Diet and Nutrition

Fad Diets

November 30, 2016   /

Why does my doctor want me to lose some weight?

Excess body weight is linked to many health problems, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, arthritis, sleep apnea, and some cancers. Not everyone who is overweight has health problems, but overweight individuals increase their chances of having one of these conditions. Your doctor has suggested that you lose weight to keep you healthy.

Of the many different diets available, which is the best one?

No “best” diet exists. It seems like every time you turn around, you discover another new diet. Despite the popularity of different types of diets, nutrition experts recommend that for safe, effective weight loss you follow the good nutrition guidelines suggested by MyPlate ( and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans ( These guidelines include:

  • Eating foods from all the food groups—protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy foods
  • Making one-half of your plate fruits and vegetables
  • Taking small portions of all foods
  • Using lean meats and fat-free or low-fat dairy foods
  • Choosing at least one-half of your grains as whole grains
  • Exercising

Weight loss the healthy way usually is slow and steady, and individuals who lose weight this way are often more successful at maintaining weight loss.

What is a “fad” diet?

No real definition of a “fad” diet exists, but most experts agree that you probably could consider any diet that does not meet basic guidelines for good health as a fad diet. A diet that is popular for a while before it fades away also is termed a fad diet. Many fad diets hook you in with a new concept, often an old diet repackaged, that promises quick weight loss with little effort. A good example of a fad diet is the Cabbage Soup Diet that was popular in the late 1990s. While some fad diets may help someone get started on weight loss, they are not recommended. These diets have many concerns. One problem is that they usually tell you to avoid some foods completely. When you do that, you may miss out on important nutrients that your body needs for good health. Many fad diets also require preparing special foods, such as cabbage soup, or complicated grocery lists. Some of these diets do not allow you to eat out or tell you to only eat at certain times of the day, while others sell you vitamins to make up for the nutrients you are missing by following the fad diet. Many fad diets are not practical for most people because of these strict rules. Another problem with fad diets is that they do not give you the tools you need to help change your eating and exercise behaviors permanently. Anyone can stick to a fad diet for a few weeks and lose some weight, but most people go back to their old eating habits once they get tired of dieting.

If a diet is developed by a doctor and backed by a hospital, does that mean it is safe?

Not necessarily! Use caution. In the age of the Internet, anyone can circulate a diet plan and say it is written by a doctor or backed by a hospital. Thediet should follow good nutrition guidelines based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans ( and/or MyPlate ( If it does not follow these guidelines, even if it has a doctor’s name or a hospital associated with it, the diet is possibly unsafe.

What are some guidelines for deciding if a diet is a fad diet?

Ask yourself these questions to see if your diet meets criteria for safe and healthy weight loss. If you answer “yes” to these questions, it is not a fad diet:

  • Is there a registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist involved in the diet?
  • Does it promise slow weight loss of 1-2 pounds (lb)/week?
  • Does it allow you to eat foods from all the food groups (fruits, vegetables, breads and cereals, protein, and dairy foods)?
  • Does it encourage permanent behavior change and exercise?

Ask yourself these questions. If you answer “yes” to these questions, this fad diet is not the best way to lose weight and keep it off:

  • Does it promise quick weight loss of 3 lb or more/week?
  • Does it tell you to never eat certain foods?
  • Does it suggest that you buy supplements to make up for what the diet is missing?

  References and recommended readings

Aim for a healthy weight: key recommendations. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health Web site. Accessed April 8, 2014.

Overweight and obesity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. Updated April 2, 2014. Accessed April 8, 2014. US Dept of Agriculture. Choose MyPlate. Web site. Accessed April 8, 2014.

US Dept of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Web site. Accessed April 8, 2014.

Weight-control Information Network, National Institutes of Health. Choosing a Safe and Successful Weight-loss Program. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health; 2008. NIH publication 08-3700.