The Pros & Cons of Fad Diets

When everyone seems to be losing weight and feeling healthier with the latest diet craze, it's hard to not jump on the bandwagon. Whether it's low-carb, low-fat, all bananas or no grains, a fad diet is often restrictive and makes promises it can't keep. That's not to say every fad diet is bad. Some incorporate principles that help you clean up your diet and initiate healthy eating habits that can last a long time.

Two women are at a restaurant eating salads. (Image: Maria Teijeiro/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Identifying a Fad

If it promises quick weight loss in a seemingly gimmicky way, chances are you're looking at a fad diet. Fad diets usually develop a cultlike following quickly. Often, this following retreats just as quickly -- in search of the next latest and greatest weight-loss method. Fad diets often require you to cut out entire food groups or combine certain foods. They might limit portions of particular foods while promising you unlimited quantities of others -- such as cabbage soup or baby food. A fad diet usually puts forth a rigid menu while simultaneously offering you effortless weight loss.

Potential Drawbacks

Fad diets may help you lose weight quickly, but that weight is just as quick to return once you go back to your old eating habits. These diets fail to teach you good, sustainable eating habits to last a lifetime. The American Council on Exercise notes that usually one-third of all weight lost with a diet is regained within one year and most is regained within three to five years. Fad diets are often nutritionally lacking as they cut out an entire food group or groups. Instead of following a balanced diet, you follow a highly restrictive one that can be hard to adhere to for any length of time. If you fall off the diet wagon, which is almost inevitable when you're so restricted, you may feel like a failure and that a healthy weight is not within your reach. Many fad diets don't encourage exercise, an essential element in any healthy lifestyle.

Not All Bad

A fad diet can help you identify the features of your existing diet that undermine your weight and health. Many, such as the Clean Program, VB6 diet and Eat Right for Your Blood Type, dismiss the standard American diet, which tends to contain a lot of refined flours, processed foods and sugar, and offer an alternative that includes more vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Fad diets such as the French Woman's diet can make you aware of portion sizes and help you curb mindless snacking that contributes to weight gain.

Best Dieting Advice

Losing weight requires effort and commitment. Any diet that tells you otherwise will be gone tomorrow, replaced with the next best thing. Only lifelong changes will keep you healthy for life. The American Heart Association says the best way to lose weight is with a portion-controlled diet that emphasizes fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy along with regular physical activity. Dr. Mark Hyman agrees that avoiding processed foods, particularly those containing added refined sugars and flours, and emphasizing quality, whole foods instead leads to a healthier weight and body. He also affirms that exercise is a key component in weight loss and weight maintenance.

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