When Should I Worry About...

4 Fad Diet Red Flags to Watch Out For

April 29, 2024

If you're feeling frustrated by weight-loss setbacks, the promise of a quick fix may sound like a dream come true. Fad diets often come with a lot of hype, thanks to celebrities promoting products and dieters boasting how many pounds or inches they lost on a diet or program.

"Unfortunately, many of these fad diets are unhealthy, and some can even do more harm than good," says Dr. Garth Davis, a bariatric surgeon at Houston Methodist.

How can you tell which diet plans are trustworthy? One good rule of thumb is that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Here are the red flags to watch out for:

  1. Products that promise rapid weight loss
  2. Diets that restrict you to eating one type of food
  3. Plans that require you to buy expensive prepackaged meals, juices or pills
  4. Programs that promise losing weight without exercise

With this information in hand, let's take a look at some examples of how these claims manifest as popular types of fad diets:

Diet pills. Over-the-counter weight-loss pills promise to block carbs or fat, suppress your appetite, or miraculously burn fat while you sleep, but these claims can be misleading. "Diet pills may cause harmful side effects and should not be taken without consulting with a doctor," Davis warns.

Herbal weight-loss products. Don't assume herbal products are safe because they're "natural." Many herbal products are designed to increase urination or bowel movements and stimulate the central nervous system. "The ingredients are powerful and may lead to serious side effects or interactions with other medications you're taking," Davis adds.

Rapid weight-loss programs. Some diets set unrealistic limits on the number of calories allowed per day or restrict the number of bites of food you can take at a meal. "This approach can backfire because it can cause fatigue and nutrient deficiencies, and may actually cause your metabolism to slow down," Davis says. (Related: Why Metabolism Goes Haywire & What's In Your Control)

Mono diets. With a mono diet, you're allowed to eat unlimited quantities of one type of food — cabbage soup, grapefruit, bananas, etc. The idea is that you'll consume less when you're restricted to one type of food. "However, leaving out certain food groups can lead to constipation, nutrient deficiencies and changes in cholesterol levels," Davis explains. "Mono diets are dangerously restrictive and only set you up for food cravings and binge-eating."

How to approach weight loss instead

If you're trying to lose weight, the best chance for long-term success is to be sensible and develop a lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and daily physical activity. (Related: Am I Exercising Enough?)

"A safe weight-loss program should be focused on a balanced, nutritious diet with a variety of low-fat and high-fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables, legumes and whole grains," Davis says.

"Remember that losing weight isn't just about your diet," Davis adds. "You need to take care of other aspects of your health for lasting results. This means getting eight hours of sleep, drinking plenty of water, managing stress and moving more throughout the day."

Check out weight-loss apps for counting calories, recording physical activity and tracking your progress toward your goals. (Related: Which Fitness Tracker Metrics Matter Most?)

And of course talk with your doctor for help getting started with a plan for safely losing weight.

Stay up-to-date
By signing up, you will receive our newsletter with articles, videos, health tips and more.
Please Enter Email
Please Enter Valid Email
Categories: When Should I Worry About...