Fad Diets: How to Spot a Clinker

A cup of matcha tea sitting on a wooden plank

Keto, Atkins, South Beach, Zone. Juice cleanses. Diets based on your blood type, raw foods or foods that our prehistoric ancestors might have eaten.

Someone’s promoting a new diet everywhere you turn, often as a way of hawking celebrity-endorsed health products or the latest diet books. Sometimes the hype even targets cancer patients and survivors with wild claims: kale smoothies are the cure!

Overweight and obesity can affect your risk of getting cancer and your chances of surviving it, so it’s important to maintain a healthy weight. But if you’re considering a fad diet, remember that some are ineffective at best, and others can actually be dangerous. In the short term, most diets will result in weight loss, leading some people to believe that they work. But studies show that within five years, most dieters will regain all the weight they’ve lost, and at least one third regain even more.

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So how can you tell if what you’re reading or hearing about is just another fad or useful information that can help you adopt a healthy eating pattern over the long term? Here are some red flags.

A fad diet:

  • Promises a quick fix or weight loss of more than 1-2 pounds a week
  • Eliminates one or more food groups
  • Gives lists of “good” and “bad” foods, makes you feel guilty about eating certain foods and raises the chance that you’ll cheat on your diet
  • Requires you to spend money to purchase special foods and/or supplements
  • Does not encourage exercise
  • Promotes an “all-or-nothing” mindset
  • Does not include a long-term plan to maintain a healthy weight
  • Sounds too good to be true

Real science moves slowly and carefully, so be skeptical of “breakthrough” or “miracle” discoveries. Always read beyond the promises in a headline and make sure you’re getting the whole story. Rely on scientific evidence rather than “testimonials.”

Plans that promote healthy eating will:

  • Help you to set realistic weight goals (slow, steady weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week)
  • Help you identify the problems interfering with your weight loss and develop a plan to deal with them
  • Include a weight-maintenance plan
  • Encourage you to ask your healthcare provider for advice if needed before starting the program
  • Be based on scientific evidence
  • Emphasize the importance of including all foods in moderation, for a healthy, balanced, food/meal plan that can be followed long-term
  • Encourage regular exercise Include foods that you and your family can enjoy!