The Truth About Fad Diets and Nutrition

A fad diet is a diet that makes claims about weight loss or other health advantages such as longer life or curing diseases without the support of scientific evidence. In many cases these diets are characterised by eliminating whole food groups or being highly restrictive and as a result can lead to a deficiency of essential nutrients.

Typically, a fad diet can be identified by the following characteristics:

  • Promising a quick fix
  • Promoting certain foods or combinations of foods e.g. juices or raw food diets
  • Implying that foods can change body chemistry e.g. detoxes
  • Excluding or severely restricts food groups or nutrients, such as carbohydrates or dairy
  • Rigid rules about when and what you should eat
  • Making claims based on a single study or testimonials

Diets that encourage drastic or rapid weight loss usually have little effect on body fat. Whilst on a fad diet, the initial weight lost is mostly water and lean muscle. This is because in times of restricted food intake, the body begins to break down muscle to meet energy needs. Unfortunately, this happens much easier than breakdown of fat stores.

Breakdown of muscle leads to a loss of water, creating the illusion of rapid weight loss. Therefore when the diet is stopped, the weight is usually regained quickly. Loss of muscle can also lead to a reduced metabolic rate which means the body is more prone to weight gain and it may be more difficult to lose weight in the future.

Even though fad diets might provide short-term results, they are not recommended as they are difficult to stick to for long periods of time. In some cases fad diets can cause serious health problems such as dehydration, weakness, headaches, dizziness, nausea, bowels upsets and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. There is also evidence that repeated fad dieting or yoyo dieting can lead to longer term health issues such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease.

Focusing on lifelong eating behaviour changes is the most effective way to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, and overall good health. A balanced eating plan based on the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating ( ) will focus on the following:

  • Eating plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruit
  • Including a variety of cereals (bread, pasta, rice, noodles, couscous), preferably whole grains
  • Including lean meats, fish, poultry and alternatives such as tofu, nuts and seeds.
  • Including dairy foods such as milk, yoghurts, cheese or lactose/dairy free alternatives
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Limiting saturated fat intake and moderating total fat intake
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Limiting food and drinks containing added sugars which includes sugar alternatives such as honey, rice malt syrup and molasses.
  • Choosing foods lower in salt and avoiding adding salt to meals

Practising mindful eating can also help promote a healthy relationship with food and overall well being. Our lives are becoming increasingly busy and often this impacts on how, when, what and why we eat. For example we might eat on the go, while distracted, eating larger portion sizes than we really need, eat for emotional reasons or boredom, just to name a few. In these instances, it may be that we are eating for reasons other than hunger. Therefore it can be helpful to focus on eating mindfully as a method of fine tuning your oral intake to match your bodies hunger levels. This also means listening to when your body tells you, you are full. Not only can this method of eating help to increase the enjoyment and satisfaction that you get from food, it can also assist you in reaching and/or maintaining your healthiest possible weight.  

Tips for eating more mindfully:

  1. Take a break to eat and move away from your desk or lounge.
  2. Make meals that require more preparation than just peeling a wrapper.
  3. Eat slowly and savour the flavour.
  4. Listen to your bodies hunger and fullness cues; eat when you are hungry and stop when you are satisfied.
  5. Eat with other people and enjoy the experience.

It is essential that any diet meets nutritional needs as well as being practical and suitable for an individual’s lifestyle. Seeing a dietitian for a personalised approach to healthy eating can often be a great place to start. Visit the Dietetic Association of Australia’s website ( ) to find an accredited practising dietitian near you!

For more information about mindful eating, visit the links below:

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