Debunking fad diets

debunking fad diets

Everyone is either on a diet, has been on a diet or is thinking about going on one. There used to be diet books with celebrity followings, but now you can find them all over the internet, and I bet at least one of your friends has tried to sign you up to a diet based nutrition-based multi-level marketing scheme (MLM) at some point!

The definition of the word ’diet’ is:“the food and drink usually eaten or drunk by a person or group.”

I have a huge problem the term ‘diet’ and how we’ve come to know them being referred to in the media, because we are all on a ‘diet’ as such – if you eat food, you’re on a diet. The word is widely associated with restrictions! Most of the  diets marketed at people desperate to lose weight are either short-term solutions, too complicated, or both. Your diet needn’t be either.

In contrast is the advice of a qualified nutritionist – who will advise you to eat a varied balanced diet and to be in a calorie deficit if your goal is fat loss. The latter is not overly exciting is it? Yet it is the most effective and cheapest diet strategy for a healthy population.

A sound weight loss diet should be helping you lose the pounds from your body, not from your wallet!

Fad diets are trendy diets that promise the quickest possible results, some market wide fad diets range from outright ludicrous to extremely harmful. I’m going to discuss the main fad diets we encounter today and help you to spot the red flags when you come across these examples:

Multi-level marketing products – based around diets

The overall set up of these business models relies on someone recruiting others to sell a range of diet related products. Often those people are not qualified in nutrition and this is where the danger may lie. When you get people, who know nothing about nutrition selling you products that affect your health you should be very wary – always get professional advice from your GP or a qualified nutritionist or dietician before introducing any supplements to your diet.

So-called ‘skinny’ products

Teas, shakes, coffee, supplements – you name it – just add the word ‘skinny’ in front of it, throw in a celebrity endorsement and these products sell themselves. Be wary of these products – they  don’t help you lose weight. What makes you lose weight is being in a calorie deficit. Even if they include a chemical, they say is proven to speed up weight loss like capsaicin found in chillies, the evidence shows the effect is so miniscule you would not see a noticeable effect.

Low carb diets and the keto diet

People will see a huge initial weight loss on a low carb diet, but much of the weight that people lose is water, not fat. Carbohydrates stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver bind to water with 2- 3g of water attached for every gram of glycogen. A ketogenic diet is complicated because its origin of use comes from treating epilepsy patients. It can be effective; however, it is only recommended to follow it for 6 months maximum as the diet requires you to eat large amounts of fat, moderate protein with as little as 20g of carbohydrate a day! There is a mountain of evidence to show that longer-term, this could put a strain on the liver. Evidence has shown that after the initial large weight loss, calorie restricted diets and ketogenic diets have comparable weight loss results.


Some key Red flags to  look out for:

  • Sales of additional supplements or other products related to the diet. You do not need potentially dangerous and expensive products to help you lose weight. All you need is a good quality diet plan based on calorie deficit and the right nutritional support.
  • A celebrity or influencer endorsing weight loss products.
  • Outlandish claims, often with little evidence to back it up, and usually a disclaimer such as ‘May help you lose weight as part of a balanced diet’.
  • Any diet saying that it requires you to cut out any food or macronutrient from your diet.
  • Cherry picked studies.
  • Always check someone’s qualifications. Be sure to work with a qualified nutritionist or dietician on any weight loss programme you adopt.


I can’t cover all of the fad diets out there, as there are simply far too many to address, but if you take one message from this article let it be this. There is nothing out there that will help you to lose weight more quickly and safely than a balanced diet plan, full of wholefoods, fruit & veg and complex carbs – one that is followed long-term and complimented with regular exercise.

It can take months or even years to put weight on, so allow the same time to lose it. You can still eat cake and be happy dieting, as long as you ensure the rest of your day is filled with nutritiously dense foods. Don’t think restriction – think about replacing unhealthy foods with nutritionally dense foods packed with healthy vitamins and nutrients.

Author Bio

Anne holds a First-class honours (BSc) degree in Human Nutrition at the University of Greenwich.​ Anne has a keen interest in nutrition’s involvement in mood disorders, as well as nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics.