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Fad Diets – weight loss or dieting yourself fatter?

Diabetes, Diets, General Nutrition, Weight - Body Shape and Composition, Healthy Eating
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 In this article, Victoria talks about some of the famous fad diets and helps arm you with the knowledge to make informed food and health choices for long term health.

What is a Fad Diet?

Fad diets can be easily spotted in that they tend to promote quick weight loss without scientific evidence or make claims for rapid and efficient weight loss based on one study or testimonial. To achieve weight loss, they usually eliminate of one or more food group which they deem as “bad”, “not needed by our body” or “slows metabolism” and sometimes may promote the use of diuretics, laxatives or “wonder foods”.

Fad diets are typically hard to follow  long-term and can lead to nutritional deficiencies and other health problems.

Health Risks

Fad diets may cause deficiency of certain nutrients due to the elimination of one or more  food groups. Commonly limited foods include dairy, bread and cereals or red meat. Excluding food groups may lead to deficiencies of specific vitamins and minerals as each food group plays a role in a well-balanced diet. Milk, for example, is often seen as an evil food in the fad diet world and commonly eliminated. However, if not replaced with other calcium rich foods, a diet without milk can often lead to calcium deficiency. Long-term calcium deficiency can be serious and may cause osteomalaecia, a softening of the bones, which may lead to osteoporosis in the future. There are many high calcium foods which can replace milk so seeking advice from a nutrition or dietetic professional is advised before commencing any diet.


Are you really losing weight or is it just fluid loss?


Rapid weight loss, as promised in many fad diets, can actually cause you to gain more weight once you get off the diet. Initially, for the first one or two weeks, you may rapidly lose weight, which is mostly water and results from using up stored carbohydrates. But, as you continue to consume a diet too low in calories, your body is forced to look for energy elsewhere once all the stored carbohydrates are gone from your liver and muscles. Unfortunately, your body doesn’t always discriminate where it gets the energy from and will burn fat and lean muscle if it needs to. The stricter the diet, meaning the lower in calories, the more likely your body will have to dig into your lean muscle to maintain energy. Muscle is needed to burn calories and maintain a proper metabolism, so losing muscle during a fad diet is what can eventually lead to a slower metabolism and weight gain once you start eating normally again. The simple message: you can diet yourselves fatter with fad diets.

Diuretics and Laxatives

Additionally, the use of diuretics and/or laxative are often encouraged in some fad diets to aid weight-loss. Again, the weight lost is mainly due to water loss. Prolonged use of diuretics and/or laxatives can cause headaches, muscle cramps, electrolytes imbalance, reduced blood sodium levels, heart palpitation, arrhythmias and even death.  The use of diuretics and laxatives should only be used under the supervision of a health care professional.


The Importance of Variety in Our Diet

A healthy diet should include a variety of food as energy and nutrients sources. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends these five core food groups as the foundation of a healthy diet:

·       Bread, cereal, rice, noodle and pasta: this group will provide the majority of carbohydrates and some protein in our diet.

·       Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and legumes are excellent sources of protein.

·       Dairy (milk, yoghurt and cheese) will supply our body with protein, fats, some carbohydrate and calcium.

·       Vegetables and legumes are superb sources of fibre, the bulking ingredient that can provide satiety while lowering caloric intake. Vegetables and legumes are an important source of many vital vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium.

·       Fruits will also provide us with fibre, vitamins and antioxidants.


While there is no single core group that can fulfil all our nutrient needs, it is very important to have a varied diet combining all five food groups every day. This way, we are making sure that our bodies obtain the energy and all the nutrients required daily. Most fad diets simply ignore this approach to healthy eating.

Famous Fad Diets and the Risks


Lemon Detox Diet

Lemon detox diet promotes a “holistic naturopathic journey to a better health”.

  • Method: 10 days diet of lemon-maple/natural tree syrup-cayenne pepper blend, laxative tea and salt water.
  • Concerns: Lack of protein and essential fatty acids, vitamins (A,D,E,K) and minerals (calcium, magnesium)

The Acid-Alkaline Diet

Based on the belief that certain food is acidic thus creating pH imbalance inside the body.

  • Method: Cutting out acid-producing foods (e.g. blueberries, prunes, barley, corn, rice, walnuts, fish, beef, soy milk and many more) and have more alkaline-producing foods for counter-balancing (e.g. pineapple, tomato, avocado, green leafy vegetables, oatmeal and many more).
  • Concerns: Easily mislead people from the important message of choosing a varied and nutritious diet. 

Six Weeks to OMG Diet

This diet endorses diet as well as moderate exercise to lose fat and get toned.

  • Method: drink black coffee for breakfast (and skip breakfast), avoid fruits and avoid too much exercise.
  • Concerns: Cutting out fruit entirely and author’s famous catch-phrase, “broccoli carbs can be worse than soda carbs”. –is broccoli a fruit? I don’t get it.

Blood Type Diet

This diet proposes that each blood type should have specific diet, based on the each blood characteristics.

  • Method: each blood type has a list of food that “highly beneficial”, “neutral” or to “avoid”.
  • Concerns: unbalanced and restricted diet for all blood types.




Victoria’s Top 10 Tips for Healthy Eating

1.     Keep plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholefoods in your kitchen – by stocking up on all the nutritious stuff you wont be tempted by chocolate biscuits and icecream if its not there! 

2.     Healthy snacks – we all get the 3pm energy slump. Make sure you pack yourself an emergency nutritious snack. This may include a handful of mixed unsalted nuts, a piece of fresh fruit or some low fat yoghurt.

3.     Get the heat on in the kitchen – doing more home cooking will help you to plan and prepare your own meals using the healthiest (and affordable) ingredients.

4.     Eat like a king or queen – this means enjoy your food while you are seated and use utensils. When you sit, you can enjoy all aspects of the food (the smell, taste, texture, flavours) and you can see how much you are eating.


5.     Happy meal – positive / happy environments while eating, eat with your family and/or without distractions (TV, gadgets) can create a positive attitude toward foods. These tips are especially good for those with picky young children.


6.     Keep a bottle of water near you all the time – staying hydrated is a good way to maintain your weight. When you are thirsty, your brain may misunderstand and send the hunger signal on thus prompting you to eat while in fact, what you need is water.

7.     Veggie power – fill up half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables. It will act as bulking agent, increasing satiety (sensation of fullness) without the calories.

8.     Do not go grocery shopping while you are hungry, sad or stressed – this will only increase the temptation to buy calorie laden food.

9.     Do go shopping armed – with a list (and stick to it). Be critical and compare the nutritional information panel on food packages.

10.  Don’t forget your treat – to have a treat is not a sin. Yes, of course you can have chocolate, chips or ice creams along with your healthy diet. The key is to eat in moderation, have a limit and be faithful to it.


For more information and reference:

  • Dietitian’s Association of Australia (DAA) media release, 2013. “Dietitians launch ‘Fad-free Diet’ to halt weight creep in younger women”.


  • “Skeletal muscle function during hypocaloric diets and fasting: a comparison with standard nutritional assessment parameters.”


  • Skeletal muscle metabolism is a major determinant of resting energy expenditure


  • Mayo Clinic: Slow Weight Loss




Fad Diets –  weight loss or dieting yourself fatter?
Victoria Leona Djajadi
Accredited Nutritionist (AN), Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD)