Fad Diets vs. Healthy Weight Management

Young women's version of this guide
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cart at the grocery storeFad diets are marketed as quick ways to lose weight. They most popular fad diets tend to change from year to year, but the promises they make don’t. Diets such as low-carb diets, the master cleanse, the grapefruit diet, and even the cookie diet are all fads.

Do fad diets work?

Some people will lose weight while following a fad diet, but most fad diets are impossible to stick to for long. This means that once you stop following the diet, you’ll probably gain back the weight you lost. Some people actually gain back all the weight, plus more.

Fad diets don’t usually provide enough vitamins and minerals, such as iron, calcium and vitamin D. Iron is important for red cells in your blood and calcium and vitamin D are important for healthy bones.

How can you spot a fad diet?

You can spot a fad diet by asking yourself a few simple questions:

  • Does this diet make some foods completely off-limits?
  • Does this diet promise that I’ll lose an unrealistic amount of weight in a short amount of time? For example: “ten pounds in one week.”
  • Does the diet refer to food as “good” or “bad”?
  • Do I have to buy certain foods for this diet at a special store?
  • Does this claim I can lose weight “without exercising”?
  • Is this plan temporary?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’ve probably spotted a fad diet. Advertising that promotes these diets is often very convincing. These ads may draw you in and make you believe that it’s super easy to follow the diet and lose weight. Don’t be fooled. This type of weight loss plan is really just a quick fix and not a healthy way to lose weight.

Should I take diet pills or supplements that promise weight loss?

It’s not safe for teenagers to take “diet pills.” Over the counter supplements are especially not safe for weight loss because they are not regulated by the FDA. The FDA is the government organization that makes sure that the food we eat and the medicine we take is safe. However, supplements are not regulated so could be harmful.

Are there healthier ways to manage weight?

Yes. There are much healthier ways to manage weight rather than following a fad diet. We lose weight by eating fewer calories than our bodies burn. To lose weight, add calorie-burning activities into your day, and cut down on your portion sizes or the amount of food that you eat. Be sure not to restrict your calories too much, though.

You can make some easy changes to cut back on the calories you eat by:

  • Choosing less sugary beverages. Drinks such as soda and juice are loaded with sugar and empty calories.
  • Eating breakfast. Starting your day with a nutritious meal will prevent you from getting too hungry during the day and give you energy to think at school.
  • Packing fruit for a snack. Choosing fruit over chips or candy will provide your body with important nutrients.
  • Eating more whole grains. Choose whole grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, and high-fiber cereals. They are more filling than refined grains such as cookies and pastry.
  • Choosing lean meats. Chicken and fish or vegetarian sources of protein such as beans and tofu are much healthier choices than fatty meats.
  • Eating more servings of fruits and/or vegetables. Aim to include one or both at most meals and for snacks.
  • Watching your portion sizes. Choose regular portions not super-sized ones. Eat only until you feel satisfied.

Simple ways to fit exercise into your day include:

  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Walking instead of taking the bus
  • Joining a sports team or a dance team
  • Going for a walk with your family or friends
  • Joining a gym

Is there a way to tell if a diet is healthy?

The healthiest way to successfully lose weight is to make small changes that will fit into your lifestyle. An easy way to make sure that a weight loss program is healthy and right for you is to see if it includes the following:

  • A balance of healthy foods from all food groups (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, and healthy dietary fats)
  • Regular exercise or physical activity
  • Regular portion sizes
  • Consistent meals and snacks
  • Some of your favorite foods
  • Flexibility to fit your schedule
  • Foods you can find in restaurants or at social events

If your weight loss plan includes all of the above, it’s most likely a healthy approach. Remember to eat a variety of foods from all the food groups. Choose fruits and vegetables from all the colors of the rainbow to get important nutrients for your body. It’s okay to eat treats once in a while. Always choose healthy portion sizes and try to do 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Making these healthy changes will help you to lose weight, and then keep the weight off. If you have questions about whether or not a diet is healthy, talk with your health care provider who might refer you to see a registered dietitian. A registered dietitian is a specialist on the topic of nutrition and can help you figure out an eating plan that is healthy, balanced, and appealing to you.