Fad Diets vs. Healthy Behaviors

Young women's version of this guide

cart at the grocery store

Fad diets are marketed as quick ways to lose weight. The most popular fads tend to change from year to year, but the promises they make don’t. Diets such as the ketogenic diet, the whole 30, the paleo diet, juice cleanses and even intermittent fasting 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 more weight than they started with.

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 will lose an unrealistic amount of weight in a short amount of time? For example: “ten pounds in one week”.
  • Does the diet refer to foods as “good” or “bad”?
  • Do I have to buy certain foods for this diet at a special store?
  • Does the diet 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 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 Food and Drug Administration (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 they could be harmful.

Are there healthier ways to manage weight?

Yes! We stay healthy by having positive health behaviors. This includes finding meaningful and fun movement, eating a varied diet, drinking water, getting enough sleep and having a healthy relationship with our body.

For ways to increase the variety in your diet try these changes:

  • Staying hydrated.  Water and seltzer can be a great way to keep you hydrated throughout the day.
  • Eating breakfast. Starting your day with a nutritious meal will prevent you from getting too hungry during the day and will give you energy to think at school.
  • Packing a snack. Eating snacks that are made up of a protein (nuts, cheese, meat) with a carbohydrate (crackers, fruit, vegetables) can be helpful in fueling the body for longer.
  • Eating more whole grains. Choose whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice, and high-fiber cereals.
  • Choosing lean proteins. Chicken, turkey, fish and vegetarian sources of protein, such as beans and tofu.
  • Eating more servings of fruit and/or vegetables. Aim to include one or both at most meals and for snacks.
  • Paying attention to your hunger and fullness cues. We are often taught to follow external cues around food but it’s actually more important to check in with yourself. Do you feel hungry? Do you feel full? Are you 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
  • Dancing to music
  • Joining a gym
  • Playing with your friends

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

An easy way to make sure that a diet 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, dairy, and healthy dietary fats)
  • Regular exercise or physical activity
  • You feel comfortably full and satisfied.
  • Consistent meals and snacks
  • Some of your favorite foods
  • Flexibility to fit your schedule
  • Foods you can find in restaurants or at social events
Remember to eat a variety of foods from all the food groups. Follow your hunger and fullness cues  and eat fruits and vegetables from all the colors of the rainbow to get important nutrients for your body. Eat things you enjoy! Try to find movement that feels good. 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.