The scary truth about fad diets

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 9, 2017

By Shanelle Wilkey

Rowan County Health Department

Do you need a good New Year’s resolution? How about trying to stay away from fad diets?

Fad diets are any kind of diet that promises quick weight loss. They usually target people who want to lose weight fast without having to include exercise.

There are many types of fad diets out there, so understanding their characteristics is important.

Fad diets almost always promise dramatic results. In other words, if they seem too good to be true, then they probably are. These diets typically do not result in long-term weight loss but rather offer short-term success.

For example, one might claim to help you lose as much as 10 pounds the first week. Realistically, the recommended safe weight loss is no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week.

Often, these claims are based on before and after pictures along with user testimonies. Ads promoting these diets often use terminology such as “groundbreaking” or “breakthrough” to describe them and offer advice from “experts” who do not have valid credentials.

Usually there is a paid spokesman involved to help promote them.

Some fad diets require you to spend a lot of money on prepackaged meals, meal plans, and diet pills or supplements. According to, the U.S. weight loss industry has nearly $61 billion in revenue per year.

Fad diets are generally not healthy and can cause more harm than good. They are typically unbalanced nutritionally. They can limit food choices and may not meet the dietary guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

They may even suggest restricting carbohydrate intake, which can be a concern because carbohydrates break down to glucose and supply the main source of energy to your brain.

The diets may actually provide fewer calories than the recommended intake, resulting in a slower metabolism and weight loss because of loss of water and lean muscle rather than loss of fat.

Fad diets can often lead to “yo-yo dieting.” This is the repeated loss and regain of body weight, which can vary from 5 to 10 pounds to more than 50 pounds over time. This can be harmful to your heart and overall health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 percent of Americans will give up on their weight loss goals within two weeks and 65 percent of people who successfully complete a fad diet will end up gaining all their weight back.

The bottom line here is to stay away from fad diets altogether because they are unhealthy, ineffective for long-term weight loss, and potentially a financial strain.

If your New Year’s resolution involved weight loss and improving your health, you are not alone. According to the CDC, in 2010, 54 percent of adults said they were on a diet and the average American adult tries to start a fad diet four times a year.

Make sure you consult with your doctor or registered dietitian nutritionist about developing a diet and exercise plan that is right for you. As always, before starting any exercise program, consult with your doctor first.

Remember, healthy weight loss is not quick and easy, as most fad diets promise, but rather a long-term lifestyle change that takes time. Aristotle said it best: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not act, but a habit.”

Shanelle Wilkey, RDN, LDN, is the Rowan County WIC program director at the Rowan County Health Department and is a registered dietitian.