The Cleveland Clinic

Weight Loss:
Spotting Fad Diets

There are literally hundreds of different diets that have at one time or another been promoted as the best approach to losing weight. Unfortunately, most of them, in their efforts to succeed, involve omitting certain foods, and sometimes even entire food groups (for example, high protein diets suggest eliminating carbohydrates, a significant element of the recommended eating guidelines based on the food pyramid.)

Fad diets take form in many ways. low-fat , low carbohydrates , high protein or focusing on one particular food item such as grapefruit. These diets lack major nutrients such as dietary fiber and carbohydrates, as well as selected vitamins, minerals, and protective phytochemicals, such as antioxidants (substances found in vegetables which are protective against disease). Over the long term, by not receiving the proper amounts of these nutrients, you may develop serious health problems later in life.

For the food groups that these diets do permit, the proportions are either well above or well below those recommended by major health organizations like the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association, as well as the Surgeon General and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Some common claims of these diets include blaming particular hormones for weight gain, suggesting that food can change body chemistry, or touting or banning a particular food. However, they all have one thing in common: they offer only a temporary solution to what for many people is a lifelong problem. Once the diet is stopped, the lost weight is usually regained quickly. This is because none of these diets teach you how to eat right .

How Do I Spot a Fad Diet?

While there is no set approach to identifying a fad diet, many have the following characteristics:

  • Recommendations that promise a quick fix
  • Dire warnings of dangers from a single product or regimen
  • 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 review by other researchers
  • Recommendations from studies that ignore differences among individuals or groups
  • Eliminated one or more of the five food groups

Devoting yourself to a lifestyle that includes regular exercise and eating a proper diet with moderate portions is still the best method to lose weight and to keep it off. Most people who make the change from a typical high-fat diet and sedentary lifestyle to one that follows a diet based on the recommended food pyramid will slowly and safely lose weight.

Reviewed by the Department of Nutrition Therapy at The Cleveland Clinic.


Edited by Charlotte Grayson, MD, WebMD, August 2004.

Portions of this page © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2004


Last Editorial Review: 7/14/2005



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