“Fad” or “trendy” diets are plans mostly targeted toward weight loss, promising quick results. But as the saying goes, nearly all are too good to be true. In fact, most are at best ineffective long-term, and at worst, unsafe.

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There are so many  diets described on television, in magazines, in books, and of course, on the web. It can sometimes be difficult to identify which of these are “fads” – meaning fashionable, but not necessarily sound – and which are sound.
The Facts on Fads

When you are trying to choose a weight loss and management program, it is important to be able to identify the ineffective, dangerous and ineffective fad diets.  What these have in common is that they are nutritionally inadequate in one way or another. Usually the amount of calories they provide is lower than the body needs – even to maintain a healthy weight. In some others, the calories are adequate, but  other inadequacies force the body to become semi-poisoned, which makes the weight come off quickly. Such diets are often intended to be short term and are generally unsustainable long-term, because hunger and cravings eventually take over, and/or  the body has bad reactions, including some that can be life-threatening, such as abnormal heart function. The most common reaction is that the body goes into starvation mode, which means it holds onto each calorie for dear life, and the metabolic rate slows down; this translates to burning fewer calories.  After the plan is stopped and one goes back to normal eating habits, the weight lost comes back, often with interest. As a person jumps from fad diet to fad diet, with weight losses and regains – called “yo-yo dieting” – the process takes a toll not only on the metabolic rate, making weight loss harder and harder, but also on overall health,  causing the same problems associated with overweight itself.

The following are the most common categories of popular fad diets, and what they entail:

Diets That Restrict Certain Types of Food

Some fad diets only allow you to choose certain foods from lists, and help you lose weight by limiting the types of food that you are allowed to eat. According to the Mayo Clinic, you tend to eat less when you have fewer options, especially as you get tired of the ones allowed.

The most extreme include the grapefruit diet, cabbage soup diet, and others based on fruit-a-day and water-and-yogurt, and more moderate versions make a more scientific impression, such as those based on blood type. Some are based on rotations of food eliminations, such as one week focusing on fruits, the next on meats, and so on, until you return to your regular diet.

These types of fad diets may increase your risk for nutrient deficiencies because often you are not eating a balanced diet. Other than the health risks inherent in deficiencies, they cause the body to go into starvation mode, which translates to rebound weight gain.

Low-Carbohydrate/High-Protein Diets

A low-carbohydrate diet restricts fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and sometimes dairy products, in favor of high-protein, high-fat foods such as meats. Other versions are called high-protein diets, which similarly emphasize meat, eggs, and dairy products at the expense of grains, fruits and vegetables. While this diet was once considered life-saving for  type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetics before the advent of insulin, they are not sustainable long-term and can even be toxic. Without adequate carbohydrates, the body cannot burn fat efficiently, and so forms semi-toxic “ketone bodies,” which are then excreted instead of counted as calories. This puts a major strain on the kidneys and can cause  nausea and headaches, as well as muscle loss, which multiplies fat regain once the diet is inevitably stopped. In addition, such diets may not provide enough fiber, and are generally high in saturated fats and cholesterol, which may contribute to heart disease risk factors.

Extremely Low-Fat or Fat-Free diets

Low-fat/fat-free weight loss diets are based on the thought that not adding fat to the body means no fat is stored, and the present fat is burned instead.  While cutting down on dietary fats, and especially saturated fats, have long been recommended for optimal health and healthy weight loss, there is a medically supported limit of 20-30% of calories. Fad diets based on cutting out fat often go far beyond this, and rarely provide sufficient information to consumers to safeguard their health during the process.

It is important to note that while some research has found that dietary fat is most easily stored as body fat, overconsumption of protein and carbohydrate can lead to conversion to fat. High consumption of carbohydrates – especially simple carbohydrates – has especially been linked to increases in body fat, and just as concerning, to increased blood and liver fats.

Dietary Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend avoiding a very low-fat diet that could lead to vitamin E deficiency. While  vitamin E received particular attention because of its connection to heart disease, extreme fat-restrictive diets endanger all the fat-soluble vitamins  – E, as well as A, D, and K – which are required in the diet and themselves require fats to be efficiently absorbed by the body. Additionally, there are certain fats that are required by the body in specific amounts, and very restrictive diets can result in deficiencies of these as well.  Use of these diets long-term, especially if not under very close medical supervision for a specific fat-sensitive medical condition, can result in serious vitamin and essential fatty acid deficiencies.

Moreover, because these diets are very hard to follow, they inevitably come to an end, and the body goes through a difficult readjustment period. Consequences can include gastrointestinal distress, malabsorption, gallstones, and of course, rebound weight gain.

Fasting Diets

Some fad diets recommend that you abstain from eating for certain periods of time. These are often called “crash” diets, because they result in very rapid weight loss during a short period of time. The diet may allow you to only drink water and other beverages without calories, or it may only allow you to drink certain “fat-burning” juices or special teas that you need to purchase. More extreme forms involve receiving drug-like products (even through injections) to prevent loss of muscle mass associated with fasting. The diet company may advertise the diet as a way to lose weight quickly or as a detoxification method for your body. Fad diets that require you to fast are for rapid, short-term weight loss and usually do not last for very long. You might lose several pounds within a short amount of time, but according to medical findings, this is probably from your body becoming dehydrated and losing water weight – and even muscle weight – not from burning stored fat. If a diet requires you to take a dietary supplement during the fast, remember that the Food and Drug Administration does not evaluate the safety or effectiveness of such supplements.

This is the most dangerous type of diet, because nutrient deficiencies are generally inevitable, as is rebound weight gain when you return to eating after causing your metabolism to slow way down.

Very Low-Calorie Diets

Similar to a fasting diet, very low-calorie diets restrict overall intake and result in fast – and temporary – weight loss, and often comes with  risks or deficiencies. Often they are tied to the consumption of a special additive, such as a “fat-burning” lemon juice concoction, supplement, or fruit such as grapefruit, or drug-like to prevent muscle loss. However, the ultimate cause of the weight loss is simple starvation – and it won’t last.

Meal Replacement Diets

Some diets may recommend meal replacement products, usually shakes or bars, to help you lose weight. You might eat a diet product instead of one, two, or even three regular meals a day, and possibly also use diet products for snacks. Once you lost weight, the diet may not be effective in helping you maintain your goal. At best, the continuous purchase of special products becomes expensive and/or inconvenient, and at worst since the diet does not teach you how to incorporate regular healthy foods into your daily routine, you may slip back into your old habits once you go off the diet..

Meal replacement diets may promise quick weight loss, but remember the only way to lose weight from stored body fat is to eat fewer calories than you burn. Be sure that your meal replacement products are lower in calories than the meal or snack you would have eaten. Much of the time, however, you are still taking in fewer calories than your body needs, which can translate to rebound weight gain when you tire of the products.

The Bottom Line

The only way to safe, healthy, and long-lasting weight loss is to make healthy modifications to your diet in terms of quality and quantity of foods, based on your personal tastes and lifestyle, ensuring adequate nutrients and body functioning, and incorporating physical activity – and just as important, PATIENCE. Slow-and-steady wins the race and keeps the trophy for life.

The Trim Down Club program is based on these principles,  offering a variety of nutritious foods, tools for tailor-made menus, and guides for making changes that can be sustained, with long-term well-being at the forefront. Click here to learn more.

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Comments 9

    • Hi, ros0428. “Health level” is just a simple rating system for foods and recipes based on their health value. There is no article on the topic here, but I can tell you that our scale is from 1-5, with 5 being the best.

    • Hi, itsgone. Those lists are in the personal Menu Planner – in each food category, foods in the lightest blue are the healthiest, mid-blue middle of the road, and darker blues are to be avoided (or enjoyed once in a while and in small amounts.

  1. I have to stop looking for a quick fix and start looking for steady but long term success. when you get desparate about weight loss you get reeled in by these many promises of weight loss. I am hoping this plan will lead to 1-2 lbs of weight loss per week on average that will be sustainable in the long term. so far so good.

  2. I just want to add beware the Last Chance Diet. It involved total fasting except for liquid protein and vitamin B shots.
    I lost 70 pounds in a little over 2 months and then had a heart attack! Many people died and the pounds came back on with a vengence once we went back to eating.

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