4 Tips to Spot a Fad Diet That Probably Won’t Work

Most ineffective fad diets use at least one of these faulty tricks.

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In retrospect, it’s easy to laugh at an old fad diet that has gone out of favor. In the moment, however, it’s much easier to fall for the hype. Fad diets often promise big results from following simple and unique rules. That said, when you examine the history of fad diets, you’ll realize that all these trendy eating patterns actually use some of the same tricks.

Yes—fad diets are often a repackaged form of a previous fad diet. The problem with that is that they often recycle the same ineffective tricks. Often, these tricks might seem easy to follow for a short period of time, resulting in quick but unsustainable weight loss.

How to Spot an Ineffective Fad Diet

Very few fad diets are as unique as they claim to be. You can often spot one using these simple clues:

1. It requires you to buy special products

This is the ultimate sign of a diet plan you shouldn’t trust. Some of these even fall into the “scam” category. Be weary of any diet that asks you to buy unique food products, such as:

  • Branded shakes
  • Special juices
  • Pills or supplements
  • Powders

You shouldn’t trust these for two reasons. First of all, the creators want you to spend money, so it’s hard to know for sure if they truly care about your health. Second of all, it is unclear if the ingredients in the shake, juice, powder, or pill are actually good for health. Plus, they may contain supplements or ingredients without disclosing them on the label, which can be harmful. Often, these items make unrealistic promises that they’ll “boost metabolism” or “burn fat.” That’s just not going to happen.

2. It come with unreasonable promises

No diet is a “silver bullet” against diseases. Few diets, if any, can safely help you “lose weight fast.”

Do certain eating patterns lower your risk of chronic illnesses? Yes—but no diet will make you invincible against disease, and you should be suspicious of diets that promise to do so.

3. It eliminates entire foods or food groups

This one can be a little tricky. Obviously, many people avoid specific foods due to moral or religious reasons. That doesn’t mean vegetarians (who don’t eat meat) or Muslims (who often don’t eat pork) are following a fad diet.

However, many fad diets label different foods as “good” or “bad.” Different trendy diets have attacked the following foods that have long been recognized as generally nutritious:

  • Soy
  • Fruit, especially bananas
  • Grains
  • Beans
  • Peanuts
  • “Nightshades”
  • Products with gluten

In general, the only health-related reason to avoid any of these foods is if you have an allergy or an intolerance.

4. It cuts or restricts macronutrients

One of the most common tricks that fad diets use is counting and restricting different macronutrients. The most obvious examples are low-fat diets (which were all the rage in the ‘80s and ‘90s) and low-carb diets (such as Atkins, South Beach, and keto).

Your body usually benefits when you get the recommended ratios of carbs, fat, and protein. Society has often demonized carbs and fat, but it is hard to make categorical claims about completely eliminating one group or another.

A 2018 study of over 15,000 adults compared the health of people eating low-carb, moderate-carb, and high-carb diets. The result? Those who ate moderate-carb diets had a lower risk of death than those who pursued low-carb and high-carb diets. (However, in some cases or medical conditions, low-carb might be the appropriate diet.)

The Dietary Guidelines of Americans recommends the following ratio for macronutrients:

  • 45-65 percent of calories should be carbohydrates, preferably complex carbohydrates, coming from whole grains, legumes, fruit, and veggies
  • 20-35 percent of calories should be dietary fat, preferably unsaturated fat
  • 10 to 35 percent of calories should be protein, preferably lean protein

Eating within these macronutrient ranges ensures that you’re getting the necessary nutrients for good health. Dietary fat helps you absorb certain vitamins, for example, and carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of energy.

The Takeaway

Fad diets get their name for a reason: They rarely stick around once people realize they don’t work. Sure, you might lose some weight at the beginning, but these diets are often difficult to stick to. Many people either gain weight back, encounter health problems (such as high cholesterol from the keto diet), or simply realize that not eating carbs is hard.

If you can recognize the warning signs of these ineffective diets early, you can avoid wasting your time and energy on them. That way, you’ll have more energy to put into following healthy habits that actually make a difference.