8 Signs You're on a Fad Diet

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How do you even know if you’re on a fad diet? I wrote a post a few years back about some of the perils and pitfalls of fad diets, and I was reviewing it, I laughed a little. It was filled with things like pills and shakes. These fad diets were a program completely separate from the food you ate. Today’s fad diets are usually taking on a different shape - they usually are based in actual food, at least - but are no less dangerous.

With changes like this every few years, it can be hard to stay on top of it all. Is the latest way of eating you heard about a fad diet, a “regular” diet, or something that is actually good for you?

t’s really tempting to rush to a diet that promises fast results without a lot of effort.

Who doesn’t want to hit the easy button on life? I have been there. I know the struggle of not loving your body and wanting it to look different. Of thinking that you’ve “tried everything” but “nothing works”. I know the feeling of intense desperation mixed with optimism. This is pretty common to the human (especially female) experience.

But the reality is that fad diets - and diets in general - will backfire. In fact, people who diet are more likely to be heavier than non-dieters.

To help you steer clear of the fad diets, I have 8 signs that you’re following a fad and you might want to rethink your health priorities and goals.

1. Celebrity Endorsements

This feels like low-hanging fruit, like something that should be so painfully obvious. Weight loss lollipops, the baby food diet, the lemonade cleanse, Nutrisystem, even WW (Weight Watchers). It’s easy to see when someone else is falling for the trap, but not always as easy when it’s you. When you see an IG post of someone you admire talking about their regimen, it becomes a little less clear. I mean, it’s OPRAH! When people are paid to promote something, you should be skeptical. I’m not saying there aren’t people who truly believe in brands they promote. But it is literally Beyoncé’s JOB to look good. She has a team of people helping her out. Not the master cleanse.

2. The “Evidence” is in Testimonials

I know that nutrition is personal and that there are some things we see anecdotally that haven’t been proven by science. But when the evidence of a diet is simply personal testimonials - without any scientific rationale - it’s probably hype. Dietitians are thoroughly trained in research - understanding it, breaking it down, spotting high-quality studies, etc. We know that case studies aren’t enough to promote a specific way of eating. (sidenote: it’s worth asking a dietitian for their opinion before launching into a new way of eating)

3. Quick Fixes or “Too Good to Be True”

I’m sorry to say, but if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Maybe the diet promises you’ll lose XX pounds in XX days. Or claims that it will target your belly fat. Everyone’s favorite: “eat what you want and still lose weight”. Repeat after me: False. Promises. Losing weight quickly usually just means you lost water weight or muscle mass, not fat. And I’m sorry to say that it’s impossible to lose weight from only one part of your body. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

4. No Mention of Physical Activity

There are some diets that go as far as to discourage exercise - usually because the calorie levels are so low that you would feel horrible or pass out. We know that one of the top healthy habits to improve longevity and reduce the risk for chronic disease is regular physical activity. If your goal is truly to be healthier, then incorporating known healthy habits should be a no-brainer. Be careful with any plan that doesn’t encourage obvious healthy lifestyle practices like exercise.

5. You’re Always Hungry / The Plan is REALLY Low Calorie

In most cases, diets that restrict you to taking in less than 1,200 calories per day for women or 1,400 calories per day for men aren’t providing you enough nutrients or the energy you need. Some diets restrict you to as low as 200-800 calories! That’s insane. This extreme calorie restriction is likely to cause your body to go into starvation mode, which can be mean your body holds on more tightly to the calories and resists using them for energy or other life-sustaining activities. Also, depriving yourself physically and psychologically sets you up for failure. Once you start eating normally you are very likely to binge and feel shame. This leads to a cycle of more intense dieting/restriction, more intense bingeing and more intense shame.

6. It’s Short Term

There are 3-day detoxes, 7-day programs and even 30-day plans. What constitutes short term? Honestly, if your plan doesn’t factor in the rest of your life, I’ve got questions. Most people who diet gain their weight back within 5 years - so whether the plan is 3 days or 30 days doesn’t really matter when you’ve got a 5-year outlook. Again, it goes back to habits and patterns, not just individual moments in time.

7. Excludes Major Food Groups or Overemphasizes One Food or Nutrient

There are reasons for eliminating foods from your diet - allergies, intolerances and certain chronic diseases. Otherwise, if a diet rules out components of a healthy lifestyle, like dairy, certain protein sources, whole grains, legumes, fruits or vegetables, stay away. A healthy diet is a balanced diet and that means incorporating foods from all essential sources—healthy fats, lean animal and vegetable proteins and complex carbohydrates. That’s why you should be skeptical when a diet expects you to eliminate one or more major food groups.

On the flipside, many (fad) diets have is an obsession with a specific food which they require you to eat. The cabbage soup diet, the grapefruit diet, the celery juice cleanse… No one food has the power to control your weight - for better or worse!

8. Relies Heavily on a Product

Again, this one goes back to some older trends, but it pops up in a variety of ways even today. If you're asked to invest in supplements, herbs, pills or another product, you’re probably looking at a carefully crafted sales pitch, not a true solution. If you have to rely on special supplements to lose weight you are not learning how to listen to your body and eat a healthy, balanced diet. You’re learning how to take a pill. At best, these are a waste of money, at worst, they can truly do you harm. Especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, please find out what kind of evidence there is for the safety of the product when it comes to your baby.


Again, there is no shame if you have been on a fad diet, or have a history of unhealthy habits when it comes to food. You are - unfortunately - quite normal. If this is something that you have struggled with and are ready to make a change, let’s chat.

You can schedule a free 20-minute discovery call to learn more about making peace with food - whether you are pregnant, postpartum or neither - or email me with any questions.

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Katie Goldberg

Katie Goldberg, MCN, RDN, LDN, has been a registered dietitian since 2013, but has always had a passion for good food and a healthy lifestyle. Katie earned her Master’s of Clinical Nutrition from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and has worked in private practice, higher education, in a clinical setting, and as an in-house dietitian for a food company. Whether it's at through large groups or one-on-one, Katie enjoys connecting people with easy and practical solutions for better health.