8 Ways To Spot A Fad Diet


Here are the top 8 ways to spot fad diets, to ensure you save your cash and your dignity.

Getting into a sustainable, healthy, enjoyable routine is the best way to ensure a successful body transformation. So let’s talk fad diets. We’ve all been there –

You see a fancy marketing ad; full of amazing testimonials, transformations and promises about how this is the best diet under the sun. So you hop on board, full of vim and vigour, buy all the products, hoping for life-changing results, only to end up feeling hungry, tired, demotivated and cheated from not getting the results you were “guaranteed.”

What is the definition of a FAD diet?

What is the definition of a FAD diet?

A FAD diet is:

Any of a number of weight-reduction diets that either eliminate one or more of the essential food groups, or recommend consumption of one type of food in excess at the expense of other foods. Fad diets rarely follow sound nutritional principles for weight loss, which focus on ingesting fewer calories and/or consuming more energy through exercise ~ Segen’s Medical Dictionary.

Another definition, that we like, is one that was coined by personal trainer – Gordon Greenhorn. He says that FAD is actually an acronym and that it stands for Food Avoidance Diet.

But now we know what a fad diet is, how do you know which popular weight loss diets are FADs and what’s a genuinely sound fat loss plan?

Here are some of our top tips on how to spot a FAD diet.

1. They Ban Specific Foods

fad diets

FAD diets love to demonise and ban individual foods or entire food groups. Their followers say that these foods are the cause of weight gain,  they’re likely full of ‘toxins’, they’re destroying your gut or some other mumbo-jumbo used to try and give you the fear.

The paleo diet is pretty strict on what you can and can’t eat.

Bread, sugar, carbohydrates, cooked food, meat…are just some of the food types that are often banned by some diet FADs.

While certain foods clearly have more health properties than others (lean meats, fruits and veggies for instance) and others are pretty calorie-packed with little nutritional value, there’s no reason to completely ban any food from your plan. They can all have a place.

What’s more FAD diets often say you can eat unlimited so called “healthy foods” that could in fact be stopping your progress!

 To promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing ~ Mark Twain

Red Button Syndrome

If you completely remove a food from your diet, there is a high chance you’re going to rebel against the rule and eat it anyway.

It’s called “red button syndrome” and it’s a perfectly normal response. You know if someone says ‘don’t press the red button’ ….what happens? You just want to press that red button.

It’s the very same with healthy eating. Cut out chocolate, bread, crisps or any other not-so-healthy food and you’re going to want to eat it.

So what can you do instead? Let’s say you eat a lot of chocolate and you want to eat less. Rather than trying to go cold-turkey and remove it completely for some arbitrary time frame, create some habits that make you cut back on your intake. The benefits of this are that you still get some chocolate and you don’t have to waste will-power on trying to abstain.

If you eat chocolate every day, a simple habit would be to only have it every second day. You could only have chocolate on days you exercise or if you eat chocolate in the afternoon just because you’re hungry, make sure you’ve got a better snack at hand to fight off any hunger pangs.

So the first FAD diet spotting tip is to avoid any diet that tells you to ban any specific food.

2. They Have Cheat Days

A portrait of young man have a great desire to eat a burger

There’s room for leeway in a diet. But it shouldn’t be so drastic that it involves days where you can binge and eat all these “banned” foods to compensate for your boring foods during the week.

Cheat meals are a bad idea too! The problem with these ‘cheat meals’ is that people often binge and consume a gross excess of calories which eradicates their calorie deficit that they’ve achieved during the week.

Instead of taking a ‘cheat meal’, try and be more flexible with your diet during the week so you don’t feel the need to binge at the weekend.

You can also try and find healthier alternatives for super-high calorie foods. For example try our low carb high protein pizza which will save you a tonne of calories compared to a 2000 calorie normal one. Got a sweet tooth? Swap the chocolate bars for a sweet potato protein brownie instead.

Instead of a cheat meal, try a strategic refeed instead. Once per week, you elevate your calories, predominantly from carbohydrates either at the weekend or on your hardest training day. This will give you a psychological boost because you get to eat more food and a physiological one too as the additional energy and carbohydrates will improve your performance in the gym.

3. They Work in Phases

Any diet that has phases without sound, scientific justification eg `the detox phase` or stages that emphasises specific foods, or bans others is, without doubt, a fad.

Some FAD diets love to start you off on a horribly low calorie phase to kick things off.

You get grumpy, you feel awful, you’re hungry, you’re eating boring foods and generally having a miserable time. Yes, you may lose a lot of weight to start with but here’s the thing – it’s often just water weight which you put right back on again the moment dieting stops.

Some other FADs also start with a super-low carbohydrate phase too. These can work but it’s often because you make huge reductions to your overall calorie intake as a result of the ‘carbohydrate ban’. If you’ve cut a huge amount of valorise from your diet, by removing carbohydrates then weight loss is likely to happen.

What happens when you reach the end of the low-carb phase? You’ll likely have such bad carb cravings that you’ll ramp up your bread, rice and pasta intake and pile all of the weight back on that you’ve just lost?

The problem with this is that low-carb dieting often results in big weight-gain rebounds. The problem with low-carb dieting is that it often results in big weight-gain rebounds. Click To Tweet How is a FAD diet different than a low carb diet? Some say it isn’t and that low-carb diets are a FAD too.

The solution? Don’t cut out carbohydrates completely. Focus on the type of carbs you are eating and reduce the sugary, heavily processed carbs (sweets, biscuits, cakes etc) and try and eat more wholegrains, fruit and vegetables instead.

4. Celebrity Endorsement

This isn’t always the case, but if your diet meets the above 3 criteria, and is endorsed by a celebrity, you can be fairly sure it’s a fad.

Unless the celebrity has a sound background in nutrition science then it’s unlikely to be legit.

Most celebrities that endorse a diet are more concerned with their bank account, not your waistline!

5. They Tell You Supplements Are “Essential”

No supplement is essential. Some can be useful, but their purpose is to “supplement” and already healthy diet. Don’t get duped into thinking you need supplements for your plan to work.

Remember, even the most supported supplements make about a 1% difference in my experience, and they only work if everything else is in alignment. Despite this, how many times have we been presented with ‘put on 10lbs of lean muscle in 10 weeks’ type statements? If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

The focus of any healthy, sustainable, fat loss nutrition plan should always be on the food first. Once you’ve nailed the basics like getting your calorie intake right, eating enough protein, consuming the right amount of calories and fats, hitting your micronutrient targets then you can start looking at other areas like meal timing, supplements and other less important aspects.

Want to know how much protein, carbs and fat you should be rating?

[RelatedHow To Calculate Your Macros For Fat Loss]

6. They Promise Rapid Results in Minimum Time

Ever head that phrase “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is”?

It sits well here.

Any healthy eating approach that’s sustainable, practical and healthy can get results quickly, but won’t have you dropping extortionate amounts of weight in a short time frame. Doing so can be incredibly unhealthy, and won’t benefit you in your long run.

healthy rate of weight loss is usually around the 0.5-1kg per week, or 1-2lbs if you’re still using imperial. Any faster and it’s likely to be more water weight rather than fat and it could be muscle loss too and you certainly don’t want this to happen.

Although the magazines and FADs promise crazy results like 6 lbs in 6 days, this isn’t sustainable in the long run. If you look at The National Weight Control Registry the most successful people who lost weight and have kept it off, did it by losing only small amounts per week.

Slow and steady wins the day. Yes, it can take more time but it’s the key to lasting results and minimising weight gain rebounds!

7. You Have to Reorganise Your Life to Adhere to the Plan

Your diet and training should fit your lifestyle, not the other way round. If your diet tells you that you must eat every two hours to ‘boost your metabolism’ then it’s a FAD. Secondly, you might not be able to eat that often anyway due to your work or social commitments anyway!

If your diet tells you that you can only eat between certain times or that you can’t go out for dinner or if you must only eat meals you’ve prepared or anything else that seems abnormal to your normal way of life then it’s a FAD.

If you make changes to your routine or lifestyle in a bid to be healthier then it needs to be realistic and in-keeping with who you are!

Lets say you never eat breakfast because it makes you feel queasy in the morning then you shouldn’t start trying to force-feed yourself a bowl of porridge every day.

If eating every two hours isn’t convenient, don’t. Eat the same amount of calories but space your meals out so that it fits with your routine and so on.

Healthy eating doesn’t need to be a chore and you shouldn’t have to reorganise your life to make progress!

8. They Sound Like They’d Make You Miserable

Do you enjoy the odd glass of wine or beer?

Can you not go without coffee?

Are sandwiches your go-to lunch choice?

If so, and your diet forbids alcohol, caffeine and bread, are you really going to stick to it?

If your diet forbids alcohol, caffeine and bread, are you really going to stick to it? Click To Tweet

While you do need a degree of discipline when dieting, it should also be relatively enjoyable, and allow you to eat foods you like, otherwise, there’s no way you’ll stick to it.

The FAD Diet Round-Up

Keep your wits about you, and question every claim you see when it comes to healthy eating. Before signing up for anything, give yourself a few hours to mull it over, and consider these 8 points. You waistline and your wallet will thank you for it.

Here are the top 8 ways to spot FAD diets, to ensure you save your cash and your dignity.
Scott Baptie

Scott is the owner and founder of Food For Fitness. He is a fat loss coach, speaker and fitness writer with a masters (MSc) degree in Applied Sports Nutrition.