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What is a fad diet? Do they work? Are they safe? Perhaps these questions come to mind if you are up late at night and get drawn in to the latest infomercial or scan the tabloids at the grocery store check-out line. Although there is no real definition of a fad diet, here are a few ways you can spot one.

1. The program eliminates foods or whole entire food groups.
Many times fad diets will eliminate dairy, whole grains or even fruits. It is important to note that obesity cannot be blamed on one specific food or food group. In fact, all foods can be part of a healthy diet. Forcing yourself to avoid your favorite foods can lead to overeating or binge eating.

2. The program often requires the purchase of pre-packaged meals, shakes or supplements.
Powders, pills and pre-packaged meals may be helpful to control your portions or as a meal replacement, but they are not the key to long term weight loss and weight maintenance.

3. The program is marketed as “Quick & Easy.”

The infomercials and before and after pictures make the process of weight loss seem effortless. Anyone who has lost weight before knows how difficult it can be to lose weight and keep it off. There are no shortcuts.

4. The program promises weight loss of greater than 3 pounds per week.
A healthy weekly weight loss is between 1 -2 pounds. Losing more than 3 pounds per week on a consistent basis can put you can risk for losing lean body mass, which can decrease your metabolic rate.

5. The program does not include exercise.

Not only do fad diets usually not include or promote exercise, they also do not provide nutrition information or education on how to create a healthy lifestyle, which is important for your long-term success.

6. There are strict rules of what to eat, when to eat or what foods to eat in certain combinations.
Rules such as “never eat carbohydrates with proteins” or “only eat fruit by itself” are not based in science and are a telltale sign of a fad diet.

7. The program is similar to another diet that was popular in the past.
For example, the Cabbage Soup Diet is also known as: “The Sacred Heart Diet,” the “TJ Miracle Soup Diet” or “The Russian Peasant Diet.” The Master Cleanse Diet has also been called “The Lemonade Diet.” These are all pretty much the same diet with different names.

The bottom line is that any diet where you consume fewer calories than you need for a period of time, will result in weight loss. Most fad diets are not nutritionally complete and can cost a significant amount of money. It would be more beneficial to put that money towards purchasing healthier foods and cooking and eating more meals at home.

Tarie Beldin, RD, LD, FAND

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