Ask Dietitian Amy Lewis: Tips To Spot The False Claims of Fad Diets

Fad diets offer a fast track to weight loss and healthier living. Dietitian Amy Lewis has tips to help identify fad diet claims that are too good to be true.

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Statistics about the effect of weight on health appear regularly in the news. We are more conscious than ever about what we eat, and many of us are trying to eat less food—or better food. Fad diets make appealing promises about quick weight loss and better health. Summit dietitian Amy Lewis explains how to evaluate fad diet claims, with tips to identify claims that are too good to be true.

Defining diet

“When I talk about food, I like to begin by explaining what a diet is,” says Amy. “Very simply, a diet is a sustainable way of eating. A healthy diet incorporates a wide variety of foods that are good for us. The Mediterranean diet is an example of a diet, and is often considered the gold standard in healthy eating. It provides dietary guidelines based on the traditional eating habits of people living in Mediterranean countries like Greece and Spain. Today, when we hear people say ‘diet,’ we often assume they are talking about a weight-loss journey. Speaking as a nutrition professional, I know that diet means much more.”

“Fad diets frequently offer a quick fix as a health solution,” says Amy. “I talk with many clients who’ve tried quick fixes, only to discover that they aren’t sustainable over time. A healthy approach to eating requires us to make nutritious food habits a way of life. Fad diets, in contrast, tend to have specific and restrictive rules about what you can and cannot eat.”

Characteristics that typify fad diets

Strict elimination of specific foods
Lots of fad diets require you to eliminate certain foods from your diet. They may ask you to give up all carbs, or forbid you from eating any sugar at all. Some of these restrictions eliminate foods and nutrients that our bodies need.

Specific food combinations
Trendy diets are often based on eating defined combinations of food. Some of these combinations may sound peculiar. “One diet is based on eating only coffee and green beans,” Amy laughs. “Another diet suggested by a celebrity prescribes a drink made of lemonade, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup. People can only eat this way for a short period of time. But these limited food combinations can’t provide the nutrients your body needs.”

Claims that are too good to be true
“Some diets promise that you’ll lose 10 pounds in 10 days,” notes Amy. “That’s very appealing, but unrealistic. Other diets claim to burn only belly fat. This is simply not accurate. No diet can target fat in a single area of your body. I’ve seen diets that claim to increase metabolism and burn fat through cayenne consumption. In fact, there’s no food that can directly increase your metabolism. The only way to increase your metabolism is by building more muscle mass through exercise. Eating cayenne doesn’t build muscle or boost metabolism.”

Detoxification promises
“Detoxification is a term we hear regularly,” says Amy. “Detoxing is based on a popular but unfounded belief that harmful toxins regularly build up in our bodies and need to be removed through some remedy. Some diets or supplements promise to flush toxins out of our system. In truth, our kidneys and liver do a fine job of eliminating toxins. Our body doesn’t need a special diet or supplement to remove toxins. So-called detoxifying supplements may seem like they are working, but that’s because they act as laxatives and therefore cause water loss.”

Cultivating nutritious eating habits

“I’ve had clients try fad diets,” says Amy. “I’m not going to discourage someone if they really want to try a popular diet. However, I think it’s important to be realistic. Understand which diet promises are overblown, and be aware of nutritional deficits in restrictive diets. For the most part, the problem with fad diets is that their restrictions make them unsustainable. You can’t—and shouldn’t—eat coffee and green beans for the rest of your life. The most successful approach to good eating and weight loss is to incorporate nutritious, sustainable foods into your everyday eating habits.”

More resources for you

Meet Summit Dietitian Amy Lewis

Read about the Mediterranean Diet

Learn more about healthy diet guidelines


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