What Is a Fad Diet?

Jenna Hilton
October 19, 2023

In theory, losing weight sounds easy. However, practice shows it’s a long, challenging journey requiring patience and the right mindset. Most people who try shortcuts or fad diets may experience some short-term weight loss but ultimately fail in the long run and may even cause themselves harm.

This article explains what a fad diet is, how to recognize one, and why it doesn’t yield satisfactory results. It also recommends healthier, sustainable weight loss solutions.

Fad diet

What Is a "Fad Diet"?

A fad diet is a trendy, one-size-fits-all eating plan that promises significant and quick weight loss but bypasses the essential prerequisite of sustained weight loss: the modification of lifestyle habits, such as physical activity, sleep patterns, and stress levels.

Fad diets are not backed by science, or they take certain data from a scientific study and draw exaggerated, flawed conclusions. People are drawn to them because they want to see results quickly without too much effort.

The marketing behind fad diets is strong and often manipulative, with celebrities, influencers, and big companies promoting foods and products claiming miraculous results.

Types of Fad Diets

Fad diets can be grouped into different categories based on several factors:

  • Dominant foods or food groups in the diet (examples: keto diet, fruitarianism)
  • Restricted or eliminated foods or food groups (examples: low-carb diet, low-fat diet)
  • The time the food is eaten (example: the Moon or Werewolf diet)
  • Low-calorie diets (example: liquid diet)
  • Other factors (examples: blood type diet, the alkaline diet, etc.)

How to Recognize a Fad Diet

Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate a fad diet from a healthy eating plan. Nutritionists explain that a fad diet typically promises quick, unsustainable results – such as shedding over two pounds per week or losing weight while lying on a couch and eating chips. They don’t consider a patient’s unique physical and psychological features. 

The following graphic summarizes the attributes of the most common fad diets.

How to recognize a fad diet

Examples of Fad Diets

Some of the most popular fad diets that have appeared in the past decades include:

  • Ketogenic or keto diet – A meal plan that promotes high-protein and high-fat intake while restricting carbohydrates. It is used in medicine to help children with refractory epilepsy. It is not recommended as a sustainable weight loss plan.  
  • Paleolithic or paleo diet – A popular diet based on our idea of how people in prehistoric times ate. It mostly consists of food that people in the past could acquire by hunting and gathering, such as fruits, nuts, vegetables, meat, and eggs.
  • Cabbage soup diet – This seven-day eating plan involves eating large amounts of low-calorie cabbage soup and alternating other foods (e.g., fruits and vegetables) on different days. It promises followers they will lose ten pounds a week.
  • Fruitarianism – It excludes all animal products and involves eating only raw fruits, nuts, and seeds.
  • Gluten-free diet – A gluten-free diet is prescribed to patients diagnosed with gluten intolerance and celiac disease. However, many people follow this diet, eliminating foods with gluten (wheat, rye, and barley) without a solid reason.
  • Low-carbohydrate diet – It restricts one of three main macronutrients: carbohydrates. They are present in grains, legumes, fruits, starchy vegetables, and milk. Low-carb meal plans mainly consist of non-starchy vegetables and meat.
  • Blood type diet – Proponents of this diet follow a specific meal plan based on their blood type. For example, people with blood type 0 eat high-protein foods, while people with blood type A avoid protein.
  • Macrobiotic diet – This diet is based with ideas stemming from Zen Buddhism. It aims to balance the yin and yang elements in the body through certain food choices. It relies on avoiding food with toxins and consuming whole grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
  • Liquid diet – A diet in which solid foods are replaced with liquids, such as shakes and juices, to restrict calorie intake.

Long-Term Dangers of Fad Diets

Many fad diets restrict the intake of important minerals and vitamins, which can lead to various health issues, including:

  • Malnutrition
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Weight fluctuations (“yo-yo effect”)
  • High cholesterol
  • Low bone mineral density
  • Heart problems
  • Increased stress
  • Anemia

Note: Is there a correlation between anemia and weight? Find out if anemia causes weight loss or is hindering your efforts.

Healthier Weight Loss & Maintenance Methods

Healthy, long-term weight loss requires lifelong adherence to changes in one’s diet and other lifestyle modifications.

Health professionals advise adopting the following eating habits:

  • Eat a variety of minimally processed foods.
  • Have about half a plate of fresh fruits and vegetables at every meal.
  • Limit or eliminate processed and sugary foods and drinks.
  • Eat in moderation.
  • Allow 3-4 hours to pass between each meal.
  • Drink at least eight glasses of water.

Note: Looking for meal ideas that are healthy and satiating but low in calories? Check out our sustainable 7-day meal plan for weight loss.

Other important lifestyle habits that contribute to a healthy weight include:

  • 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week
  • 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night
  • Healthy techniques for coping with stress, such as yoga, meditation, walking, art, socializing

People who struggle to lose weight with diet and exercise can get help from medical professionals. Medical weight loss programs are treatment plans tailored for each patient that typically involve a customized nutrition plan, targeted exercises, medications (such as chromium, metformin, semaglutide, or low-dose naltrexone), appetite-suppressing supplements, IV therapy, and counseling.

Note: Discover the benefits of IV therapy for weight loss.

Fad Diet FAQ

The following questions and answers summarize what you’ve learned about fad diets. They will help you avoid one and only choose eating plans that bring about gradual, lifelong changes to your physique and wellbeing.

What Is Considered a Fad Diet?

A fad diet is any eating plan that promises results that are “too good to be true”, and is usually restrictive. Medical professionals don’t endorse fad diets and consider most of them harmful to long-term health.

Why Is a Fad Diet Bad?

Fad diets are bad because they lead to nutritional deficiencies, potentially causing severe health issues.

What Are the Most Common Fad Diets?

The most common forms of fad diets are low-calorie and low-carb diets.

What Is an Example of a Fad Diet?

The keto diet is an example of a popular fad diet. It’s based on consuming high-fat and high-protein food. The purpose of the keto diet is to deprive the body of glucose found in carbohydrates in order to reach ketosis – the state in which the body uses fat instead of glucose for energy.

Medical professionals prescribe this diet to patients with epilepsy, diabetes, and other diagnosed conditions. However, when used without medical supervision, it can lead to nutritional deficiencies and cause more harm than good.

Note: Research shows that insulin and weight loss are directly connected. Find out how chronically elevated insulin levels can inhibit normal metabolic processes and weight loss efforts by reading our post: Insulin Resistance and Weight Loss.


Lured by the promise of rapid weight loss, millions of people have tried a fad diet at least once – and failed to maintain the results. Unfortunately, fad diets remain popular despite their well-known shortcomings thanks to our human desire for quick fixes, social media influencers and the unattainable beauty standards they promote.

Remember that the safest and healthiest way to go about reducing body fat is medically supervised weight loss.

If you need help with weight loss and weight management, our friendly medical team will gladly assist you on your weight loss journey.

In the meantime, learn how to start your weight loss journey. We've compiled a list of 12 best practices to help you jumpstart weight loss and learn how to maintain your results in the long run.

Jenna Hilton
Jenna Hilton has been a practicing PA since 2009, specializing in Family, Internal Medicine and Medical Aesthetics. She attended Arizona State University where she received her Bachelor's Degree and graduated magna cum laude. She received her Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant Studies from A.T. Still University.

Jenna has been injecting neurotoxin and dermal filler since 2013. She received certification as a Master Injector in 2017 through Empire Medical in Los Angeles, California. She is currently working on a Fellowship Program in Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine through the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. Her special interests include use of PLLA, Ablative/Non ablative skin resurfacing, PDO threads, hormone therapy and nutritional therapies to improve cellular regeneration and medically supervised weight loss.

Jenna Hilton believes in a multi-factorial approach, considering internal factors that accelerate aging and disease development. She always enjoys teaching. She co-founded Vibrant EDU courses at Vibrant Skin Bar and regularly performs one-on-one training with fellow injectors. She teaches Aesthetic and Advanced Injectable Courses at National Laser Institute. She has been named Preceptor of the Year and is an Adjunct Faculty Member at Midwestern University. She was born in Iowa, and lives with her husband and three children in Phoenix, AZ.

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