blog detail banner

Living Well

Fad Diets: Do They Work & What Are Their Dangers?

Aug 8, 2017

If you are health and fitness conscious, chances are that you have been on a diet at some point or the other in your life. And who can blame you? After all, we live in a world where the dangers of obesity are all too real. Yes, obesity is clearly linked to chronic diseases. And a fad diet may seem like the easiest way to shed weight and regain health. But can fad diets lead to chronic diseases as well?

What Are Fad Diets?

A Fad Diet is any restrictive diet that owes its popularity to the dramatic weight loss results it promises. These diets cut back on vital foods to create a calorie deficit that results in weight loss. As a result, most fad diets are unhealthy and they’re not sustainable. These don’t result in long-term weight loss and some can be downright dangerous to your health and wellbeing.

Fad diets come in various forms. There are high protein diets that completely cut out carbs, high fat – low carb diets, moderate fat-high carbohydrate diets, low fat-very high carb diets, very low-calorie diets and detox diets.

High Protein-Low Carb Diets

  • Atkins Diet
  • Protein Power Diet
  • Dukan Diet
  • Zone Diet
  • South Beach Diet

Moderate Fat-Low Carbohydrate Diets

  • Jenny Craig Diet
  • Weight Watchers Diet
  • Nutri-System

Low Fat-Very High Carbohydrate Diets

  • The New Pritikin Program
  • The Good Carbohydrate Revolution
  • Dean Ornish: Eat More, Weigh Less

Very Low Calorie Diets

  • Slim Fast Diet
  • Lighter Life Diet
  • Bernstein Diet
  • Cabbage Soup Diet
  • Grapefruit Diet
  • Beverly Hills Diet

Detox Diets

  • Master Cleanse Diet
  • Juice Fasting

While fad diets result in weight loss, there is a problem — you’re likely to gain back all the weight you lost when you no longer follow the diet.

And trust us; these diets are often impossibly hard to follow for life. Once the diet is over, you will fall prey to your old dietary habits again. Fad diets are temporary measures to lose weight. And while they cannot guarantee long-term weight loss, they can increase your risk to chronic illnesses.

Dangers of Fad Diets

fad diets increase the risk of liver damagefad diets increase the risk of liver damage

fad diets increase the risk of liver damage

Talk to any nutrition expert and they will strictly advice against fad diets for weight loss. While excluding entire food groups for a period of time will definitely help you lose weight, this all-or-nothing dieting strategy hardly ever lasts for long. Once the diet is over, you will gain weight all over again because you haven’t mastered the basics of healthy eating. And not only that, your restrictive diet which made you eliminate vital nutrients the body needs will lead to depletion over time, triggering chronic diseases. Since most fad diets cut back on vital foods, they can cause dehydration, fatigue, digestive problems as well as vitamin and mineral deficiencies. This is because when you lose weight rapidly, you’re mostly losing water weight and muscle mass, not fat tissue. But that’s not all….rapid weight loss can be dangerous and can increase risk for serious chronic illnesses in the long run.

Chronic dieting has been linked to decreased bone mass, which increases risk for osteoporosis. , According to studies, rapid weight loss brought on by dieting and over-exercising can also lead to changes in mood. Rapid weight loss as documented in collegiate wrestlers before a competition led to physiological effects that were accompanied by transient mood reduction and impairment of short-term memory.

Most doctors recommend weight loss for the morbidly obese to reduce risk of fatty liver disease, but rapid weight loss can actually increase risk of liver damage. A study done in Denmark found that morbidly obese subjects with a high degree of hepatic fatty change are at risk of developing portal inflammation and fibrosis when undergoing very fast dietary weight reductions. In fact, chronic women dieters also have increased risk of menstrual abnormalities.

Here is a scary truth — many of us wrongly assume that a high-protein diet will be the perfect way to lose weight and become healthier.

You’re cutting back on refined carbohydrates and saturated fats – both of which have been linked to weight gain and chronic illnesses, so what could be wrong in that? An increased protein intake also helps keep you feeling satiated, making this diet more sustainable compared to very low calorie diets. This is the primary reason that high-protein diets like Atkins and Dukan and South Beach are so very popular with dieters across the globe. But here’s something to mull over — eating too much of protein is also detrimental to your health in the long run. The EPIC-PANACEA Study found that consuming more protein than what’s recommended by the American Diabetes Association may increase risk of becoming overweight or obese. According to a Dutch study, high protein intake may also increase risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies have also shown an inverse association between dietary protein intake and blood pressure.  A study done at The University of Chicago found that a low carb-high protein diet increases acid load to the kidney and can increase risk for stone formation as well as bone loss.

A diet too low in carbohydrates can also lead to constipation because you aren’t getting enough fiber in your diet.

As you can see, most fad diets that result in nutritional imbalances are not good for you in the long run.

But Are Some Diets Worth Following?

fad diets

fad diets

Dieting is controversial topic. This is because most diets are designed to achieve rapid weight loss and are temporary methods to achieve this goal.

Some diets can be sustainable and can result in improved health. These are not fad diets; these diets become a lifestyle choice, which is why they are successful.

A great example is the highly famed Mediterranean Diet. An anti-inflammatory diet, this diet focuses on balanced nutrition and may be more efficient than presently used diets in the secondary prevention of coronary events and death, according to research. Studies have found it to be effective in reducing the prevalence of the metabolic syndrome and its associated cardiovascular risk. The HALE project found that among individuals aged 70 to 90 years, adherence to a Mediterranean diet and healthful lifestyle is associated with a more than 50% lower rate of all-causes and cause-specific mortality. Statistical reports show that greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a significant improvement in health status, as seen by a significant reduction in overall mortality (9%), mortality from cardiovascular diseases (9%), incidence of or mortality from cancer (6%), and incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease (13%). These results seem to be clinically relevant for public health, in particular for encouraging a Mediterranean-like dietary pattern for primary prevention of major chronic diseases.

Why does the Mediterranean diet work, you ask? This is a wholesome diet traditionally followed in Mediterranean countries that focuses on WHOLE foods with high consumption of plant based foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, along with healthy fats like olive oil and moderate consumption of protein. This is not a restrictive short-term diet; instead, it’s a way of life. By teaching you how to make healthier food choices and not deprive yourself of essential food groups, this diet is sustainable and offers a variety of health benefits in the long run.

Another diet that works particularly well for those who are trying to naturally reverse diabetes or insulin resistance is the LCHF or Low Carb- High Fat diet. Less restrictive than the Ketogenic diet (wherein you don’t eat carbohydrates at all), a LCHF diet is more balanced and more sustainable for those who want to eat a diversified diet. A low carb diet results in effective glycemic control in patients with diabetes. As the name suggests, LCHF or Low Carb-High Fat diet focuses on low carbohydrate, moderate protein & high fat combination. Get your daily quota of carbs by eating lots of vegetables and fruits. Cook vegetables and meats in natural healthy fats like grass-fed butter, coconut oil and extra-virgin olive oil.

Why LCHF works? Studies have compared low carb-high fat diets with low-fat diets to find that LCHF diet program had better participant retention and greater weight loss.

During active weight loss, serum triglyceride levels decreased more and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol level increased more with the low-carbohydrate diet than with the low-fat diet. Comparable studies have also found that a low-carbohydrate diet is associated with favorable changes in cardiovascular disease risk factors at 2 years, when compared to a low-fat diet. And no, a diet high in saturated healthy fats will not increase your risk to heart diseases. A study published in The Journal Of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that a very low carbohydrate diet is more effective than a low fat diet for short-term weight loss and, over 6 months, is not associated with deleterious effects on important cardiovascular risk factors in healthy women.

The Final Word On Fad Diets

While fad diets can result in rapid weight loss, they come with unwanted side effects. These unsustainable and restrictive diets fail because they do not teach you any lasting healthy habits and are possibly even dangerous.

The human body requires nutrients in the right proportion. Good health is not about weight loss only; it’s about giving your body the right balance of foods it needs to function optimally, while keeping weight under control. Eliminating nutrient groups from diet can lead to chronic disease.

Fad diets can cause weight loss, but these fail to understand the root cause of weight gain. For some, it could be insulin/pancreas inefficiency. For others it could be hormonal imbalance. A better way to lose weight is to eat a diet designed specific to your needs that addresses the root cause of weight gain and helps you lose extra weight in a healthy, slow manner so that it is long-term. Making a conscious effort toward taking this long-term approach is the key to developing healthy, sustainable eating habits that will serve you for life, and offer protection from chronic illnesses.

Maneera Saxena Behl
Maneera is a health and fitness enthusiast who is also a firm believer in the power of dietary supplements. A health buff, she likes to help others improve their overall well-being by achieving the right balance between nutrition, exercise and mindfulness.


Fad Diets: Lifestyle Promises and Health Challenges –

Low bone mass in premenopausal chronic dieting obese women –

Impact of rapid weight loss on cognitive function in collegiate wrestlers –

Hepatic effects of dietary weight loss in morbidly obese subjects –

Macronutrient Composition of the Diet and Prospective Weight Change in Participants of the EPIC-PANACEA Study –

High Protein Intake Associates with Cardiovascular Events but not with Loss of Renal Function –

Epidemiological Evidence of the Association between Dietary Protein Intake and Blood Pressure: a Meta-Analysis of Published Data –

Effect of low-carbohydrate high-protein diets on acid-base balance, stone-forming propensity, and calcium metabolism –

Menstrual cycle abnormalities and subclinical eating disorders: a preliminary report –

Mediterranean alpha-linolenic acid-rich diet in secondary prevention of coronary heart disease –

Effect of a Mediterranean-Style Diet on Endothelial Dysfunction and Markers of Vascular Inflammation in the Metabolic Syndrome –

Mediterranean Diet, Lifestyle Factors, and 10-Year Mortality in Elderly European Men and Women: The HALE Project –

Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis –

Low–Glycemic Index Diets in the Management of Diabetes –

A Low-Carbohydrate, Ketogenic Diet versus a Low-Fat Diet To Treat Obesity and Hyperlipidemia: A Randomized, Controlled Trial –

Weight and Metabolic Outcomes After 2 Years on a Low-Carbohydrate Versus Low-Fat Diet: A Randomized Trial –

A Randomized Trial Comparing a Very Low Carbohydrate Diet and a Calorie-Restricted Low Fat Diet on Body Weight and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Healthy Women –