Fad Dieting

“Did you hear about the latest diet? My friend went on it – it’s amazing!” Can you count how many times you’ve heard or said something similar?

Fads. We hear about them in everything from music, to jeans to cars. They can be fun, flashy and seemingly harmless mementos of our time. When it comes to fad diets, however, the results can carry serious, long-term consequences. They are promoted as a quick-fix answer for weight loss, shouting claims that promise results by following rigid, quirky and/or depriving food plans. Often, they will go against actual science, or provide deceptive medical claims that are not backed by true research.

The one thing that all fad diets have in common is that they prey on emotions. Marketing is what drives them, and they are intended to make you feel as if you’ll finally be whatever you want to be if you simply follow their plan. They tell you you’re insufficient, inadequate, unacceptable – and that all will be cured by simply following their rules.

How can you tell?

Fad diets come in all forms, formats, shapes and sizes. Some of the typical guidelines and promised results include one or more of the following:

  • Quick and guaranteed weight loss (usually greater than 2 pounds per week)
  • Eat anything that you want
  • Eat as much as you want
  • Never feel hungry
  • Never need to exercise
  • Rigidly limited food choices or exclusion of complete food groups
  • Actors portraying doctors or medical experts
  • Requires purchase of special food, supplements or products
  • Requires attendance to expensive seminars or purchase of an expensive program
  • Uses before and after photos as marketing tool
  • Sounds too good to be true

What are the dangers?

Research shows us that diets are often the trigger that activate an eating disorder in someone who may be at risk. The allure of a structured diet seems innocent enough, but the power of self-control soon turns into an out-of-control feeling once an eating disorder takes root. Over 35% of “normal” dieters progress to pathological dieting, and of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders (Shisslak & Crago, 1995). The nature of diets is for them to work only when we are “on” them, so it stands to reason that because 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years, (Grodstein, et al., 1996), returning to yet another diet increases the risk of eating disorder development with each repeated attempt.
Fad diets have the additional danger of seeking changes through more radical means than even “conventional” diets. When the body senses a significant deficit of calories and nutrients, the brain is triggered to think more obsessively about food and to seek control – either through avoiding food further or overeating it to avoid starvation. In either case, the relationship with food becomes altered. Inadequate or unbalanced eating will lead to a multitude of physical side effects, including by not limited to:

  • Loss of muscle mass and lean tissue
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Kidney stones and gallstones
  • Gout
  • Osteoporosis
  • High blood pressure

The powerful diet messages can seem hard to avoid, in fact 91% of women recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting, 22% dieted “often” or “always” (Kurth et al., 1995). The abnormal (dieting) is made to appear the norm – but it is anything but normal. In order to turn the tide away from rising eating disorders, we must first resist the urge to jump on the latest diet bandwagon. Take your power back from the fad, and vow to take care of your body, not destroy it.