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Dear Dietitian – Why do we fall for fad diets?

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PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC

Dear Readers,

It seems there is always a fad diet out there that, once and for all, will solve our problems. Many of us have been on these diets, myself included. Many years ago, I tried a diet where you followed a strict meal plan for three days, then ate whatever you wanted within reason, (whatever that means) for the following three days. The problem was I couldn’t make it through the first three days!

Wikipedia defines a fad diet as one that is popular for a time, similar to fads in fashion. These diets usually promise rapid weight loss or other health advantages, such as longer life. They are often promoted as requiring little effort and producing a “quick fix.” (1)

Why do we fall prey to these diets? There are many reasons, the first and most obvious being we want to lose weight fast! Many fad diets produce a rapid, initial weight loss of up to five pounds in one week. This is done by depleting the body’s glycogen stores, an intermediate form of carbohydrate energy. When you eat lunch, your body immediately takes what it needs for energy, then stores some glycogen for later to help you get through the afternoon.

Another reason we start a fad diet is they sound reasonable. Sometimes, they are created by physicians, so they must be healthy, right? Often, these diets proclaim to have discovered a secret to losing weight or even better, a way to trick your body into shedding those unwanted pounds. I’ll let you in on this secret for free. If you want to lose weight, follow these two steps: 1. Eat less, and 2. Exercise more. There are no tricks to losing weight. You simply create a caloric deficit over time. Simple, but not easy. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the following guidelines will help you spot a fad diet. (2) These diets tend to have:

  • Recommendations that promise a quick fix.
  • Claims that sound too good to be true.
  • Simplistic conclusions drawn from a complex study.
  • Recommendations based on a single study.
  • Dramatic statements that are refuted by reputable scientific organizations.
  • Lists of “good” and “bad” foods.
  • Recommendations made to help sell a product.
  • Recommendations based on studies published without peer review.
  • Recommendations from studies that ignore differences among individuals or groups.
  • Elimination of one or more of the five food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy). 

Will there ever be an end to fad diets? Not in my lifetime, but as the knowledge of nutrition grows, one day the fad diet will quietly disappear. There will be adequate public health information as it pertains to healthy nutrition. Just as it is now accepted that smoking cigarettes increases your risk of cancer, so too will the consumer realize that a fad diet is not good for your health. A healthy diet consists of moderate portions of lean proteins, whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, and fats that are mono- or polyunsaturated. Keep it simple.



Until next time, be healthy.

Dear Dietitian

Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC, aka Dear Dietitian, is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate consumers on sound, scientifically-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her today at Dear Dietitian does not endorse any products or diet plans.