Nutrition for Weight Loss: What You Need to Know About Fad Diets


What is a fad diet?

A fad diet is a weight loss plan or aid that promises dramatic results. These diets typically don't result in long-term weight loss and they are usually not very healthy. In fact, some of these diets can actually be dangerous to your health. Some common diet types are listed in the box below.

Diet Type

Some Examples

Controlled Carbohydrates

  • Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution
  • The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet
  • Protein Power
  • Sugar Busters
  • The Zone

High Carbohydrate/Low Fat

  • Dr. Dean Ornish: Eat More, Weigh Less
  • The Good Carbohydrate Revolution
  • The Pritikin Principle

Controlled Portion Sizes

  • Dr. Shapiro's Picture Perfect Weight Loss
  • Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan

Food Combining

  • Fit for Life
  • Suzanne Somers' Somersizing

Liquid Diets

  • Cambridge Diet
  • Slim-Fast

Diet Pills/Herbal Remedies

  • Dexatrim Natural
  • Hydroxycut
  • Metabolife 356


  • Eat Right For Your Type: The Blood Type Diet
  • Macrobiotics
  • Mayo Clinic Diet*


*Although many diet plans use this name, none of them were created by the Mayo Clinic or are approved by the Mayo Clinic. "The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid" is the only diet plan created by the Mayo Clinic.

If fad diets don't work, why are they so popular?

People are often willing to try anything that promises to help them lose weight because they want to look or feel better, or because they are worried about getting weight-related diseases. Companies that promote fad diets take advantage of this fact. They appeal to people by promising weight loss that's very quick and easy. Many people prefer to try the quick fix of a fad diet instead of making the effort to lose weight through long-term changes in their eating and exercise habits.

Fad diets also become popular because many of them do work for a short amount of time. In many cases, this is because when you stop eating certain types of food or eat "special" combinations of foods, you are getting fewer calories than you normally would. You are also paying more attention to what you are eating. However, it’s likely that much of the weight you lose is from water and lean muscle, not from body fat. Also, most people are not able to keep up with the demands of a diet that strictly limits their food choices or requires them to eat the same foods over and over again. People who use fad diets usually end up gaining back any weight that they initially lost.

How can I recognize fad diets?

As a general rule, steer clear of diets or diet products that do any of the following:

  • Claim to help you lose weight very quickly (more than 1 or 2 pounds per week). Remember, it took time for you to gain unwanted weight and it will take time to lose it.
  • Promise that you can lose weight and keep it off without giving up "fatty" foods or exercising on a regular basis. If a diet plan or product sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Base claims on "before and after" photos.
  • Offer testimonials from clients or "experts" in weight loss, science or nutrition. Remember that these people are probably being paid to advertise the diet plan or product.
  • Draw simple conclusions from complex medical research.
  • Limit your food choices and don't encourage you to get balanced nutrition by eating a variety of foods.
  • Require you to spend a lot of money on things like seminars, pills or prepackaged meals in order for the plan to work.

What should I do if I want to lose weight?

Talk with your doctor if you want to lose weight. He or she can help you develop a weight loss plan that is both safe and effective. The following are some tips that apply to any healthy weight loss plan:

  • Eat breakfast every day and don't skip meals.
  • Eat a variety of foods (including plenty of whole grains, vegetables and fruits) to ensure that you get all of your daily nutrients.
  • Limit your daily intake of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium.
  • Limit the amount of sugar in your diet. High-sugar foods are often high in calories and low in nutrients.
  • Limit liquid calories. Avoid sugary soda, alcohol and juices (choose whole fruits instead).
  • Watch the size of your portions. Use the nutrition label to determine what a serving size is.
  • Exercise on a regular basis. The best kind of exercise is exercise that you'll keep doing, so choose an activity that you enjoy. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes, 4 to 6 times per week.
  • Be more physically active in your daily life. Park farther away from the door and take the stairs when you can. Get a pedometer or step counter and gradually work up to taking 10,000 steps per day.

Written by editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 12/10
Created: 02/04