Fad Diets Part 1: What is a fad diet and how do I spot one? 

Fad Diets Part 1: What is a fad diet and how do I spot one? 

Nicole Pin, MAN, RD

With a weight and health obsessed culture, it’s no surprise that the diet industry makes billions of dollars each year preying on our desire for that ‘quick fix’ in place of a long term drive toward a healthy lifestyle.

If there actually was a magic pill, super food, or “detox drink” that could instantly wipe away health concerns and give us the unrealistic physical physique that society has sadly mislabeled as a the hallmark image of health, then the diet industry wouldn’t be nearly as lucrative or even exist for that matter.

What is a fad diet?

A fad diet is kind of like a fashion trend in the world of food. Most fad diets have a shelf life of popularity, but can cycle back through the years. Usually there is a promise of rapid weight loss or significant health improvement in a very short period of time, and in many instances special products, supplements or foods are marketed to support the program or dietary regime.

Many fad diets grow from a small seed of truthful health information that has been pulled out of context and contaminated with a wealth of false information and extreme dietary expectations. Kind of like when the runway takes a fashion trend to a new unrealistic level of clothing that no one actually walking around on the street would wear.

With all the promising advertisements, blog posts and diet programs out there it can be impossible to decipher what is diet culture and what is the truth when it comes to nutrition. So how do you spot false claims? Ask yourself the following questions next time you see a program, blog post or advertisement for a specific eating pattern. If you answer yes to one or more, it is very likely that what you’ve found is a fad diet.

  1. Does it promise a quick fix?

A quick fix could be losing more than 1-2lbs or 0.5-1kg per week or rapid physical fitness changes.

  1. Does it eliminate specific foods or food groups altogether?

Common foods eliminated on fad diets include fruit, grains/ starches, fats or dairy.

  1. Does it heavily restrict or limit food intake

Either at specific meals or throughout the day, some fad diets also encourage skipping meals.

  1. Does it encourage use of specific packaged foods, products or supplements?

Safe approaches to weight loss don’t require purchasing packaged foods, products or supplements.

  1. If you went to a typical sit down restaurant, would you have issues finding something to order on this diet?

You should be able to find an option if the program you’re following is truly healthy. Most restaurants can accommodate healthy choices with little or no menu changes.

  1. Are claims based on before-and-after photos or so called ‘industry expert’ testimony?

If it’s trying that hard to sell you on it, it’s likely a scam. Before/after photos highlighting rapid weight loss, backed with paid ‘industry expert’ testimony are hallmark signs of a fad diet.

Navigating food culture can be overwhelming, and exhausting. Thinking critically and asking yourself some key questions can help you spot the fad diets and false claims. The bottom line is: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll talk about why we fall for fad diets in the first place, and why they’re destined to fail from the start.

Have questions about food trends, eating well or nutrition on campus? Our UW Dietitian has answers! Email Nicole at nicole.pin@uwaterloo.ca.