What is a fad diet?

A fad diet is a way of eating that usually come with sensational claims of rapid weight loss and other health advantages. However, as the name suggests, these diets quickly gain popularity but are short-lived. I’m sure most of us, no matter how old, can look back and remember fad diets existing and changing throughout our lifetime. This brings us to question how these fad diets can persist for so long and why do they go as quickly as they appear? It’s no secret that weight loss can be challenging for various reasons, so when a fad diet comes along promising an easy and rapid solution to weight loss – who wouldn’t jump on it! We can also thank the rise of social media, which has helped these fad diets reach astronomical popularity as celebrities, influencers and unqualified “experts” promote these diets to large audiences. Unfortunately, these claims are usually based on poor-quality scientific research or none at all, leaving audiences misguided.

How can you recognise a fad diet?

Fad diets can sometimes be challenging to tell apart from genuine nutrition advice. Here are some quick things to look out for as those promoting fad diets will usually:

  • Make exaggerated claims about the benefits of one or more specific foods or entire food groups
  • Use “cleanse,” “detox” or “fat burning” to describe the benefits of the diet
  • Strongly discourage eating foods or products using words such as “toxic” or “chemicals.”
  • Promote the use of expensive supplements
  • Guarantee rapid weight loss with minimal effort
  • Claim that qualified professionals and official dietary guidelines are lying or hiding the truth
  • Endorsed by celebrities or influencers
  • Do not support their claim with evidence

The bottom line is if you think it’s too good to be true, it usually is.

Examples of fad diets:

Diet Premise  Problems
Raw Food Diet Encourages eating raw foods that have not been cooked or processed with heat. This includes fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and eggs.

Aims to reduce intake of processed foods and preservatives

High risk of food poisoning

Although cooking foods may slightly decrease nutrients in some foods, it can increase in others.

Socially restrictive

Paleo Diet The word “Paleo” is derived from Palaeolithic – an era of human history before modern agriculture and industrialisation.

Modern illnesses and disorders are believed to be related to modern diets and processing practices. Therefore, reverting to a Palaeolithic style of eating would prevent these problems.

Excludes dairy, whole grains and legumes, which have essential nutrients. Although there is evidence suggesting humans consumed these foods all those years ago


Can be high in saturated fats which can increase risk of heart disease

Cabbage Soup Diet A seven-day diet promising 5-6kg weight loss by eating only cabbage soup Not sustainable long-term

Very restrictive

Results are misleading as most of weight loss is attributed to loss of fluid

Juice Cleanses Drinking juices, tea and water in an attempt to cleanse the body of toxins No strong evidence of detoxifying effects

The body can detoxify itself with the help of the liver, kidneys, digestive tract and other systems and organs.

HCG diet HGC is an acronym for human chorionic gonadotropin. This is a hormone produced by the placenta during pregnancy.

Developed in the 1950s by Dr Albert T.W. Simeons, who believed the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) could burn hard-to-access fat and significantly reduce appetite.

The HCG diet usually involves taking a solution (drops) to stimulate HCG in conjunction with a calorie-restricted diet of approximately 500 calories per day.

Very poor scientific evidence to support the claims of HCG therapy

HCG medication has only been approved for fertility treatments, not weight management.

HCG supplements are unregulated

Expensive supplements

Problem with Fad Diets:

The main problem with fad diets is that they perpetuate the “yo-yo” cycle of rapid weight loss and, eventually, weight regain. This leaves many frustrated and disheartened. Unfortunately, fad diets do not equip you with the knowledge and behaviours to make long-term sustainable change. The demonisation of foods or food groups may also result in poor vitamin and mineral intake, weakness, nausea, headaches and gut issues and has also been shown to increase the risk of developing eating disorders. Lastly, fad diets may be unsafe and dangerous to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

 Are all diets fad diets?

The great thing about the science and medical community is the dedication to keep learning! As these fad diets pop up, researchers dedicate time to understanding whether the weight loss or health claims are valid. A low-carbohydrate diet, intermittent fasting and the VLED diet are some examples of fad diets that have gained recognition in some situations under the supervision of a dietitian or doctor.

How Alevia can help:

Alevia is a group of doctors and accredited practising dietitians dedicated to making your weight loss journey as easy as possible. Our approach is evidenced-based; however, we understand each person’s circumstances are unique, and what might work for someone may not work for someone else. We aim to provide you with an eating plan, resources and advice to help you kickstart or maintain your weight loss, manage hunger and cravings, develop a healthy relationship with food – or all of the above! Where needed, the doctors at Alevia specialise in weight loss medication. Diet and lifestyle are essential in promoting overall health; however, sometimes extra support is required with medication to help alleviate the effect of hunger hormones that can make long-term change difficult.


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