The Fad Diet Fable

By Amanda Parks

We’ve all been there: You want to drop 10 pounds to fit into that perfect dress for a special event, slim down for an upcoming trip, or boast a dramatic weight loss for your college reunion. Maybe your current weight management method isn’t delivering results quickly enough, or you want to start off the new year with a new you.

In our culture of impatience and immediacy, we often crave instant gratification, which explains why it can be easy to get swept up in the fantasy of diets that promise to deliver quick, dramatic results. However, because fad diets hold few nutritional principles with no lasting health benefits, they aren’t recommended by medical professionals as a safe
or effective method for losing weight.

Dr. C. Robert Bosshardt Gastroenterologist, Galen Medical Group

How to Spot a Fad Diet

According to Dr. C. Robert Bosshardt, a
gastroenterologist with Galen Medical Group, “Fad diets are stylish diets that emphasize quick, easy, and dramatic weight loss. They tend to target people who want to lose weight without exercise and who don’t want to make a sustainable healthy lifestyle change.”

Often labeling foods, as “good” and “bad,” fad diets deliver temporary weight-loss success by promoting a specific set of guidelines and endorsing certain foods, while eliminating other foods or food groups that can contain important nutrients. Some fad diets stipulate the time of day certain foods may be consumed and the exact amount. “Be on the lookout for promises of quick weight loss, diets that are restricted to one type of food, a company selling a specific product, or if the diet just sounds too good to be true,” says Dr. Bosshardt.

Some of the most popular fad diets around today include: the Atkins Diet, a diet low in carbohydrates and sugars and high in proteins and fats; the Lemonade Diet, a diet that severely restricts calories by only allowing a concoction of lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup six times a day; the Cabbage Soup Diet, a low-calorie diet that only allows you to eat – you guessed it – cabbage soup; and the SlimFast diet, a diet of branded meal replacement bars and shakes.

What Happens to Your Body

A temporary solution to what should be a lifelong goal, a fad diet can have many short- and long-term effects on your body and your health. You may experience:

Increased risk of diseases and chronic conditions: Eliminating entire food groups causes you to miss out on essential vitamins and nutrients. Dr. Bosshardt explains, “When diets eliminate fruits, vegetables, dairy, or grains for lengthy periods of time, the risk of cancer, high blood pressure, and chronic diseases involving your heart and bones increases.”

Increased risk of dehydration: When you shed weight too rapidly, it’s often mostly water weight, not body fat.

Increased fatigue: Extreme fad diets deprive your body of the calories it converts to energy, which can lead to extreme fatigue and lack of concentration.

Decreased metabolism: Because fad diets are temporary, your body’s metabolism is unable to maintain a consistent level. This fluctuation can cause weight gain and affect hunger cues.

Decreased mood: When your diet suffers, so does your mood, causing you to feel irritable and exhausted.

Decreased lean muscle mass: During extreme low-calorie diets, your body goes into starvation mode. It tries to conserve fat and instead attacks lean body mass in attempts to generate energy.

Kari Intemann, a registered dietitian with Hamilton Health Care System, explains, “The body’s response is different for each type of fad diet. For instance, with very low-carbohydrate diets, the body uses fat for energy rather than carbohydrates. This may sound appealing, but using fat for energy is not the body’s preferred method, and the bi-products of fat metabolism can cause the blood to become acidic,” (which can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, headache, and confusion).

The Rebound Effect

Because fad diets are impossible to maintain, they often result in a rebound, meaning you can not only put back on the weight you lost, but also sometimes even more. That’s because changes in your eating habits can affect your metabolism.

“Metabolism is the process of converting the food we eat into the energy needed to keep the heart pumping, lungs breathing, and body moving,” explains Intemann. “If we do not give our bodies enough fuel, the metabolism slows down to preserve energy. What a slower metabolism actually means is that the food we eat is harder to ‘burn.’ This slowing of the metabolism can happen when you go long periods of time without enough fuel, which can occur with frequently skipping meals or not consuming enough calories.”

While adhering to rigid diets may yield temporary results, failure to make lifestyle changes often prevents weight loss from becoming permanent. Making even minor adjustments in your daily habits can help change your attitude toward food and lead to a healthier lifestyle.


Remember: You should always consult your doctor for guidance before beginning a weight-loss endeavor.

Kari Intemann Registered Dietitian, Hamilton Health Care System

Losing Weight the Right Way

The best diet isn’t a diet at all, but a lifestyle that balances the foods you enjoy with healthy habits. Dr. Bosshardt shares, “The first realization in weight-loss management is to understand there is no easy shortcut to sustained weight loss.” There is no alternative to clean eating and no substitute for routine exercise. Learning to incorporate a balance of variety and moderation, portion control, and exercise into your routine can deliver long-lasting benefits without the dangerous deprivation that often comes with fad diets.

A well-balanced diet doesn’t eliminate specific food groups. It is composed of a variety of foods from all the major food groups, including lean protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and dairy products. Balancing healthy choices with occasional indulgences in moderation can keep you from feeling deprived.

In addition, managing your portion sizes can help cut calories in a healthy way. Try drinking a glass of water before eating, sharing an entrée when dining out, eating meals from small salad plates, and pre-portioning snacks.

Engaging in physical activity regularly will work in conjunction with healthy eating habits to boost weight loss. Aside from helping you shed pounds, a combination of cardio and strength training also offers numerous other health benefits such as improved mood, increased energy and muscle mass, a strengthened cardiovascular system, and a reduced risk of diabetes and cancers. If beginning an exercise program seems overwhelming, you can incorporate small changes into your lifestyle by taking the stairs or parking further from your destinations.

You may feel discouraged when results aren’t immediate, but remember that losing weight is more of a marathon than a sprint. Intemann shares, “A healthy, sustainable weight-loss rate is 1-2 pounds per week. Making small changes to your diet and gradually adding exercise is the way to lose weight and keep it off.” Making a commitment to a healthy lifestyle will result in a healthier and happier you!


A well-balanced diet doesn’t eliminate specific food groups. It is composed of a variety of foods from all the major food groups, including lean protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and dairy products.

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