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How to spot a fad diet


How to Spot a Fad Diet

There are so many diets out there. Many of them have endorsements from doctors, celebrities, and fitness professionals. The paid endorsers look great, seem very healthy themselves, or have had well-publicized weight-loss success themselves.

In many cases, the diet or “system” seems to have been developed by a doctor or scientist. You may hear claims that this diet is a result of research, science, or some new “breakthrough.” The claims may be based on scientific topics that few people really understand. Sometimes the various diets even contradict each other. Lots of people want to lose weight, but it’s hard to know what to do.

How can you tell whether the advice that you are seeing, hearing or reading is sound? Can you tell if it is a fad diet that will just be a waste of time and money?

Look for the diet red flags

Fad diets often:

  • Promise rapid weight loss. (Lose 12 pounds in just two weeks!)
  • Sound too good to be true. (Eat whatever you want and lose weight while you sleep!)
  • Are based on a very limited set of choices. (Eat grapefruit at every meal!)
  • Exclude a whole food group. (Just avoid carbohydrates and the weight will fall off of you!)
  • Have a product tied in with the plan. (Order our 12-week supplement packet…)
  • Promise results with no exercise or new behavior needed. (Lose 15 pounds right now, without counting calories or boring aerobics!)
  • Feature atypical testimonials or personal stories. (I lost 65 pounds in two months!)
  • Take a single study or result and draw conclusions beyond what the evidence suggests. (This breakthrough finding changes everything!)
  • Have a high-profile endorsement from a celebrity, doctor, or scientist. (As seen on TV!)
  • Have suspicious-looking before/after photos. (Before: bad posture and shadows. After: smiles, good lighting, cropped photo.)
  • Rely on a miracle pill, herb, or extract. (Eat this twice a day and fat will melt away!)
  • Sound “scientific” although they are unproven by science. (Eat only the foods that go with your blood type!)
  • Have a conspiratorial tone or hostile stance toward science. (They don’t want you to know the truth!)

Now that you know what to be wary of, where should you turn for good info? Who is a reliable source?

Some governmental agencies with trustworthy information include:

  • Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) @
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Choose My Plate @
  • The National Health Information Center @

Some non-profits with trustworthy information include:

Anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist” and lots of people do, so be wary of people appointing themselves as experts.

If you want to speak one-on-one with a nutrition professional, seek out a registered dietitian (RD) or a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). They are required to have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in dietetics (food and nutrition science), usually have completed a clinical internship, and are often licensed by the state (as they are in Pa.). They are required to seek continuing education to keep their licenses and certifications.

One of the problems that fad diets present is that sometimes they work. That is, you can actually lose weight while doing them. This gives people the impression that “they know what they need to do” to lose weight. But fad diets are almost always unsustainable over the long run — either because they are too unhealthy, or because they make you miserable. This leads people to feel that weight loss is awful and full of suffering, and must be rapid to be worthwhile.

So don’t get taken in, and don’t get discouraged! In reality, responsible weight loss will usually amount to half a pound to two pounds per week at most.