eating disorders. So my recommendation is to avoid them, period.
In terms of weight-loss, you will probably temporarily lose some weight on any or all of these diets — but the key term here is ”temporary.” Rebound weight gain is almost a given with most of these fad diets, since they typically won’t result in real body fat loss, but rather loss of water weight.
The list of Top 10 Dumbest Fad Diets is ranked 1-10, with the dumbest fad diet being Kimkins in the number one slot and The Special K coming in at 10.
Top 10 Dumbest Fad Diets
1. Kimkins Diet
The Kimkins Diet earns the not-so distinguished distinction of being not only being possibly the dumbest fad diet of the past two decades, but also one of the most potentially dangerous and deceptive.
And because it was pitched as a “long-term” diet, it’s potential for causing health issues was much greater than short-duration crash diets.
This diet combines a ultra-low fat, low-carbohydrate eating regimen with copious use of chemical laxatives to deliver promises of dramatic weight loss that are ”better than gastric bypass surgery!”
The diet’s chief-guru was “Kimmer” (aka Heidi Diaz) who plastered her dramatic before and after pictures all over the Internet, allegedly earning herself millions in subscriptions to her site where she and a small army of diet hacks doled out advice to the most desperate of dieters.
Problem was, Heidi never lost the weight she claimed — instead the “after” pictures were snatched off from Russian dating sites. In fact, Kimmer … er … Heidi had no business even developing this diet, since she had zero nutrition training and based on her weight, couldn’t lose the fat even on her own diet plan.
Outrage ensued, with former Kimkins followers (who called themselves “Ducks”) taking up torches and pitchforks online to expose the ruse. Lawsuits followed and “Kimmer” is now embroiled in multiple legal proceedings over her claims and alleged misrepresentations.
The Kimkins Diet is downright dangerous because it prescribes a high-protein, low-carbydrate and ultra-low fat diet — kind of like Atkins but without the bacon.
These types of “protein” diets were linked to a number of cases of sudden-cardiac arrest in the 70s when the hordes of people jumped on the “liquid protein diet” craze. While there are no reported deaths from Kimkins, former-Kimkins dieters alledge all kinds of health problems as a result of the diet, including loss of hair and skin problems.
While the Kimkins website is still active and apparently recruiting new dieters, in January 2009 Diaz filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.
This Fad Diet ranks as the dumbest of the dumb. Avoid it at all costs.
2. Lemonade Diet
Diet Aliases: The Detox Diet, Master Cleanse, Lemon Cleanse, Maple Syrup Diet
The Lemonade Diet is a “detoxification diet” that pushes the bounds of stupidity and earns second place in our list of The Top 10 Dumbest Fad Diets.
Fueled by tabloid headlines and a very high-profile celebrity dieter (Beyonce Knowles), The Lemonade Diet seemed to take the world by storm in 2007-2008. Forget that Beyonce later distanced herself from it.
The Lemonade Diet is originally credited to Stanley Burroughs, who developed it in 1941. Burroughs was a self-appointed “alternative medicine” guru, with no formal medical training. The diet was recently revived and popularized by Peter Glickman in his book Lose Weight, Have More Energy and Be Happier in 10 Days.
Like many “detoxification” diets, The Lemonade Diet relies on extreme-calorie restriction to trigger weight loss. It also makes scientifically-unproven claims around removing toxins from the body. There is zero peer-reviewed research to back up any of the weight-loss, detoxification or health claims of this diet. Just a lot of conjecture and hocus-pocus.
The Lemonade Diet is more or less a water fast, although it’s proponents bristle at that characterization. You eat no solid food during the duration of the diet (which typically lasts 10 days), and instead drink a “lemonade” made from water, lemon or lime juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper.
Since you’re eating no solid food or fiber, you have to take natural “laxatives” each night and morning unless you want your bowls to bind up. This usually means sipping senna tea and drinking salt water. Yummy!
While Lemonade Diet advocates say the “lemonade” mixture you’re drinking is balanced and contains vitamins and minerals, the amount of maple syrup and lemon juice is actually quite small. There is very little “balance” in this fad diet and very little nutrition. Macronutrients like protein, fat and carbohydrates are all but non-existant.
Anyone would lose weight on this diet, because you are literally starving yourself.
A bread and water diet would have been more nutritious than the Lemonade Diet, and probably safer as well. But of course, saying that you’re going on the “Bread and Water Diet” just doesn’t sound as sexy as “I’m doing The Lemonade Diet” or “I’m detoxifying my chakras and bowels via a 10 day fast.”
Bread and water is for convicts, the Lemonade Diet is for superstars.
This diet is just plain dumb, especially for anyone who is trying to be fit and in shape.
Expect tons of muscle loss during it, since you’ll basically be in a catabolic state 24/7 for ten days. While following it for a couple days probably won’t cause any lasting health problems in healthy adults, doing it for the recommended 10 days (or longer) probably isn’t a smart move.
3. Cabbage Soup Diet
Diet Aliases: Mayo Clinic Diet, The Sacred Heart Diet, The Cabbage Diet, 7 Day Cabbage Soup Diet
Cabbage is good for you. All-you-can-eat cabbage soup six times a day is just dumb.
The first of several “mono-diets” that make this list of the Top 10 Dumbest Fad Diets, this brilliant eating plan has you pretty much substituting a Dickensian-esque soup made from cabbage, onions, green peppers, Lipton soup mix and V-8 juice (how’s that combo for you) for most of your meals each day.
The Cabbage Soup Diet, which also is sometimes called the “Mayo Clinic Diet” or ”The Sacred Heart Diet” has been around for at least three decades. And while it claims to be a legit diet plan, both the Mayo Clinic and Sacred heart Hospital have denied any involvement in the diet.
In otherwords, someone with a love of cabbage just pulled this dumb diet out of their rear and started passing it around.
Which probably explains the Cabbage Soup Diet’s litany of seemingly arbitrary eating rules and restrictions:
- Day One: Eat nothing but fruit (except for bananas) and as much cabbage soup as you want
- Day Two: Eat only veggies and cabbage soup, but “reward yourself” with a “big baked potato” with butter!
- Day Three: Eat all the fruits and veggies you want, but no potato! Oh, and more cabbage soup.
- Day Four: Eat as many bananas as you want, along with skim milk and lots of cabbage soup.
- Day Five: It’s beef and tomato day on the Cabbage Soup Diet! Chow down on 10 to 20 ounces of steak and six fresh tomatos and of course, eat your yummy soup.
It goes on pretty much the same. You get the picture: Lots of cabbage soup and a bunch of silly eating rules.
Does the diet work?
Well, considering that people who try the Cabbage Soup diet also seem to be the same people who later try the Detox Diet, The Banana Diet, and The Tuna Fish Diet, it’s apparently not working that well.
It won’t kill you, but it probably won’t make you very happy either. Well … unless you really like cabbage.
4. Grapefruit Diet
Diet Aliases: Hollywood Diet, Mayo Diet
One of the least dangerous of the Top 10 Dumbest Fad Diets, this one rests on some lose-and-free interpretation of medical research around the metabolism-boosting properties of grapefruit.
Yes, grapefruit may increase metabolism.
And there is some evidence that when eaten with carbohydrates in the same meal, grapefruit may interfere with the breakdown and digestion of carbohydrates, but like many fad diets, The Grapefruit Diet takes a little sliver of clinical research and broadens it far beyond where it deserves to be.
This diet, surprisingly, has been around since the 1930s. The underlying promise of the diet is that when you eat grapefruit along with protein, it triggers magic fat burning. The Grapefruit Diet promises 10 lbs of weight loss during the 12 day diet. Some versions of the plan include exercise recommendations, others don’t.
A typical meal plan has you eating only 3-4 times a day. Breakfast consists of bacon and eggs with grapefruit juice; lunch is meat, salad, grapefruit juice or a half grapefruit; dinner is meat, salad, veggies and … yes … more grapefruit.
The diet is basically high-fat, high-protein, light on starchy carbs, but high in fiberous carbs. Most of your carbohydrates come in the form of fructose from the grapefruit juice.
The diet, like most of the other fad diets on this list, works on calorie-restriction.
You’ll be eating around 800-1,000 calories a day on this diet, which is generally far-below the recommended daily intake of calories required just to support an average person’s basic energy needs each day. If your goal is to lose body fat and spare the muscle, this diet will probably do more harm than good.
However, aside from the monotony of the Grapefruit Diet, there’s nothing particualary harmful about this diet over the short term. It’s just not particularly interesting, and far too low in calories.
5. Acai Berry Diet
Diet Aliases: Acai Berry Diet, The Rachel Ray Diet, Acai Burn, Acai Berry Detox, Acai Diet, Acai Berry Cleanse, Acai Ultra Burn, Acai Berry and Colon Cleanse
The Acai Berry Diet wins the 2008-2009 award for the dumbest — and most annoying — diet to ever hit the Internet.
It’s hard to swing a dead Acai tree branch without stumbling across a banner ad, text link or fake blog page (usually by someone named “Jenny” who has three great children and a wonderful husband) extolling the virtues how the Acai Berry diet and the regular cleansing of your innards will help you lose weight fast — up to 18 lbs in two weeks.
The Acai Berry Diet got started when celebrity docs Dr. Oz and Perricone mentioned that Acai berries were high in antioxidants on the Oprah Show. That’s it. Nothing about acai berries and weight loss. Just a recommendation that they were a good fruit to eat on one of the most influential talk shows on television.
Seemingly within days, a bunch of fad diet scammers went into action, launching the Acai Berry Diet at Web-speed.
The centerpiece of the Acai Berry Diet marketing strategy was a bunch of fake blogs from women named ”Jenny”, “Linda” and “Susan” who all claimed they concocted this diet themselves and lost tons of weight using a combination of an Acai berry extract and colon cleanses.
The blogs feature video clips of segments from Oprah talking about Acai berries (but not weight loss specifically), various videos of news segments on Acai berries and sometimes pictures of celebrities probably yanked off Google images holding a cup or bottle (which the reader, apparently, is supposed to assume is filled with the magic acai berry elixer) or appearing on the red carpet.
Of course, there are the obligatory before and after pictures of Jenny, Monica, Susan, or whatever fake person the marketers dreamed up to push ther two specific products: an acai berry supplement and an a lovely colon cleansing product. The name of these particular products very, but they are always generally the same thing.
But here’s the rub: While Acai Berries do contain antioxidants, analysis of acai berries has shown them to actually be lower in antioxidants than common foods like blueberries, blackberries, grapes, red wine, pomegranates and black tea. Even Perricone and Oz admit this. And there is zero clinical evidence that they have any effect on weight loss.
In other words, the Acai Berry Diet simply took the latest “fad food” and constructed a diet around it. If it does cause weight loss, it’s only because of the calorie-restrictions that the diet puts in place. You could probably accomplish the same results by dropping some soda from your diet and just eating healthier.
While the Acai Berry Diet probably won’t hurt you, it will make your wallet or purse substantially lighter.
6. GM Diet
Diet Aliases: The General Motors Diet, The GM Diet, General Motors Weight Loss Program, GM Weight Loss Program
The GM Diet, or General Motors Diet, is another fad diet that’s been making it’s rounds for a couple of decades.
The diet claims that it was developed by General Motors in conjunction with the USDA and Johns Hopkins to help GM employees lose weight and get in better shape.
The GM Diet has all the hallmarks of an Internet fad diet and good urban legend.
It appeals to authority by using the name of a major corporation or company, references a prestiguous hospital, provides a sense of “exclusivity” in the form of language that says it’s intended exclusively for the “employees and dependents of General Motors” and makes wildly unrealistic claims about how much weight you can lose in a short duration of time.
When you read first read the General Motors diet (and there are multiple variations of this diet available online), you can’t help but initially think it is legit:
The following diet and health program was developed for employees and dependents of General Motors, Inc. and is intended for their exclusive use. This program was developed in conjunction with a grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. It was field tested at the Johns Hopkins Research Centre and was approved for distribution by the Board of Directors, General Motors Corp. at a general meeting on August 15, 1985. General Motors Corp. wholly endorses this program and is making it available to all employees and families. This program will be available at all General Motors Food Service Facilities. It is management’s intention to facilitate a wellness and fitness program for everyone.
But once you read on, the plan starts to sound like every other dumb fat diet out there. It promises you’ll lose between 10-17 lbs per week by eating “foods that burn more calories than they contain” and through detoxification.
I live in Metro-Detroit, one of the fattest cities in the country and home to General Motors, and I can assure you that GM has never put it’s employees on any kind of diet that caused them to lose weight. If anything, spending hours at your desk trying to figure out how to help your company avoid Chapter 11 bankruptcy requires regular runs to Pizza Hut and Quiznos.
So when I read that the GM Diet was created by General Motors to help it’s employees lose weight, that didn’t sound like the General Motors I know.
Turns out I was right, because when you dig into the details of the diet, it suddenly sounds a lot like our old friend The Cabbage Soup Diet. In fact, the GM Diet is the Cabbage Soup Diet!
The eating plan is almost identical. The only difference is soup you slurp down all day long as mysteriously morphed into something called “The GM Wonder Soup.”
So this fad diet may have a different name, but it still has all of the dumb characteristics of The Cabbage Soup Diet and nearly everyon other fad diet on this list.
Trying this diet will probably make you as miserable as all of those poor General Motors office workers having to put up with the thermostat being turned down in the buildings to keep the company from going belly up.
7. The Banana Diet
Diet Aliases: Morning Banana Diet, Asa Banana Diet
The Banana Diet hit Japan by storm in the Fall of 2008, literally causing a run on bananas and the country’s first bona-fide “banana shortage.”
Here’s how the Banana Diet works: Eat a banana (or as many of them as you want) for breakfast along with warm water. Eat anything you want for lunch and dinner, have a 3 pm snack, but eat no desserts after meals. Oh, and go to bed by midnight.
Created by Japanese Pharmacist Sumiko Watanabe (who ought to know better), this dumb fad diet operates on the same principle as the Cabbage Soup Diet and other mono-food fad diets — limit calories and food choices to discourage over-eating across the day.
Watanabe says she put her husband on this whacky diet and he allegedly lost 37 pounds. Of course, who knows what Mr. Watanabe was eating for breakfast before the diet, so simply having him substitute bananas for whatever he was eating before and cutting out desserts probably had more to do with his weight loss than the magic of all-you-can-eat bananas for breakfast.
Oh, and did I mention that Mrs. Watanabe packaged this diet up in book form selling nearly a million copies in under a year.
Again, there is nothing magical about this diet or eating bananas.
It simply works (if it even does work), by filling you up in the morning, which may discourage you from eating as much at lunch and getting rid of sugary desserts. The Banana Diet’s advice to eat whatever your want for lunch or dinner isn’t going to win any nutrition awards, since you could concievable down a bucket of fried chicken for dinner and be “okay” on this diet.
Like cabbage, bananas are healthy foods, but just eating bananas for breakfast breaks the clean eating rule, which is to always combine a lean protein and source of healthy fats with your carbs.
8. Tuna Fish Diet
Diet Aliases: 3 Day Tuna Fish Diet, Alabama Diet, 3-Day Cardiac Diet, Alabama Cardiac Diet
The Tuna Fish Diet is really just another variation on single-food focused fad diets like the Grapefruit Diet or Cabbage Soup diet.
It claims to be a diet that people eat before undergoing cardiac surgery, but the cholesterol, sodium and fat content of this diet is relatively high — making it a diet would be more likely to cause a person to end up in the cardiac unit, instead of keeping them out of it.
Again, like most of the Top 10 Dumbest Fad Diets we’ve looked at, this one also operates on the principle of calorie-reduction. In this case, following the diet would result in most people coming in far under their minimum calorie requirements just to suppor their basic daily energy needs. You’d be hard pressed to find a single dietician or nutritionist who would advocate this truly dumb fad diet.
The diet claims that you can lose up to 10 pounds in three days, which should scream “Internet Fad Diet” to anyone who has tried one of these things.
So what’s so dumb about this diet?
Well, like the Cabbage Soup Diet, it has a bunch of seemingly arbitrary eating rules. It also includes a bunch of foods that wouldn’t make anyone’s list of healthy choices for eating: hot dogs, ice cream, and saltine crackers.
The only reason I can imagine for including ice cream and that processed meat monstrosity called “hot dogs” in this diet is to appeal to people who don’t want to make real changes to their eating habits.
“Hey, I get to eat ice cream and hot dogs! Sounds like the perfect diet for me.”
Ironically, tuna fish (a very healthy food) actually plays a fairly minor role in the entire diet — you basically eat a 1/2 cup of the stuff each day. The rest of the time, you pretty much starve — with the exception of the half cup of ice cream and hotdogs you get on day two and the ice cream on day three.
From a nutritional standpoint, you might as well call this the “junk food” diet, since it pretty much has you eating a bunch of empty calories. Another flag around this diet is that there are multiple variations of it available online, all with very different eating plans.
9. Alkaline Diet
Fad diets are infamous for using slivers of science and fact quickly spinning them into psuedo-scientific mumbo-jumbo that that sounds so complicated it must be legit. When it comes to extrapolating science to places it probably never should go, the Alkaline Diet wins the Oscar in the Top 10 Dumbest Fad Diet category of ”Bad Use of Science in a Diet.”
While not a weight loss diet per se, the Alkaline Diet does suggest that increased acidity in the body can create an environment that’s more conducieve to the development of chronic disease as well as weight gain and other disorders.
Here’s the gist of the Alkaline Diet: The theory is that as humans have evolved from hunter-gatherer societies to agriculturally-based societies, our consumption of acid-producing foods has increased. These foods include things like refined sugar, over-processed grains, coffee and tea, excessive dietary fat, too much protein and meat, etc.
At the same time, consumption of alkaline-producing foods like vegetables have decreased. This has resulted in people being in a state of “low-grade acidosis” which leaches minerals from the body and overall causes all kinds of bad things.
Variations on the Alkaline Diet have been floating around for nearly a century. However, the claims that increasing the alkalinity of your body will reverse aging, treat chronic disease or make you lose weight is not supported by any direct clinical studies showing that shifting your diet to alkaline foods can actually produce to meaninful shift your body’s PH. Remember, the body tends toward homeostatis and with the exception of certain diseases, generally does a fine job of keeping your PH balanced.
Most of the “science” around Alkaline Diets extrapolates data from un-related studies that haven’t directly looked at diet. This is a common tactic among fad diet proponents: take an interesting tidbit of research and then generalize causation far beyond what you are scientifically-justified in doing.
The good news is that while the Alkaline Diet is generally built on a bed of scientific muck, including more alkaline-producing foods in your diet probably won’t cause any harm.
For the most part, the Alkaline Diet recommends reducing the consumption of certain foods that contain things like caffeine, alchohol, simple sugars, etc., and instead recommends eating more whole grains, complex carbs and whole fruits and vegetables — generally good things to include in a healthy, clean diet. Just doing this can result in weight loss, because you’ll typically be substituting more nutritionally-dense, lower-calorie fresh foods for over-processed, higher-calorie foods.
Expecting the Alkaline Diet to transform your health and reverse aging is probably not realistic, but you may lose a few pounds. The key, as always, is balance.
10. Special K Diet
The number five Dumbest Fad Diet comes courtesy of the marketing folks over at Kellogg who put their collective brains together to come up with the “Special K Diet.”
Here’s the premise behind the Special K Diet:
Take a bland, over-processed, non-whole grain cereal that is actually less nutritious than Corn Flakes, layer on some Kellogg protein bars and shakes, and have people substitute a bowl of your cereal with skim milk for a couple of meals each day and call it a “diet.” Package it all up with a slick website and marketing campaign and the next thing you know, Special K sales are up.
Yes, it can work.
But substituting in any lower calorie food for a higher calorie food can result in weight loss. You could do the same by substituting in plain instant oatmeal for the pancake breakfast or burger for lunch. Remember, calories-in/calories-out. It’s not that hard. There’s really nothing special about Special K.
The main problem with the Special K Diet is that it doesn’t fundamentally address developing better overall eating habits, which is really the only solution to lasting weight loss.
Special K isn’t a terrible cereal in terms of non-whole grain cereals go, but there are certainly far healthier choices for a cold or warm breakfast cereal that could play the same role as a bowl of Special K – things like granola, oatmeal or even Kellogg’s own ”stealth” health food cereal Kashi.
From Fad Diet To Healthy Diet
While all of these fad diets will likely cause temporary weight gain, very few of them include exercise along with the diets. Several of them also have potential safety issues.
More importantly, few of these diets encourage the development of better long-term eating habits and while posing as “quick-fixes” won’t really fix anything for more than a few weeks at the most.
A much better approach is to change your overall eating behavior and choices, by following a more common-sense clean eating plan that emphasizes whole foods, complex carbydrates, lean protein, a mix of healthy fats and balanced meals 4-6 times a day. Combine with regular exercise and you’ll have much more success over the long-haul.
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Category: Diet Reviews
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