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Fad Diets: 5 Popular Types & The 1 Most Effective

Questionable fad diets all claim to be the latest and greatest, yet are often too good to be true. Learn why the most popular types of fad diets rarely work and what to do instead.

Fad Diets: 5 Popular Types & The 1 Most Effective

Fad diets, unfortunately, bait people into trying gimmick ways of eating all too often. Promising quick fixes and instant results, they are alluring but rarely effective. 

Nowadays, questionable fad diets exist, yet all claiming to be the latest and greatest. But as the saying goes, when something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

Alas, let this serve as a guide to the most popular types of fad diets. Learn why they rarely work and what to do instead.

Why Don't Fad Diets Work?

Fad diets are essentially designed for people to fail. They are intended to be instant, unsustainable solutions that need to be frequently repeated. 

Scientifically speaking, most fad diets work like this:

1. They suggest an extreme nutritional measure like omitting an entire food group or severely restricting calories.

2. The measure leads to quick, sometimes, significant weight loss, which is usually a loss of water weight.

3. This causes the body to go into starvation mode.

4. Eventually, the body adapts and starts to hold onto stored energy rather than burn it.

5. Metabolism decreases, which means one would need to take even more extreme measures to see further results.

6. The end result is often weight gain and worse health than prior to trying the fad diet.

7. This makes people feel like a failure and try the fad diet again or jump to another.

Sound or feel familiar?

Fad diets tend to promise unbelievable weight loss results with the least amount of effort and time, particularly in the forms of dietary restrictions, eating patterns, cleanses, and pills. The glamorization of quick outcomes and popularization in the media ultimately captures prospective culprits actively searching for the next miracle diet.

Keep reading to learn about the most common types of fad diets, their pitfalls, and what to do instead.

Popular Types of Fad Diets

From cleanses to starvation diets, fad diets are numerous. Find out the most popular ones to hit the diet scene and read further to learn what makes a diet actually effective. 


Often marketed as detox diets, cleanses usually purport to rid the body of so many toxins that metabolism is revved and weight magically falls off. In some regards, this is true because cleanses usually involve drinking a large amount or certain kind of fluid that causes frequent urination. As a result, water weight is lost.

In reality, the body already naturally detoxes thanks to the liver and kidneys. Every day, the body works hard to filter and excrete toxins, but these organs need actual fuel to accomplish this. Cleanses are energy deficient and deprive the body of essential nutrients like fiber and micronutrients found in whole foods. Not to mention, they often leave someone tired, irritable, and hungry.

Cleanses grew in popularity within the past decade because detoxing was medical jargon for treating serious illnesses like alcohol poisoning. However, they are rarely ever necessary and should be treated as an infrequent nutritional tool to perhaps reset the body.

Popular cleanses include juicing, smoothie detoxes, liver detoxes, colon cleanses and the Master cleanse.

Rather than eliminating whole foods to cleanse, it is better to add naturally detoxifying foods that support the liver, kidneys, and intestines. Some of these include:

• Lemon water
• Green tea
• Whole grains
• Hemp, sesame, and sunflower seeds
• Avocado
• Banana
• Spinach and leafy greens
• Broccoli
• Seaweed
• Shallots, leeks, and garlic
• Radish
• Parsley
• Fish

Starvation Diets

The majority of fad diets fall into this category. Starvation diets essentially reduce caloric intake very drastically and often encourage cardiovascular exercise to increase calorie burn.

Most people lose weight fairly quickly, but a lot of it is water weight. Furthermore, the combination of decreased energy intake and cardio exercise doesn’t preserve muscle mass. Thus, people may also lose weight because they are losing muscle tissue. Down the road, this slows metabolism, requiring even more extreme measures to lose further weight.

This kind of diet is essentially the oldest trick in the book and relies on the notion that eating less and burning more calories is the best way to lose weight. They fail to mention that these are the typical yo-yo diets that often lead to rebound weight gain and frustrated folks.

Some of the most typical ones include:

• Some forms of intermittent fasting
• The Hacker's Diet
• Nutrisystem
• Cabbage Soup Diet
• Grapefruit Diet
• Feeding Tube Diet

Instead of restricting calories to unhealthy and unhelpful amounts, focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods that bolster metabolism and promote natural satiety, detoxification, and appetite regulation. This includes:

Lean protein: poultry, fish and seafood, beans and legumes, tofu, seitan and tempeh, nuts and seeds, and some red meat

Healthy fats: fatty fish, avocado, nuts and seeds, unrefined oils like olive oil, and dairy in moderation

• Fruits and vegetables: all types and kinds and a variety of colors every day

• Whole grains: oats, whole wheat breads and pasta, brown rice, quinoa, barley, farro

Hydrating fluids: water, herbal tea, unsweetened, flavored, or seltzer water

Elimination Diets

Elimination fad diets are very similar to starvation diets, in that they omit an entire food group or type of food. This is basically a simple way of reducing calories.

Now, some elimination diets have good intentions but are unnecessarily strict. For example, it might be prudent to reduce the consumption of processed and packaged goods, but there’s no reason to never eat "fun" food again.

Rather, the 80/20 guideline works well here, where 80 percent of the time one eats wholesome, nutrient-dense foods and allows 20 percent of the time to include less healthful foods. This is a sustainable way to create a healthy eating pattern.

Nonetheless, some of the most popular elimination diets are Whole 30, Paleo diet, McDougall diet, elemental diet, and SOS Free (sugar, oil, salt), dairy-free, gluten-free, and soy-free.

Again, it could be of interest to reduce the intake of some of these ingredients. But one likely does not need to never eat a specific food group again to achieve their health and fitness goals.

These diets are not to be confused with medical diets intended for therapeutic use such as the low FODMAP diet or gluten-free for those with celiac disease.

Low-Carb Diets

Low-carb diets are so popular these days, they are practically the norm! Since the connection between glucose, insulin, and chronic disease erupted, nearly all new diets utilize this method. While some certainly have good intentions, actually based on science, one usually need not be so stringent.

In fact, a diet that includes hearty carbohydrates full of color and fiber such as fruits, veggies, and whole grains is likely just as healthy as a low-carb diet. Plus, balancing carbs with protein or fat and eating carbs high in fiber slows the release of insulin and naturally promotes balanced blood sugar.

Most benefit from reducing consumption of refined sugar and low-quality carb sources, but replacing them with nutrient-dense sources is just as healthy as eliminating carbs altogether.

Some of the most popular low-carb diets are the Atkins Diet, South Beach Diet, Zone Diet, and Bulletproof Diet. Also possibly the most infamous of all, the ketogenic diet, a very low-carb, high-fat diet plan.

Unconventional Diets

Unconventional diets essentially encompass all the rest of the fad diets that do not easily fall into one of the other categories. They may utilize one or more of the above methods to exert their results. For example, diet pills combine starvation and "cleansing."

These tend to be some of the most dangerous because they are so extreme and not based on any sort of science. A shortlist of these includes the Beverly Hills Diet, Monotrophic Diet, Baby Food Diet, Fruitarianism, Mucusless Diet, Blood Type Diet, Cotton Ball Diet, and Breatharian. 

The Most Effective Diet

The most effective diet and eating pattern is going to slightly differ for everyone. Eating is not a "one size fits all" and trying your neighbor's diet month after month will likely only lead to frustration and disappointment.

Ultimately, the best one is sustainable, fits into your lifestyle, easily promotes a healthy, maintainable weight, and provides satisfaction.

According to research, some of the most effective diets include the Mediterranean diet for general health and wellness and DASH diet for high blood pressure. The flexitarian diet, which promotes plant-based eating without the tight restrictions of a vegan diet, is another balanced, healthy diet.

Eating healthfully can truly be as simple as:

• Consuming many whole foods
• Limiting ultra-processed foods
• Practicing mindfulness
• Accepting that no diet is magical

Still, this is not to discount how tremendously difficult it can be to establish a healthful way of eating and a good relationship to food and body.

After years of dieting, it is understandable that these relationships are damaged, but working with a Registered Dietitian or other professional can greatly help ease this journey.

Fad Diets: Final Takeaways

Fad diets are trendy gimmicks that claim quick fixes and instant weight loss. Yet, they do not work for long-term weight loss and are in fact, designed to keep someone trying it again and again to no avail. They often end up backfiring and wrecking metabolism, thus are not worth the time.

Instead, focus on eating in a sustainable way. Include plenty of whole, colorful foods, lean protein, plenty of fiber, and healthy fats to achieve long lasting results. Combine that with a healthy dose of exercise to create an overall healthy lifestyle and break up with fad diets once and for all (that are much more foe than friend)!


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