Fad Diets: The Science Behind the Trends

It seems like every other month there is a popular new diet that claims to be the most natural, best for weight loss, healthiest… the list of benefits goes on and on. But between Keto, Paleo, Atkins, and the dozens of other diets that proclaim supreme healthiness, is there science to back up the claims?

What is a Fad Diet?

To understand fad diets, some clarity around what they actually are is necessary. In short, a fad diet is any diet that promises quick and radical changes to your weight or health, usually by excluding certain nutrients and foods (eg; carbohydrates, dairy, legumes). As Cleveland Clinic points out, these diets often aren’t well researched, use faulty research, or make incorrect conclusions based on a misunderstanding of certain research.

Spotting Fad Diets

There are a few telltale signs of a fad diet, according to Rutgers:

  • It sounds too good or easy to be true.
  • Promises rapid weight loss (5-10 pounds in a week) or “miracle cures.”
  • Allows only certain foods or food groups (cutting out others).
  • Promotes a product, special herb, vitamin or other compounds.
  • Can only be “followed” temporarily but is not supervised by a doctor.
  • It’s hard to imagine or difficult to follow the diet forever.
  • It doesn’t recommend a form of exercise or says that it’s unnecessary.
  • Warns that one food or food group will make you seriously ill or worse.
  • Makes recommendations based on published science that are not endorsed by credible organizations or peer-reviewed by other scientists.
  • Cites research that is preliminary, based on animals, or has very few subjects.

Are Fad Diets Bad?

Now to the core of this issue: are fad diets bad? Remember, fad diets aren’t dietary choices like veganism or the Mediterranean diet: they are often created and marketed specifically around faulty, questionable, or false research – and that can make them dangerous. The extreme measures involved in following a fad diet can lead to what is called “yo-yo dieting”, which according to Oklahoma State University can lead to poor health outcomes like:

  • Body dissatisfaction
  • Greater obsession with thinness and body
  • Lower self-esteem
  • Risk for developing eating disorders
  • Higher death rates with intense calorie restriction
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Muscle loss
  • Higher risk for heart disease
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Impaired bone health
  • Infertility

These are undoubtedly not the types of health risks that you are willing to risk for the sake of a fad diet, and more importantly, compromise your overall health.

How to Lose Weight in a Healthy Way

While losing weight is not easy by any means, the ways to do it are relatively straightforward. According to the CDC, there are three things to target when trying to lose weight healthily:

  • Healthy eating patterns
  • Consistent physical activity
  • Stress management

The CDC additionally provides a more detailed guide to getting started on weight loss, which you can read here.

Remember that engaging in certain types of physical activities can be risky based on your existing health, and if you are aiming for a big lifestyle change, it is always important to collaborate with your doctor to create the best strategy for you and your well-being.