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

Last Updated May 2023 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Leisa Bailey, MD

A fad diet is a trendy weight-loss plan that promises dramatic results. Typically, these diets are not healthy and don’t result in long-term weight loss. In fact, some fad diets can be dangerous to your health.

Path to improved health

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). It takes time to lose weight and allow your body to adjust.
  • Promise that you will lose weight and keep it off without exercise. If a diet plan or product sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Limit your food choices or don’t offer balanced nutrition.
  • Focus on food combinations. Research doesn’t prove that eating certain foods together speeds weight loss.
  • Base claims on before-and-after photos.
  • Offer endorsements from clients or experts in weight loss, science, or nutrition. These people probably get paid to advertise.
  • Require you to spend a lot of money, especially in advance. This includes pills, patches, drops, prepackaged meals, or seminars required for the plan to work.
  • Draw simple conclusions from complex medical research.
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Diet TypeExamples
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
• SlimFast
Diet Pills/Herbal Remedies• Dexatrim Natural
• Hydroxycut
• Metabolife 356

Talk to your doctor if you want to lose weight. Your doctor can help you create a weight loss plan that is safe and effective. Some tips that apply to any healthy weight loss plan include:

  • Eat a variety of foods to ensure that you get all of your daily nutrients.
  • Watch what types of fat you consume. Do not eat any trans fats. Trans fats come from partially hydrogenated oils and are found in many fried and baked goods. Read nutrition labels as you shop. Limit your daily intakeof saturated fat and sodium. Try to eat healthy fats instead of opting for a strict low-fat diet. The latter typically is higher in carbs.
  • Limit the amount of sugar in your diet. High-sugar foods often are high in calories and low in nutrients. They also can lead to inflammation in your body.
  • Limit liquid calories by avoiding soda and alcohol. Choose whole fruits instead of juice. Drink plenty of water every day.
  • Watch the size of your portions. Use the nutrition labelto determine the correct serving size.
  • Exercise regularly. Pick 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 further away from the door and take the stairs when you can and if it’s safe. Get a pedometer or step counter and work toward a goal of 10,000 steps per day.

Things to consider

People often try anything that promises to help them lose weight. They may want to look or feel better or may worry about certain health conditions. Companies that promote fad diets take advantage of this fact. They appeal to people by promising weight loss that is 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 are popular because they work for a short amount of time. In most cases, this is because you eat fewer calories than normal. With a fad diet, you also pay more attention to what you eat. However, it’s likely that most of the weight you lose is from water and lean muscle, not body fat. It also is hard to keep up with the demands of a strict diet. Fad diets often limit your food choices or require you to eat the same foods over and over again. After a fad diet, you could end up gaining back the weight you first lost.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How do I know if a fad diet is safe or right for me?
  • If fad diets are bad, what kind of diet can I do to lose weight?
  • Are diets meant to be short-term or long-term?
  • Is intermittent fasting a healthy way to lose weight?


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: Diets

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