9 Signs You’re on a Fad Diet

Reviewed by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on June 30, 2014

It's easy to flock to diets that promise fast results with little effort. Reality check: Fad diets backfire, because you’ll likely regain any pounds you shed.

Does your diet show any of these 9 signs? Then it's time to rethink your weight-loss strategy.

“It’s medically impossible to lose weight from only one part of your body.” -- Marjorie Nolan Cohn, RD

1. There’s no plan to keep weight off for the long run.

If a diet lasts only a preset number of days, or until you reach your weight loss goal, “you’re not learning behaviors to help maintain that loss,” says Lindsay Martin, RD, dietitian at Hilton Head Health, a weight loss spa in Hilton Head Island, SC.

Since most people who diet gain their weight back within 5 years, “you need a plan that helps you create realistic meal plans and practice mindful eating,” Martin says.

2. You’re allowed only a few foods.

Eating the same few items over and over isn’t just boring. It also doesn't give your body what it needs

“If a diet rules out obvious components of a healthy regimen, like protein sources, fruits, or vegetables, stay away,” says Kristen Smith, RD, a dietitian for the WellStar Comprehensive Bariatric Services in Atlanta. “Well-balanced eating should be key.”

3. You’re promised weight loss from a specific part of your body.

“It’s medically impossible to lose weight from only one part of your body,” says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

She explains that you lose fat "throughout the body."

If you want to focus on a particular part of your body, your best choice is a sensible diet plus exercise that includes resistance and strength training.

4. You’re guaranteed to lose X pounds in X days.

Losing weight faster than 2 pounds a week has a downside. “Our bodies are designed to store fat for future use,” Cohn says. Losing too much weight too quickly can mean losing muscle mass. That can leave you “weak and with a slower metabolism, making it even more difficult to keep off weight," Cohn says.

Reset your expectations for how much weight you'll lose, so that you keep it off for good.

5. You’re always hungry.

Women need at least 1,200 calories a day, and men, 1,400. Any less than that, and you may have trouble meeting your nutritional needs. Also, fatigue, constipation, nausea, or vomiting may set in.

Plus, depriving yourself of food “physically and psychologically sets you up for bingeing,” Cohn says. A smart diet will suggest eating nutrient-rich foods and limiting fat while paying attention to portion sizes.

6. There’s fine print.

Take disclaimers in ads seriously. “Most programs that emphasize ‘too good to be true’ results will have potential side effects, or the results may only apply to a few people," Cohn says.

Don’t put stock in “before and after” photos either. “Pictures are easy to manipulate,” Cohn says.

7. It benches exercise.

Cutting calories will help you lose weight, but being active is essential for keeping it off. Research shows that people who are successful at keeping weight off get an hour or more of moderate exercise on most days. But you don't have to do it all at once. You can spread your activity throughout the day.

“Be careful with any diet that doesn’t promote obvious healthy lifestyle practices like exercise,” Cohn says.

8. You’re constantly running to the bathroom.

If you’re experiencing loose bowel movements every few hours, don’t assume “toxins” are leaving your body and this is normal -- or beneficial. “It’s a sign you are not getting adequate nutrition or staying hydrated,” Smith says.

9. You're asked to invest in supplements, herbs, pills, or patches.

There is no magic formula to make you drop extra weight. Many diet aids are not proven. So save your money and get back to the basics. “Long-term weight loss won’t come from following a trend, but making lifestyle changes that can be maintained,” Smith says.

Show Sources


Marjorie Nolan Cohn, MS, RD, CDN, ACSM-HFS; spokeswoman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; nutritional consultant, New York; author, Belly Fat Fix, Rodale, 2013, and Overcoming Binge Eating for DUMMIES, Wiley, 2013.

Kristen Smith, MS, RD, dietitian, WellStar Comprehensive Bariatric Services, Atlanta; founder,

Lindsey Martin, MS, RD, dietitian, Hilton Head Health, Hilton Head Island, SC.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Choosing a Safe and Successful Weight Loss Program,” “Very Low-Calorie Diets.”

Mayo Clinic: “Special Report: Weight Control.”

Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine: “Fad Diets.”

CDC: “Healthy Weight: it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.”

Federal Trade Commission: “Weighing the Claims in Diet Ads.”

Mann, T. American Psychologist, April 2007.

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