Year after year, fad diets explode onto the scene with big claims and not a lot of footing. They promise a quick solution to weight management and dramatic results in little to no time. The problem: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Even though it sounds tempting to lose weight without even trying, fad diets don’t work. Get all the details below, plus examples of the wildest fad diets. Then, learn how to build sustainable, healthful habits that last a lifetime.
WHAT IS A FAD DIET?
Broadly speaking, fad diets are ultra-restrictive, lower-calorie diets that promise major weight loss in a short amount of time.
They might ask you to only eat certain types of food, like jars of baby food or glasses of cayenne-tinged lemonade (more on that later). They don’t teach you why you’re making changes to your diet in the first place. And because they aren’t based on whole food nutrition, fad diets make you feel restricted, deprived, and fatigued.
WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE WHO LOSE WEIGHT ON FAD DIETS?
In the short term, you might lose a few pounds on certain fad diets. Usually, this happens because you lose water weight. Without enough food in your system, your body dips into your glycogen stores for energy. Glycogen is a form of fuel your body stores in your liver and muscles. For every gram of glycogen stored in your muscles and fat, about 3 grams of water are stored with it. Less glycogen means there’s less water in your system, which can result in fewer pounds on the scale.
This isn’t meaningful weight loss. You aren’t losing fat or building muscle. Once you return to your regular diet after the fad diet is over, you’ll likely return to your regular weight. And because fad diets tend to be so restrictive, you might be doing more harm than good.
Dramatically cutting calories can increase cortisol levels (your stress hormone), interfere with your hunger hormones and slow down your metabolism — all of which may actually make you gain weight.
HOW FAD DIETS WORK
Here are some tell-tale signs that you’re dealing with a fad diet:
- Rigid rules: Only eat five bites per meal. Only consume wine, steak and eggs. Eat a literal tapeworm. These are all real fad diets we’ll talk about below, but they all have one thing in common: Instead of recommending balanced, whole food nutrition, they create seemingly random “rules” to promote rapid results. Yeah. No thanks.
- Eliminates food groups without explaining why: You need protein, carbohydrates and fats to fuel your entire body. Some people feel better when they cut back on some foods, like gluten or dairy. Some people thrive with more fat and fewer carbs, like the keto diet. But tread carefully around any diet that asks you to abandon entire food groups without backing up those claims.
- Assigns “good” and “bad” labels to foods: Foods have no moral values. A donut is just a donut. All foods exist on a spectrum: Some are more nourishing than others and should take up most of your diet, like vegetables, quality fats and proteins. Learn how to navigate the best foods for your body with the free Bulletproof Diet Roadmap.
- Severely restricts calories: Yeah, you might drop some weight if you severely cut calories. But this is an extreme, unhealthy, and unsustainable approach. You need calories to function. The specific amount and where you get them depends on your individual dietary needs.
EXAMPLES OF FAD DIETS
1. TAPEWORM DIET
- A person swallows a pill containing a tapeworm egg.
- The parasite grows in the dieter’s intestines and eats part of whatever the host eats.
- The dieter loses weight without changing their diet.
The tapeworm diet has roots in the Victorian era — the same era that promoted makeup laced with lead paint and corsets that smashed internal organs into submission. The “tapeworm diet” is more appropriately named a “tapeworm infection,” also known as a “very bad idea.” It can lead to serious complications like abdominal pain, nausea and tissue and organ damage. There is no magic pill for weight loss. Not even tapeworms.
2. BABY FOOD DIET
The theory: The rules vary, but you replace regular meals with jars of baby food for a prescribed period of time. (Tiny spoon optional.)
Celebrities have admitted to versions of this diet, and it’s commonly attributed to celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson. The problem is that baby food isn’t designed for the nutritional needs of adults, and you’ll be hard-pressed to hit enough of your macronutrient needs (or get enough fiber) to feel your best. Any weight loss on this diet comes from severe calorie restriction and tastebud boredom. How many jars of mashed peas can you really stomach?
3. COTTON BALL DIET
The theory: Dieters dip cotton balls in juice and eat them in order to feel full without actually eating real food.
This is the equivalent of eating nothing at all, with the added risks of choking and causing a severe blockage in the digestive system. Just say no.
4. FIVE-BITE DIET
The theory: Skip breakfast. Eat whatever you want for lunch and dinner. The only catch: You’re limited to just five bites.
The five-bite diet is portion control to the extreme. Like any diet that involves severely cutting your calories, you might feel lighter on the scale in the short-term — but it’s unsustainable because you aren’t fueling your body with adequate nutrition.
5. HCG DIET
The theory: The HCG diet involves severe calorie restriction and consuming products that contain HCG, a hormone that is produced during pregnancy.
This diet started in the 1950s, faded in the 1970s and experienced a resurgence in the past decade. Today, over-the-counter HCG products are literally banned by the FDA because the diet is a “reckless way to shed pounds.”
6. LIQUID DIET
The theory: Drink all your meals (or most of them).
Your doctor might recommend a liquid diet if you’re prepping for a medical procedure or dealing with nausea. This is temporary. Any diet that asks you to live on liquids for an extended period of time is robbing you of essential nutrients, like fiber and protein.
7. AIR DIET
The theory: Dieters only consume air, light and nothing else.
Also known as the “Breatharian Diet,” this is permanent fasting. It’s not a good idea. People have died following this diet. Please eat food.
Why Should You Avoid Them?
Many fad diets advertise rapid weight loss while ignoring the nutrients your body requires. Unfortunately, these weight-loss strategies rarely work in the long run, and some can even be harmful to your health.
Fad diets that severely restrict food groups or nutrients mean that you miss out on the critical nutrients, including dietary fibre, carbohydrates, specific vitamins, minerals, and protective phytochemicals. If you don’t receive enough of these nutrients, you can develop serious health problems.
The amounts of food groups in these diets are often far below those recommended by major health organisations such as the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the United States Department of Agriculture. As a result, you get deprived of the protective health effects that a balanced eating plan provides.
Severely Low-Calorie Intake
Liquid formula diets have a low-calorie intake (about 400-500 calories) and claim to include all necessary nutrients. However, these diets should be followed with caution, as they could lead to significant disorders, including anaemia, vitamin and mineral deficiency, weariness, weakness, and dizziness. Consuming an extreme low-calorie fad diet can also cause rapid weight loss, making you feel tired and nauseous.
Excess Ketone Production
Research says that due to excessive ketone production resulting from inadequate fat breakdown and dehydration, these diets can be highly harmful. Ketones are stored in the blood and can result in death if present in excess. It is because dangerously high levels of ketones make the blood more acidic.
Hampers Normal Body Functioning
Fad diets that recommend consuming only one food type, such as the Cider Vinegar and Vitamin B6 Diet, are popular, but they can lead to malnutrition and decreased renal function. In addition, since you miss out on essential nutrients, your immune system becomes weak. As a result, it gradually changes your digestive, muscle, and bone health.
Fad Diets and Weight Gain
The weight loss from the fad diet is a temporary accomplishment because initial weight loss is typically just a loss of water weight. Following a fad diet comes with extreme limitations. These diet restrictions later result in binge eating, resulting in weight gain. Because of the unsustainable nature of fad diets, you gain back all of the weight you just lost. The diet manipulates your metabolism, making it slow and prompting your body to hang on to extra fat.
The Sustainable Way to Diet
The word ‘diet’ originally refers to the kind of food habitually consumed by a community. The modern definition of the same word refers to how you control yourself to eat small amounts of certain foods to lose weight. You might need to alter this restrictive modern definition of the term and accept that you can maintain a healthy weight by consuming nutrient-rich foods in reasonable quantities.
Individuals who follow fad diets are more likely to develop a “yo-yo” or weight cycling pattern, which involves losing weight, gaining weight, and then losing weight again. Weight cycling, according to some specialists, is harmful. It causes an increased risk of specific ailments, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In addition, weight cycling can throw off your physiology and alter your calorie requirements.
Slow down to give yourself time to transform your eating habits truly. First, calculate how many calories you’ll need each day to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Then, keep a food diary for a few months to track what you eat and drink until eating healthy foods becomes second nature.
Some other healthy diet habits to follow are:
- Give special attention to your fruit and vegetable intake since they are essential for optimal health. The fibre in fruits and veggies keeps you full longer, suppressing appetite and improving digestion.
- Consume lean meats, chicken, and fish, but keep portion amounts in check.
- You can obtain calcium through low-fat dairy products, supplements, and calcium-fortified meals.
- Instead of processed foods like white bread, prepackaged cookies, salted nuts, and cereals, opt for whole grains and fresh and seasonal ingredients.
- Reduce your intake of calorie beverages like soft drinks, canned juices, etc. Instead, increase your water and other fluids consumption like coconut water, clear soups and herb-infused water.
- Breakfast is essential. Breakfast eaters are more likely to maintain a healthy weight. Also, don’t skip any other meals. It is critical to eat consistently throughout the day.
- Keep a food diary for a few months to track and refer to it when required.
- Don’t forget to involve physical movement by walking, dancing, swimming or playing a sport. It will help you gain muscle, boost your metabolism, and improve your general health.
- Engage in activities that give you joy. It will boost happy chemicals in your brain.
- Make sure to get the ample rest that your body requires. 7-8 hours of sleep and power naps make a difference in overall wellbeing.
All fad diets have one concept in common. They offer a temporary cure for your weight problems. When you discontinue the fad diet, the weight loss is usually rapidly recovered. But unfortunately, fad diets don’t emphasise lifestyle changes, which are essential to maintain weight loss in the long run. Therefore, fad diets cannot be sustainable.
The weight loss and weight maintenance process must be healthy to be effective in the long term. A balanced diet which includes recommended quantities of foods from each food group is an ideal meal for most individuals except people with special dietary requirements. The key is not to let a craving for chocolate ice cream transform into unhealthy binge eating. Instead, consume nutritious, wholesome foods and keep track of daily movements. Consult your physician and dietician for sustainable diet plans, personalised exercises and mindful advice to reach your health goals.