Numerous fad diet examples and diets that follow a fad diet approach have emerged over the years. Some fad diets have been around for decades and are still popular today, despite not being healthy.
It’s true that a few of the fad diet examples we’ll discuss in this article aren’t that unhealthy. In fairness, some fad diets are worse than others, and some of them, such as Weight Watchers, can be followed healthily.
There are some fad diets that are based on scientific research into the impact certain ingredients might have on our weight and well-being. For instance, vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based diets aren’t just an ethical choice for consumers. They can also be a way of avoiding some of the dangers associated with eating meat.
Being vegan is not a fad diet, but being a ‘raw vegan’ would be considered a fad diet - especially since it’s not sustainable.
Many fad diets have emerged as a result of celebrity recommendations, or specific groups attempting to make money from the promise of rapid weight loss.
Unhealthy Fad Diet Examples
Want a couple examples of unhealthy and potentially dangerous fad diets? There are some fad diets that are so unhealthy, ridiculous and dangerous that we won’t even bother to go into detail about them. These very unhealthy fad diets include ‘the Tapeworm diet’, or the celebrity-touted ‘master cleanse’ diet that is a very unhealthy liquid diet that deprives you of essential nutrients.
While there are many very unhealthy fad diet examples out there, we’ve expanded on a couple of them below:
The Cabbage Soup Diet
This fad diet claims you can lose 10 pounds per week and eat as much of the low-calorie (and low-nutrition) cabbage soup as you’d like. Fad diets like these that involve low-nutrition meal replacement concoctions and restrict you this severely are never a good idea. You’ll not only be depriving your body of essential nutrients, but you’ll also never be able to sustain a diet like this, and you could end up gaining more weight back than you lose.
Raw Food Diets
Fad diets such as being a ‘raw vegan’ or only eating raw food is very silly, unsustainable, and impractical. You’ll likely end up frustrated, unhappy, and unable to efficiently consume the amount of calories you need to be healthy.
Raw food diets mean you’re not able to eat healthy and nutritious foods like lean protein, legumes, grains, etc. It’s impractical because hours of your time will have to be spent chopping up raw veggies, prepping raw food meals that are tolerable to eat, and preparing time-consuming substitutes made of raw foods.
Potentially Healthy Fad Diet Examples
Even the fad diets that are less restrictive, healthier and more balanced come with some cons since most fad diets are tough to sustain long-term.
Some ‘healthy’ fad diets such as the Keto diet are still considered to be a bad idea by many health professionals because of how difficult this would be to maintain long-term.
However, below are some common fad diet examples you may be familiar with that might be potentially healthy to follow for some people, as well as their pros and cons.
Weight Watchers (and Other Diet Memberships)
Weight Watchers, Slimming World, and similar weight loss clubs have grown extremely popular over the years. They’re often based around the idea that certain foods should be given specific point values, based on their ability to contribute to weight loss, or weight gain.
Groups such as Weight Watchers have faced scrutiny in the past, because they can promote problematic relationships with food, causing people to feel guilt when they eat specific ingredients. They’re also quite expensive to join, and rarely managed uniformly across the board.
However, not all weight loss groups are problematic. Over the years, Weight Watchers has updated their programs to include more personalized assessments, which allow people to choose the right plan based on their weight loss goals. For example, the Green Plan has more points to offer and a wider range of food choices available than other plans.
Unlike most fad diets, Weight Watchers is not very restrictive. Yes you have to watch your calorie intake, which Weight Watchers calls ‘counting points’. This is the same concept as counting calories. It’s not that restrictive in the sense that you don’t have to eliminate foods, you just have to watch your portions. This means that although it’s somewhat restrictive, it’s healthy compared to other fad diets that have you cutting out entire food groups.
Additionally, one study found participants using Weight Watchers lost more weight than their counterparts. Losing weight with community support can be easier than managing your weight loss alone, and Weight Watchers focuses heavily on bringing people together. However, there is a risk that people may begin to regain weight after ending their memberships.
The Keto Diet
One of the most common fad diet examples is the Keto diet. The ketogenic diet promises followers an opportunity to lose weight quickly, by reducing insulin levels and switching your primary fuel source to ketones, instead of glucose. To keep followers in a state of ketosis, the Keto diet encourages a very low carbohydrate intake, often suggesting less than 50g of total carbs per day.
For people with high carb requirements, the keto diet can be problematic. It can also lead to fatigue and poor relationships with food. Some people even experience a state called keto flu when they’re switching to a low-carb diet, which can make this nutritional strategy difficult to sustain.
However, the biggest issues with the keto diet are often linked to poor implementation of the scientific strategy. When a ketogenic diet is implemented correctly, it can actually lead to fantastic results. One large analysis of 13 studies found not only does keto reduce body weight and fat, but it can also lower inflammatory markers in people who are overweight.
Implemented carefully, ketogenic diets can significantly lower calorie intake, and help to suppress appetite long-term. They’re also excellent tools to use in combination with other nutritional strategies, such as intermittent fasting.
The Paleo Diet
Another well-known option among fad diet examples, the Paleo diet, or paleolithic diet, is based on the nutritional strategies used by humans thousands of years ago. This diet is often classified as a fad diet because it is highly restrictive, prompting followers to avoid common foods such as legumes, grains, and dairy. Some people believe the Paleo diet is a little unrealistic, as it simply isn’t possible for human beings to maintain the same diets their ancestors had.
However, compared to other fad diet examples, the Paleo diet may be more beneficial than most. It promotes a balanced and healthy way of eating which involves minimizing processed foods, added sugars, and common sources of digestive discomfort (such as dairy).
Studies have revealed some benefits to following a paleo diet, ranging from faster weight loss, to improved insulin management and energy. Specifically, the paleo diet can help to promote the loss of visceral fat, one of the most dangerous fats found around the abdomen.
Like most fad diets however, paleo needs to be implemented carefully. It’s crucial to have a clear understanding of your own nutritional requirements, deficiencies, and sensitivities before you begin restricting certain food groups.
The Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet is perhaps one of the most famous fad diet examples in the world. Regarded by many to be the original low-carb diet trend, the Atkins diet was introduced in the 1970s, by a cardiologist named Robert Atkins. The main principles of the diet involve reducing carbohydrate intake to more than 20g per day, while continuing to eat plenty of protein and fat.
The theory behind the nutritional strategy is similar to the keto diet. The lack of carbohydrates in your meals should stimulate ketosis, so the body uses more fat for energy, instead of stored glucose.
Atkins diets consist of four stages, which include a two-week induction phase, wherein the body starts converting fat into ketones. After this, the Atkins diet asks followers to gradually add more carbs back to their meals, to determine their own critical carbohydrate levels.
In one study, 311 overweight women followed the Atkins diet, LEARN diet, Zone diet, or low-fat Ornish diet for a year. The report found the Atkins group lost more weight than any other group. Unfortunately, similar to many low-carb diets, the Atkins diet can lead to lethargy, low fiber intake, and other common problems.
The main difference between Atkins and Keto is that you will eventually start to increase your carb intake on Atkins, while it remains very low on the Keto diet.
Additionally, the Atkins diet is not considered to be particularly sustainable, as it heightens the risk of nutritional deficiencies, and can be difficult to maintain for long periods of time.
The South Beach Diet
Dr. Arthur Agaston created the South Beach diet, based on some of the principles of the Atkins diet. While he liked certain aspects of the Atkins method, he believed the unrestricted intake of saturated fat may increase the risk of followers developing heart disease.
The South Beach Diet is another multi-stage diet, which involves reducing carbohydrate intake, and increasing protein consumption. While stage 1 of the diet is very low in carbs and fat, it becomes less restrictive in later stages, providing followers with more options on what to eat.
The South Beach Diet has some positive aspects to it. It encourages healthy protein intake, which can promote muscle growth and help with burning calories. Protein also stimulates the release of hormones which suppress hunger, and improve satiety.
One report found the South Beach Diet was able to improve weight loss in pre-diabetic adults, and reduce their fasting insulin levels.
However, this nutritional strategy has also faced scrutiny due to unsubstantiated claims. One report found over 66% of the claims made in the book about the South Beach Diet were false.
What’s the Healthiest Diet For You?
Ultimately, you want to eat a healthy and balanced diet that contains good portions of the 5 main food groups, without consuming excess calories by eating excessively large portions.
There are an alarming amount of fad diet examples in the world today, some a lot more dangerous than others. The most problematic are those which negatively alter your relationship with food, focus on excessive restriction, have you eating way too few calories, and damage your nutritional balance.
Your DNA can tell you a lot about the optimal diet for you. Find out the diet that suits your genetic makeup the best, by taking a CircleDNA test and reading your genetic diet and nutrition reports.
- NCBI: Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v. low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials
- NCBI: Effects of a short-term intervention with a paleolithic diet in healthy volunteers
- NCBI: Dietary adherence and weight loss success among overweight women: results from the A TO Z weight loss study
- NCBI: A carbohydrate-restricted diet alters gut peptides and adiposity signals in men and women with metabolic syndrome
- Springer: Brief report: Nutrition and weight loss information in a popular diet book: Is it fact, fiction, or something in between?