Do Fad Diets Really Work?

Let’s face it: Getting fit and improving your health takes a lot of time and effort. After all, if there were quick solutions to any of your health and fitness goals, you would’ve tried them by now. But, there always seem to be new diets that promise immediate and impressive weight loss.

A lot of fad diets just don’t work the way they claim. For example, the Master Cleanse won’t help you lose 40 pounds in 20 days. And, a ketogenic diet won’t automatically make you lose weight. Diets require time, effort, and dedication to be effective long-term.

Not all diets are fad diets. So, let’s go over what fad diets are and what they promise to do. Then, we’ll review some of the more common fad (or former fad) diets.

What is a fad diet?

Fad diets are usually seen as “quick fix” diets. What makes them “fads” is that their popularity is extremely short-lived and they disappear just as quickly as they arrived. 

Here are some key ways to figure out if a diet is just a fad diet.

  • It isn’t based on science. It’s easy to make health claims. But, the only way a diet remains popular is if both science and medicine back it up. Fad diets usually are only based on one study or only have backing from what we call “TV doctors.”
  • It’s extreme. Regular diets might ask you to cut down on some nutrients like fats and sugars. Yet, fad diets might require you to remove them from your diet altogether. This is extremely dangerous since all nutrients are essential.
  • It’s centered around a product promotion. A diet developed by a medical professional or doctor is typically one you can trust. Diets created by health product companies looking to boost product sales are most definitely fad diets.
  • Its claims are unrealistic. Weight loss claims are totally reasonable for a normal diet. Yet, a diet that claims that you’ll lose 10 pounds a week or that you’ll only burn body fat is definitely just trying to rope you in as quickly as possible.

Typically, the best way to tell if a diet is a fad diet is by waiting to see if it sticks around after a few months or years. This gives other scientists and medical professionals the time to review the diet and determine whether the claims are accurate and safe.

Recent Fad Diets (and What They Claim to Do)

Because Americans want to fast-track just about everything (including their health goals), fad diets are pretty much the norm these days.

And, while some fad diets stay fads, others prove their worth and are still around today.

So, let’s go over some of the hottest fad diets in the last few decades. We’ll also go over what each diet claims to do and whether or not these claims turned out to be accurate.

Juice & Liquid Diets

Juice cleanses were all the rage for quite a few years!

Most (or all) of your diet on a juice cleanse consists of fresh juices made only from blended fruits and vegetables.

The goal of this diet is to detoxify the body by loading up on vitamins and minerals that help the body to get rid of harmful waste. In the process, these extra nutrients can help to boost your immunity and improve your energy levels.

One specific juice cleanse that made the rounds was known as the “The Master Cleanse.” Made popular by Beyonce, this diet claimed to detoxify the body and cause an impressive weight loss of 20 pounds in just 10 days.

All “The Master Cleanse” consisted of was saltwater, laxative teas, and a ton of lemonade every single day. Plus, the lemonade was a bizarre combination of lemon juice, water, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup.

The Truth 

Since juice diets are usually very low in calories, it’s not surprising that you’ll lose a little weight. But, you might also begin to develop fatigue, headaches, and digestive issues due to the limited nutrients and lack of solid food.

This diet is loaded with sugar while also providing practically no protein. So, your muscles would be in danger of breaking down, resulting in less muscle mass overall.

Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet is one of the most popular fad diets right now.

The goal of this diet is to eat very few carbs during the day, usually between 20 and 50 grams of carbs, while also loading up on healthy fats and proteins.

The theory behind this diet is that, with fewer carbs, your body will have to depend on fats for energy. In turn, your body will burn a greater amount of fat overall, improving your physique and causing weight loss. 

The Truth

So, there are plenty of benefits to the keto diet. It can be great for reducing seizure activity and also improving your brain functioning overall (i.e. Less risk of conditions like dementia).

The keto diet is also effective at lowering your blood sugar. That’s a result of fewer carbs and sugars consumed over the course of the day.

At the same time, the keto diet does have a few dangers.

There appears to be some evidence that this diet might cause your blood pressure or blood sugar levels to drop too low. You might also be at greater risk for developing certain chronic health conditions.

So, this diet isn’t all good like some claim.

Raw Foods Diet

Unsurprisingly, the raw foods diet is exactly what it sounds like.

You’ll be completely avoiding “heated” foods, literally only consuming raw grains, fruits, and vegetables that haven’t been heated or warmed.

The reasoning behind the raw foods diet is quite simple. When you heat foods, either through the microwave or oven, you’re significantly reducing the nutritional value of the ingredients.

So, the raw foods diet focuses on getting the most out of every ingredient you put into your body.

Since you’ll be loading up on foods in their all-natural state, this diet claims to reduce the likelihood of headaches and also improve your immunity overall.

The Truth

Since fruits and vegetables tend to be pretty low in calories, weight loss is pretty likely with the raw foods diet.

Plus, the incredible amount of fiber, vitamins, and minerals can help your digestive system and immune system while also improving energy levels.

The biggest issue with the raw foods diet is the potential for toxicity.

Plenty of vegetables and beans are toxic when consumed raw or even have a risk of salmonella. That makes this diet possibly dangerous in some circumstances.

Paleo Diet

The paleo diet is sometimes referred to as the “caveman diet” and has become pretty popular in recent years.

Essentially, this diet calls for you to only eat foods that our ancestors ate thousands and even millions of years ago.

The foods you’ll be eating come directly from hunting and gathering, meaning meats, seeds, fruits, and vegetables (for the most part). It also means cutting out excess sugar, salt, and dairy products.

The Truth

The effects of the paleo diet are quite apparent.

Since you’re taking in large amounts of nutrients, you’ll be able to successfully lower your blood pressure and reduce your body weight.

At the same time, you’re able to enhance your mental functioning, emotional stability, and even your energy levels.

But, the restriction of some foods and nutrients might just be the greatest downfall of this diet. Since you won’t be consuming dairy products, your vitamin D and calcium levels are likely to be below average, putting you at greater risk for conditions like osteoporosis.

Additionally, this high-protein, high-fat diet also might put you at greater risk for high cholesterol.

Vegan Diet

The vegan diet is perhaps one of the most restrictive diets around.

This diet requires you to eat only plant-based foods (like fruits, vegetables, and grains) while also cutting out any type of animal products.

That means no milk, eggs, or any other ingredient that comes from any type of animal.

And, with no animal fats and lower fat intake overall, you’re much more likely to lose weight and have lower body fat percentages.

The Truth

There’s no doubt that the vegan diet is loaded with vitamins and minerals to keep your body functioning optimally.

The vegan diet also greatly enhances your antioxidant intake, which can boost your immune system and help your body to fight off infections.

The vegan diet boasts a low risk of developing cancer and improved heart health in the form of low cholesterol and blood pressure.

But, the lack of protein, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids can be detrimental. So, this diet requires you to make a little more of an effort to find ingredient replacements that allow you to get each nutrient your body craves.

Zone Diet

The “Zone Diet” is exactly what we’re talking about when we talk about fad diets.

It was introduced in a book called “The Zone” that was written by Dr. Barry Sears.

The goal of this diet is to regulate your daily intake of the macronutrients: Fats, carbs, and proteins. If you maintain this diet, you should be able to boost your metabolism and see a greater amount of weight loss.

But, this diet doesn’t have as many requirements as it has suggestions.

So, you’ll have to avoid extra sugar and processed foods if you want to see the best results.

The Truth 

The greatest aspect of the Zone Diet is that it keeps you within the daily recommended intake levels for each macronutrient.

The downside is that your vitamins and minerals might not be where you need them to be to stay healthy.

Since you’re eating carbs that are considered “low glycemic index,” this diet can be pretty effective at controlling your blood sugar, especially if you have diabetes.

Yet, the lack of calcium in this diet (due to dairy restrictions) can result in poor bone health.

Overall, there seems to be no legitimate scientific backing to this diet just yet.

Final Thoughts

Fad diets are a huge part of American culture.

Americans are always looking for a quick fix. But, there’s really no such thing when it comes to health and fitness.

Unfortunately, there are no magic cures for illnesses or “easy” ways to lose weight or get buff without putting in the work. So, instead of jumping on the fad diet bandwagon, try a healthy diet and exercise and do it the right way.