Monthly Health Message:

How to Quickly Spot a Fad Diet

February 2013

Karen Ensle EdD, RD, FADA, CFCS, FCHS Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Every week there's a new "miracle" diet and every year you can't help but wonder: Is THIS the weight loss diet that will finally work, once and for all? There are weight loss programs that use the "small steps" approach that work, but there many more "fads" out there that will help you lose weight quickly or perhaps make you sick, and then to your dismay, the weight returns in a few weeks. In the long run, you will be healthier, thinner and less frustrated if you follow a well-balanced food plan that you can design using the ChooseMyPlate.gov Web site.

According to the Wheat Foods Council , fad diets can be deceiving as they are often described in a book that has been written with or by an expert with a PhD, or a doctor who is an MD. There may be a list of scientific references that seem to back up the claims however, no one ever checks carefully to make sure they are true. And, many people including friends and family seem to be following the diet and having great results. Here are some clues that a diet is a "fad" rather than a recommended approach for permanent weight-loss:

  1. It sounds too good or easy to be true.
  2. Promises rapid weight loss (5-10 pounds in a week) or "miracle cures."
  3. Allows only certain foods or food groups (cutting out others).
  4. Promotes a product, special herb, vitamin or other compound.
  5. Can only be "followed" temporarily but is not supervised by a doctor.
  6. It's hard to imagine or difficult to follow the diet forever.
  7. It doesn't recommend a form of exercise or says that it's unnecessary.
  8. Warns that one food or food group will make you seriously ill or worse.
  9. Makes recommendations based on published science that are not endorsed by credible organizations or peer reviewed by other scientists.
  10. Cites research that is preliminary, based on animals or has very few subjects.
For more information about fad diets, try these sources:
For time-tested small steps to better health, pick several of the 25 behavior change strategies in the
Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ (SSHW) workbook.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences