Fad diets promise miracle results, but can they really deliver? Learn the telltale signs of a fad diet and why the latest diet craze could be bad for you.
Open up a magazine, turn on the television or browse the Internet and its hard to avoid stumbling across the next miracle diet. From the Master Cleanse to Atkins to South Beach to the Cabbage Soup Diet, there are literally hundreds of popular fad diets competing for your attention (and often dollars.)
Some fad diets, like the Grapefruit Diet, are attractive to dieters because of their simplicity: Drink grapefruit juice with your meals and watch the fat burn away. Others, like Atkins, The Zone Diet or South Beach, are more complicated requiring you to buy a book and spend hours memorizing lists of what you can and cant eat on the diet.
But do fad diets work? And if they do, at what cost to your health (and taste buds?)
Fad Diet Statistics: How Prevalent Is It?
The statistics around fad dieting are revealing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that at any given time two-thirds of all American adults are on a diet to either lose weight or prevent weight gain. Of those, 29 percent are men and 44 percent women. Yet only 5 percent of these dieters will be successful at keeping the weight that they lost off.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that each day Americans spend an average of $109 million on dieting or diet related products, including tapes, videos, supplements, books, foods, and medications or over $34 billion a year.
Yet, for all of the money spent on diets and diet products, another set of statistics shows Americans overall arent losing weight. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, overweight and obesity has reached epidemic levels, afflicting 6 out of every 10 adults, and is the second leading cause of preventable death, resulting in 300,000 deaths per year.
So if Americans are dieting more, why do we keep getting fatter? With all of the claims that fad diets make around losing weight and keeping it off youd think everyone would look like a fitness model.
So whats going on?
The Definition of a Fad Diet
First, its important to understand that fad diet is a subjective term. So any definition of a fad diet will be up for debate.
The literal dictionary definition of a fad diet is a diet that promises quick weight loss and is popular for a short time. However, Ive broadened the definition here to include any diet that has received extensive media attention or has generated underground or popular culture buzz. For example, Barry Sears Zone Diet wouldnt qualify as a dangerous crash diet but it certainly has generated enough on-and-off attention over the years to qualify as a fad.
Many fad diets undergo a cycle of extreme interest, followed by a period of dormancy, and then a resurgance. In other words, fad diets dont die, they just burn-out and then often return a decade later, promising weight-loss salvation to an entirely new generation of frustrated, serial dieters.
The Difference Between Fad Diets and Crash Diets
A crash diet is a type of diet that aims to produce very rapid weight loss in an extremely short period of time often in less than 3-7 days. Crash diets almost always operate on extreme calorie restriction. Not all fad diets are crash diets, but all crash diets qualify as fad diets.
Spotting a Fad Diet
Its not difficult to spot a fad diet if you know what to look for. Nearly all fad diets have certain characteristics that allow you to spot one quickly. While a fad diet will not necessarily have all of these characteristics, it will typically share at least three or more of the following:
- Claims of dramatic weight loss in short periods of time (typically in excess of 3 lbs a week)
- Reductions in overall calorie intake, often at or below 1000 calories total for the day
- Elimination of entire groups of foods or macro-nutrients (carbs, sugars, fats, fruit, bread, etc.) from the diet
- Over-emphasis on consuming certain macro-nutrients (protein, for example) in the diet
- Substitution a single food (grapefruit, lemon juice, cabbage soup, Special K Cereal) in place of normal whole meals
- Lists of good and bad foods
- Very little, if any, emphasis on exercise as part of the weight loss plan or diet
- Emphasis on extremely short dieting intervals, for example, 24 hour diet, 3-day diet or 7 day diet.
- Claims that the diet will change body chemistry, overcome hormonal imbalances, or fix specific conditions that cause you to gain weight
- Use of complex scientific studies with simplistic conclusions to support the science of the diet
- Use of dramatic marketing language and too-good-to-be-true phrases like quick-fix, melt off pounds instantly, lose fat fast, lose weight when you sleep, eat all you want and lose weight! etc.
- Recommendations to purchase products as part of the diet, for example: supplements, herbal blends, protein or nutrition bars, health drinks, etc.
- Inclusion of laxatives as part of the diet
- Claims about detoxification associated with the diet
- Association with a popular celebrity or prominent company or organization
- Excessive media attention, especially in tabloid newspapers
- Circulated via e-mail, word-of-mouth or the web with no clear indication of its origin
- A price tag: Many fad diets require you to fork over money to access the diet or buy the book
This list is obviously very broad and inclusive, and not all diets that have these characteristics are necessarily unsafe or ineffective.
For example, even legitimate diets can become associated with a celebrity and attract a lot of media and press attention. However, as a rule of thumb, the more of the above characteristics the diet has, the more likely it qualifies as a fad diet.
The Anatomy of a Fad Diet
Fad diets are attractive to people for a number of different reasons.
Some of these reasons are fairly straight-forward and others are tied up in more complex phychological, personal and social phenomenon.
At their core, fad diets are attractive to people because they promise fast, dramatic results with minimal effort. Effort, of course, is relative. Obsessing over lists of prohibited foods, denying yourself entire food groups, or subsisting on maple syrup and lemon juice would probably strike a lot of people as anything but easy and effortless. Yet every day, thousands of people choose to go on these diets, when some basic changes to their existing diet and a dose of daily exercise would probably get them better long term results.
The emphasis on rapid results is also extremely alluring to people, especially in society trained to look for quick fixes in the form of pills or the instant gratification offered by fast food. Long-term weight and fat loss often require making fundamental changes to your overall lifestyle including how you eat, and yes, how you exercise. Making these changes requires a longer-term vision of your health and fitness goals something that requires commitment beyond going on a diet to get ready for your island vacation.
The Effects of Fad Diets: An Endless Wheel of Frustration?
Interest in fad diets is also fueled by the failure of previous fad diets to produce lasting results.
Its not uncommon to find people who are serial fad dieters. They will have jumped from one diet to the next, in search of that weight loss silver bullet. Because most fad diets are not sustainable over the long-term and often cause rebound fat gain once the diet has been ditched, people seek out the next diet in hopes that it will produce lasting results. This creates a kind of vicious circle of fad and crash dieting that leaves people frustrated and often, fatter than they were before they started their diet.
The newness of trying a different diet is also a reason that people try fad diets. Each new diet with its promises of amazing fat loss with little effort gives the dieter a temporary jolt of hope and motivation. This can be almost addictive to some people, especially those who have tried other diets without the results they wanted.
Celebrity Diets & The Cult of Personality
Certain fad diets also play off from peoples obsession with celebrity.
The interest in Beyonce Knowles use of the Master Cleanse diet to lose weight for her Dreamgirls role is a good example of that.
People assume that if Beyonce with her cadre of personal trainers and fitness experts successfully used the diet, then it must be effective and safe. Of course, even Beyonce can get bad advice or fall prey to the allures of fad or crash diets. If Beyonce had been getting better ongoing fitness and nutrition advice from her trainers, she probably wouldnt have needed to drink maple syrup and lemon juice for two weeks.
But My Friend Said This Diet Really Works!
Finally, like urban legends, fad diets typically spread on word-of-mouth.
Some fad diets, like the GM Diet, actually are urban legends. The Internet and e-mail has made it possible for these kinds of diets to circulate like wildfire. Emails get passed along, people talk about their new diet in the break room at work, they blog about it, twitter it, and call into radio shows. Suddenly, the diet is everywhere and it seems like everyone is trying it.
Because people trust what other people say especially when they know that person just the mention of a diet by someone you know or trust gives it credibility and legitimacy. If you hear more than one person talking about it, that only tends to strengthen that confidence. And because many of these diets do initially produce dramatic (but usually temporary and short-term) results, the fad diet willlook like its effective. More often than not, if you go back to that person three months later, theyll already be buzzing about the newest, next-best-diet that they are getting ready to go on.
Fad Diet Types
There are a number of different types of fad diets. Fad diets typically fall into one of 6 types or categories (and in some cases, will cross over into several):
- Extreme Calorie Restriction Diets: All fat loss diets will utilize moderate calorie restriction, but this type of fad diet often radically restricts calories in order to produce quick weight loss
- Food Restrictive Diets: These are diets that have you cut out entire macro-nutrients or certain types of foods, such as carbs or fruit
- Celebrity Diets: Endorsed implicitly or explicitly, these diets use association with a celebrity to drive interest
- Corporate/Organizational Diets: These are diets that claim to have originated from within companies or organizations. The GM Diet is a good example of this.
- Detoxification Diets: Diets that claim to detoxify the body
- Body Type/Blood Type/Psuedo-Scientific Diets: There are a whole groups of miscellaneous diets that are based on things like your body or blood type, Biblical principles (The Makers Diet), or evolutionary biology (The Paleo Diet.)
Do Fad Diets Work?
Nearly everyone knows a friend or acquaintance that swears their latest diet is working. And often, youll even notice that the person on the diet does appear to have lost weight.
The dirty little secret of fad diets is that most of them do cause people to lose weight and sometimes that weight loss will appear to be dramatic, depending on how extreme the diet actually is.
For example, people who switch to low-carb diets like Atkins will often see a dramatic drop in scale weight within a few days, and may even find their clothing a little less snug than before they started the diet. Many people will mistake this drop in scale weight as a reduction in body fat. However, much of this weight loss comes from water.
Put the carbs back in, and the water weight returns.
This isnt to say you cant effectively lose body fat on a low-carb diet. Its simply intended to show that diet results can be deceiving and that people really should consider gauging their progress by reductions in body fat levels, versus purely scale weight.
The volume of food you are eating can also have a marked initial impact on scale weight.
For instance, if you are on a diet that relies heavily on liquids (like the Master Cleanse/Detox Diet), youll see your scale weight drop very quickly because you simply are not eating foods with volume or much weight to them. If you cut out fibrous foods which absorb water during digestion youll see a temporary reduction in weight as well.
Many fad diets will result in some loss of body fat, since you typically will be reducing calories. However, these diets can also wreck havoc on your metabolism and endocrine system and cause rapid fat gain once you go off the diet. This is the reason that only 5 percent of people who go on diets will actually keep off the weight or fat they lost.
Are Fad Diets Safe?
The safety of fad diets really depends on the diet itself.
Some popular diets like South Beach or The Zone Diet are fairly balanced they still include a lot of fresh vegetables, some healthy fats, certain complex carbs and protein. Fruit may or may not be on the list. The jury continues to be out on whether carbohydrate-reduction is an effective long-term strategy to maintaining your weight, and there are valid arguments on both sides around the safety and efficacy of sustained low-carb eating.
Other diets clearly come with serious health and safety risks.
For example, The Master Cleanse (also know as The Detox Diet or Lemonade Diet) is a liquid diet that not only completely cuts out macro nutrients like carbohydrates, protein and fats, but also provides only trace amounts of key vitamins, minerals and phyto-chemicals. The diet has been around since the 1930s, but recently gained renewed attention when a number of celebrities claimed to have successfully used it for weight loss.
The diet comes with a long list of reported side-effects, including headaches, constipation, digestive problems, imbalances in gut flora and fauna, loss of energy, etc. Often, proponents of the diet will claim these are signs that your body is detoxifing, but it should be noted that these are also the clinical symptoms of acute starvation.
Other diets like Kimkins, the Grapefruit Diet and the Cabbage Soup Diet radically restrict calories (to under 800 per day in some cases) or cut out essential macro-nutrients entirely.
These diets can not only result in nutritional deficiencies, but can also cause fatigue, mental confusion and sometimes serious side effects like cardiac arrest. Kimkins, for example, is a high protein diet that restricts both fat and carbohydrates, which can cause severe side effects as well as possible cardiac problems.
Finally, its important to note that serial fad dieting can often be a sign of a developing eating disorder, especially in adolescents, teenagers and young adults.
Fad Diets and Teenagers
Teenagers often find fad and crash diets particularly alluring.
A national survey of 11,631 high school students conducted by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more than 43 percent of the girls reported that they were on a dietyet a quarter of these dieters didnt think they were overweight.
Teenagers especially teenaged girls are especially susceptible to the promises of fad diets, particularly those that claim to allow the dieter to eat whatever they want, including junk or fast food and still lose pounds. Fad diets and teenagers are a potential dangerous mix because this focus on quick-fix diets at such an early age can discourage teens from developing good nutritional habits, and set them up for a pattern of serial dieting into adulthood.
Moving from Fad Diets to a Better Diet
The good news is that because people either grow tired of the monotony of fad diets or find them too complex to follow, most people never stick to them long enough to cause serious, long-term damage to their health.
However, this also means that theyll ultimately fail at long-term, sustainable fat loss and will be even more susceptible to the next fad diet that comes along. This can create a perpetual cycle of dieting that can de-motivate people and keep them from reaching their fat loss and fitness goals.
There is another way that has been proven time and time again to allow people to often dramatically transform their body and improve their overall health and well-being: consistently eating healthy and exercising.
The most healthy, in-shape people I know dont diet they eat a wide-range of foods; avoid eating more calories than they need (although they still tend to eat a lot of food volume wise and often eat up to six small meals a day); stay away from junk food, soda and fast food; and exercise at least 3-4 times a week usually a combination of weight training and cardio activity. Many of them also allow themselves a cheat meal once a week, where they get to eat something a little less healthy (fried chicken, anyone.)
Taking this approach can actually enable a person to safely lose between 2-3 lbs of fat a week, and research has shown that individuals who lose body fat slowly are much more likely to keep it off permanently.
Minor adjustments to your diet can also have dramatic cumulative results.
Ditching soda, for example, for tea or flavored waters can often result in a loss of several pounds within just a few weeks. Substituting in complex carbs like oatmealand brown rice for simple carbs like white rice and white bread, can also allow people to shed fat. In fact, finding foods that you can substitute for junk food is one of the most effective ways of cleaning up your diet and losing body fat for good. And you wont starve yourself in the process or put your health at risk.
List of Popular Fad Diets
Here are a list of popular fad diets to look out for, as well as some of the alternative names of the diets.
Remember, not all of these diets are necessarily dangerous or ineffective. Ive included some diets like South Beach and The Zone Diet because they are popular and have a few marks of fad diets. Other diets in here use extreme or crash diet techniques to trigger very rapid but usually short-lived weight loss:
- Apple Cider Vinegar Diet
- Atkins Diet
- Beverly Hills Diet
- Blood Type Diet
- Cabbage Soup Diet (Also known as the Mayo Clinic Diet or Sacred Heart Diet even though the diet has been denounced by these organizations.)
- Caveman or Paleolithic Diet
- Cookie Diet
- Fast Food Diet
- Fat Smash Diet
- Fit For Life Diet
- Grape Diet
- Grapefruit Diet (Also known as The Hollywood Diet)
- Herbalife Slim and Trim Diet
- Ice Cream Diet
- Kimkins Diet
- Low Fat Diet
- Makers Diet
- Macrobiotic Diet
- Master Cleanse Diet (Also known as The Lemonade Diet, Maple Syrup Diet and Detox Diet)
- Metabolism Diet
- Mono Food Diet
- Negative Calorie Diet
- Popcorn Diet
- Prime Quest Diet
- Raw Food Diet
- Raw Vegetable Diet
- Scarsdale Diet
- Special K Diet
- South Beach Diete
- Zone Diet
- 3 Day Diet (Also known as the Alabama 3 Day Diet)
- 3 Hour Diet
So true Matt. Fad diets are a waste of time. If you eat healthy as a life style youll never need to go on some fad diet. The discipline and workouts just have to be there. Period.
Fad diets have been around for approximately fifty years; it should be no surprise that they are proven to be ineffective and often leave you feeling ill-omened and depressed. Not all of the fad diet drawbacks are physical; in fact the most important adverse effect of fad dieting is that it leads to depression and affect your emotional well-being.
Under your criteria wouldnt Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig, or even Clean Eating diets be considered fad
I find your criteria to be way too all-encompassing. .
Learn How can we make healthier dieting and weight control a source of pleasure instead of duty?
The Reasonable Diet http://www.reasonablediet.com , is the motivation you need to move into action to achieving and maintaining a healthful weight.
This is not an off-the-shelf or cookie cutter” diet. You get the motivation and skills needed to adjust your diet week by week, so that as your life and schedule changes your diet can easily change also.
Its a shame that people arent aware of these facts. Fad diets are pointless hence the term fad short term.
If what you eat is in moderation you will be fine.
Ali, thanks for stopping by. Just to be clear, Im not saying that being a fad necessarily translates into being ineffective. In fact, some diets or eating plans never set out to have fad diet status its something that gets attached to them via media attention or word-of-mouth. But many of these diets even the legitimate, balanced ones will have markers of food faddism at their core. Especially the diets that avoid entire food groups or are based on sketchy, pseudoscientific research. Take raw food diets, for example, which certainly have their health benefits. Yet, a lot of the science behind them is pretty thin especially around whether raw foods are more nutritious overall than those which have been cooked. I went broad here with my definition of fad diet so that people could make up their own minds about how extreme the particular diet is that they are considering. Certainly the crash diets like The Lemonade Diet and the Cabbage Soup diet are the least healthy from a balance perspective, but even something like Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig arguably relies too heavily on processed meals and supplements to accomplish something that the average person could do themselves for free with some basic nutrition education and careful portion control.
When it all boils down to it you dont need fad diets, pills or magic potions sold on TV at 3AM to lose weight, you simply need to burn more calories than you intake. People get mystified by this but it really is that simple.
Under your criteria wouldn’t Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig, or even “Clean Eating” diets be considered “fad”
I think your definition of what is a fad diet is too broad. I dont think that just because a diet promises fast results, it is a fad diet.
What makes a diet a fad, is the person and the attitude towards it. If they continue with the diet and healty eating ways, it is not a fad.
But most people just quit the diet after a few days and like you said, they load up on unhealthy foods the next few days.
– The Detox Expert
So Detox Expert please provide me with an example of a clinically-proven, peer-reviewed fast result diet that actually caused the subjects to lose weight and keep it off long-term.
Its not a fad diet because people dont stick with the plan they dont stick with the plan because its not sustainable long-term and generally, these diets suck they are typically starvation diets or are based on pseudo-scientific bunk. They arent balanced, arent sustainable, dont result in more healthy eating (just less eating), and lead people to focus on quick fixes, versus real changes in their lifestyle. Oh, and they often make someone a lot of money selling questionable diet products like colon cleanses, weight-loss bars or various other diet snake oils.
Sorry, but Im just calling it like I see it.
Its not that easy matt, most people dont post things like that on the internet that really work. The solution is really very simple for a fast result and sustainable diet.
You just have to figure out how much protein, how many calories, and how many carbs you need each day. Get within 100-200 grams within that amount. Make sure you have 1 cheat day per week. I also prefer to only eat organic foods, and those suggested in many detox diet recipes.
Make sure you workout 5 days per week, gradually increasing the intensity and focusing on problem areas.
Try to jog a lap around the track if you can, and gradually make your way up to 4 times (1 mile).
Do this daily for one month, and those are the fastest results your gonna get, guaranteed.
One last tip, get almost 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. You wont lose weight, and may actually gain weight but it will be muscle.
Why is this good? Because it is a well know fact that muscle burns fat, and it looks aesthetically better than skin and bones IMO.
Worried about getting too muscled up? Dont, your workouts will dictate whether or not you get too much muscle or not. Also, unless you double your carbs and protein, start lifing low rep, high weight you wont get too much muscle.
People need to worry less about weight loss and more about bodyfat percentage.
Detox Diet Recipies,
You are WAAAYYY off on your suggestions for a healthy diet.
First off, you completely left out fat as a macronutrient. When planning a diet you want to know the amount of protein, carbs, AND FATS. You should intake every day.
Secondly, getting within 100-200 grams of these number could completely destroy your diet. 200 grams of either protein or carbs has 800 calories in it .. thats the different between losing a half pound every week and GAINING a half pound every week. Not to mention if those 200 grams are from fat that is 1800 EXTRA calories on top of your diet. Try to lose weight eating 1800 calories more than you should.
Thirdly, make sure you have 1 cheat day a week. Thats ridiculous. Now im not saying having a cheat MEAL or 2 or 3 is bad at all, in fact its very beneficial for the mental aspect of dieting and staying happy in general. BUT a WHOLE DAY of cheat meals could again mess up your entire week. Spike your insulin, then eat a whole lot of fat on a non-workout day and youll find out quick you just stored all that as bodyfat. So much for that WEEK of hard dieting.
Beyond your Do this for one month statement I agree with everything you say about protein intake, scale weight vs bodyfat, and muscle. But honestly, your being too far too leanient with your dieting guidelines.
Jacob, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to reply to Detox Diet Recipes. I agree with your assessment 100% and appreciate it.
Its a always nice to have well-educated readers with their own areas of expertise drop in and contribute to the discussion. It means I dont have to do all of the talking.
The problem with these types of quick fix diets is that they dont produce meaningful changes in a persons basic, long-term eating habits and lifestyle. And as you point out, they are often unbalanced. The also tend to reinforce poor attitudes toward eating making food an enemy instead of a friend. Food is nourishment and the it contains everything the body needs to stay fit and healthy. With most people, the problem is poor food choices and problems gauging portion size as well as calorie and nutrient content.
Detox likely also has ulterior motives which appear to be driving traffic to his or her affiliate site. Now, one might observe that I run advertising on this site, and that some of my advertisers may be pushing exactly these types of diets, but I have tried unsuccessfully to filter the worst of them. On the other hand, I write honest assessments of these diets, without talking up their benefits in order to drive clicks or sales. In fact, Im quite frank with my readers about the disadvantages (and very few advantages) of detox, crash and fad diets. At the end of the day, I leave the decision up to my readers, but provide them with the tools they need to make that decision. It is very different from pushing a set of diets in order to generate advertising revenues.
My whole point is always look deeper and be aware of the messenger and how that influences the message.
Again, thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective.
Your partially right matt
But i do also take an active interest in staying in shape and healthy. The follow is what my diet is like, and it seems to work very well for me.
I did forget to leave out the fats that I consume, but most of those come from the protein I get and im always carrying around walnuts, pecans, and stuff like that with healthy fats in it.
One thing I think we can all agree on is the need for a healthy lifestyle rather than a temporary diet.
I was really trying to encourage people to gradually change their life rather than going on sporadic diets. Actually, I dont remember if I even said anything about lifestyle change in my previous comment.
Its bedtime right now though, and im sleepy, so ill add to this comment tomorrow
A good contrast has been drawn between the pros and cons of a Fad diet. Its more than enough information for a wise user to decide whether or not should he choose this kind of diet. Thanks for the information.
The fad diet seems fading here. I agree that its better to stand by a regular fitness schedule rather than hanging on to a particular diet for sometime. Short cuts look better but the long ones are often successful.
The information shared is undoubtedly useful and worth every second spend.
Whats the good word Mate? Very Good blog here mateYou australian?
I found that one of the best ways to lose weight is the Master Cleanse Detox. Its cheap, the products are easy to find and its easy to make. I cant believe how much weight I lost on this diet. I might as well be the next Beyonce. :0)
Do you have a specific opinion about the Paleo diet and its effectiveness?
It is real choice to study you blog!
I think fad diet is a term people use to note how some diets are very popular for short periods of time. That doesnt mean if you try it when its considered a fad youre doing itbecause its popular. It also doesnt mean the diet doesnt work. Roller skates were much more popular in the 80s and 90s. If you use them now you will still move fast. Lastly, popular means people like it. I think that means something dont you?