How to Spot a Fad Diet

By Helen Sanders | Published 11/28/2017 4

Extreme diet-empty plate except for a pea and tape measure 2048 x 1362

Many people are far too familiar with the term “fad diet”.  From the South Beach diet to the cabbage soup diet, all fad diets promise the same unrealistic results of losing weight rapidly, allowing you to fit into that party dress by the upcoming Friday night.

While the names have innovatively changed over time, they are still around. The most common fad diets currently include teatoxes, the ketogenic diet, the paleo diet, and juice cleanses, just to name a few. Unfortunately, these extreme diets may have side effects and the weight loss is usually not sustained.

Luckily, nowadays with all the information available on the internet, we can educate ourselves on the negative consequences that extreme dieting can have on our bodies.

How to spot a fad diet

  • Extreme restriction of calories (under 1000 calories per day)
  • Focuses on short-term weight loss
  • Restricts certain food groups as a whole (i.e., no grains, no fruits)
  • Advises you not to exercise
  • Promises unhealthy weight loss goals (more than 1.5 pounds a week)
  • Requires you to buy a product that the company sells (supplements, tea, pills)

While you may be thinking that a fad diet can’t be harmful if you’re only doing it for short period of time, there can be some serious consequences to denying your body its required nutrition. Not only do they promote short-term weight loss—meaning you’ll gain back everything you lost and in some cases gain even more than you lost—fad diets increase your risk of certain conditions, (for example there is a link between high protein diets and gout). Also, some of these diets can negatively impact your day-to-day life and athletic ability. Fad dieting can also put you into a state of ketosis which can affect your health in many ways.

Short-term weight loss

There are so many issues related to “quick fixes” that offer short-term weight loss rather than focusing on sustainable lifestyle changes that guarantee long-term weight loss.

Fad diets promote certain levels of starvation, in which case the weight that you lose is due to dehydration or muscle loss instead of fat loss. This process can actually hinder long-term weight loss because as you lose muscle, your metabolism starts slowing down; when you are suffering from any level of dehydration, your metabolism will slow down even more as it takes your body into a flight or fight response. These issues make it harder for your body to lose and keep off weight down the road. This is also why after the fad diet is finished, a majority of people gain back all the weight they lost and then some.

Rapid, short-term weight loss can also lead to electrolyte imbalances. Commonly due to the popular “low carb” diets, your body will pull out all the electrolytes that are in fluid stores, leading to an imbalance. This can cause your blood pressure to drop, resulting in dizziness, headaches, and fatigue.


Malnutrition can occur after long-term or recurring fad dieting. Since fad diets usually involve starvation to some degree as well as restriction of certain foods groups, it typically means you aren’t consuming nearly enough calories, macronutrients, or micronutrients.

Macronutrients are made up of three components: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. All three are essential for good health. Macronutrients are set with an intake range because they depend specifically on the person’s activity levels.


Fat: 20-35%

Protein: 10-35%

Carbohydrates: 45-65%

As you can see, carbohydrates should be making up a majority of everyone’s daily intake as our bodies run off carbohydrates and they provide us with energy. While there is some flexibility within the ranges, it’s important to make sure you’re eating the recommended amount of each so you can keep your body functioning optimally.

Macronutrients are vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals that are essential for health. So let’s say you go on a fad diet that doesn’t allow you to eat any carbohydrates such as bread and no fruit; not only will you be deficient in carbohydrates, resulting in energy loss, but also in the essential vitamins and minerals that are found in whole grains and fruits This could create a whole other issue as vitamin and mineral deficiencies can have complicated side effects. Being deficient in certain vitamins can also slow your metabolism down, posing more of an issue for long-term weight maintenance.


Constipation is also another huge problem associated with fad diets. This is due to dehydration, overuse of laxatives, lack of fiber due to food restrictions, and an overall lack of food. Constipation can cause extreme discomfort and can negatively impact your life. Certain fad diets are reliant on laxatives to “cleanse” your system, however, it should be known that laxatives are only to be used in serious cases of constipation. Once your digestive system becomes accustomed to the laxatives, it’s going to be a major problem to naturally regulate yourself once again.


When our bodies are healthy, they run in a state of glycolysis meaning that we are eating a good amount of carbohydrates and our body is able to turn that into energy. When our bodies are deprived of carbohydrates, the metabolic process changes into ketosis. This means that the body will be running on ketones rather than glucose, burning fat instead of sugar.

Certain diets promote ketosis as a “fat burning diet”, such as the Atkins diet, the ketogenic diet, and the paleo diet. The longer the body is in a ketogenic state, the easier it is to slip into a more dangerous state of ketoacidosis. This causes your blood to become too acidic and can cause damage to your liver and kidneys. Ketoacidosis can also lead to seizures, particularly among those with diabetes.

The bottom line

Fad diets have been around for decades and while the names or methods are always changing, be wary of anything that offers a quick fix. While it may seem harmless to go on a diet for a week or two, that is still enough time for your body to be negatively affected in the long run. If you’re looking to lose some weight, focus on healthy eating, adequate exercise, and proper sleep. Skip the diet, just eat healthily!

Helen Sanders


Hey there, I'm Helen, Founder and Editor-in-Chief here at Health Ambition. After my best friend mistook my excessive weight gain for me being pregnant, I decided to take control of my life and get into shape. I'm on a mission to share my insider health tips with all of you.


  • Fad diets works for short-term weight loss. But most of the time, dieters return to their normal eating habits after they’ve lost a few pounds or have become bored with the diet.

  • Helen,. Please show the science in your claims. Do you have the science that supports your conclusion that eating right and exercise is the key to long term weight loss? From what I find in the scientific journals is the exact opposite.

    • There is literature to support those statements (I am not the author, rather the editor), here’s a link to one: httpss:// and another:

      The problem is the literature is all over the place and the quality of the studies vary. Also, the intensity of exercise turns out to be important. I believe that our exercise prescriptions have been too modest – I think to not scare people away from just getting started with physical activity. Both of the papers above make the point that the exercise has to be intense, not just a walk in the park.

      If you have studies that say the opposite, please share links here. We can continue the discussion. Thanks for your comment. Pat

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