Fad diets are a loosely defined category that includes popular diets that are not recognized by official healthcare institutions. Common elements of fad diets include the simplicity of the regimen, appeal to non-scientific or pseudoscientific authority, and short implementation time. When combined, these factors create a highly appealing option.
Despite the claimed superiority, fad diets are rarely effective for consistent weight loss. The short-term positive effects are often a result of misinterpretation of readings. In addition, they are followed by an increased gain in the long term.
The benefits of fad diets are rarely supported by reliable evidence. On the other hand, the negative health effects are well-documented. In addition to unnecessary stress, fad diets may result in severe side effects and aggravate the health state of individuals with chronic conditions. The main purpose of this project is to demonstrate that fad diets are an ineffective and harmful approach.
A fad diet is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of approaches to weight loss. While the diets in question rarely demonstrate uniformity of features, some of their characteristics occur more often than others. One such characteristic is the simplicity of the scheme responsible for weight loss. The most common approach is offering a universal model that results in an equally impressive outcome for anyone who decides to use it. Such an approach ignores the necessity to acknowledge the individual needs of different patients, which, by extension, points to an inherent flaw in the system. A certain proportion of fad diets require such universality to allow for seamless commercialization since it permits selling them on a massive scale without the costly adjustments (Jáuregui-Lobera, 2017). However, the majority of the diets are not distributed through centralized business models, relying instead on the accessibility derived from their apparent simplicity.
The second aspect of fad diets that should be acknowledged is the appeal to an authoritative source as an attempt to establish credibility. The common sources of authority include ancient wisdom, pseudoscientific background, unreliable and unverifiable personal testimonies, and misinterpreted causality resulting from the lack of valid evidence, among others. It is important to understand that while some of the mentioned justifications are associated with unfair practices and deliberate fraud, a significant proportion of testimonies and arguments in favor of fad diets come from genuine mistakes, either due to the lack of understanding of principles of scientific inquiry or as a result of certain cognitive biases.
The popularity of fad diets is further reinforced by the deteriorating trust in evidence-based medicine, which, according to the popular perception, is inefficient, expensive, prone to error, and impersonal. Against such a background, fad diets appear as a simple solution that provides substantial advantages over the traditional schemes offered by healthcare providers. The former typically promise a considerable improvement in terms of weight loss by excluding a certain ingredient or chemical compound whereas the latter relies on control of caloric intake and exercise, which is a less appealing option.
At this point, it is necessary to emphasize the fact that despite the appeal and ease of implementation, fad diets pose several feasible health risks. First, a major proportion of diets are systems designed for short-term use. The implication behind this approach is the ability to achieve the result which typically requires a significant investment of time and effort in a month or less. In many cases, these systems do not have any scientific plausibility and cannot be supported by a plausible scientific explanation. Most of the time, however, these diets incorporate major changes in nutrition that cannot be considered safe by modern standards. For instance, diets that advocate limiting the intake of carbohydrates do offer a short-term loss of weight – however, this is achieved at the cost of severely straining the nutritional reserves of the human body. For a healthy individual, such a diet poses only a minor health risk if terminated on time. However, for patients suffering from a chronic condition, it constitutes a major threat to the well-being and may aggravate the situation. In addition, the patients who require a lifelong change of dietary habits but instead choose to lose weight with the help of a fad diet disrupt the recommended treatment process and reduce the likelihood of recovery in the long term.
Finally, it is necessary to point out that while the positive effects of the majority of fad diets are not supported by meaningful evidence, numerous studies conclusively prove the definitive negative impact. For example, according to the article by Khawandanah and Tewfik (2016), fad diets that rely on dehydration as a part of the regimen produce short-term weight loss. However, the effect is mostly attributable to the reduction of muscle tissue and loss of fluids in the organism and disappears equally rapidly. In addition, it is possible to expect a rapid gain in weight in the long term as a result of diet-related stress (Khawandanah & Tewfik, 2016). It has also been established that fad dieting is associated with numerous side effects. For instance, according to the article by Nouvenne et al. (2014), diets that advocate increased protein intake change the chemical composition of urine and, by extension, increase the risk of kidney stone formation. In addition, these diets may disrupt the balance of nutritional components, and, as a result, create deficiencies.
Jáuregui-Lobera, I. (2017). Fad diets, miracle diets, diet cult… but no results. Journal of Negative and No Positive Results, 2(3), 90-93.
Khawandanah, J., & Tewfik, I. (2016). Fad diets: Lifestyle promises and health challenges. Journal of Food Research, 5(6), 80-94.
Nouvenne, A., Ticinesi, A., Morelli, I., Guida, L., Borghi, L., & Meschi, T. (2014). Fad diets and their effect on urinary stone formation. Translational Andrology and Urology, 3(3), 303-312.