Fad diets sell the empty promise of helping you shed pounds "in just days."
But did you know, some fad diets are really bad for your health, and can even have severely negative impacts on your body - the most extreme of which is death? It is, hands down, a very frightening thing to think that some companies are so irresponsible in the marketing of their fad diet craze that they ignore the real life impacts.
8 Fad Diets that are Actually Harmful to Your Health
1. The Baby Food Diet
Adults and babies intentionally have different diets. Some individuals have adopted to simply eating baby food as meal replacements in an attempt to lose weight. The problem here is a simple one: the nutrition that is provided to a baby is not going to be sufficient for an adult. While there is no doubt that eating some mashed carrots and peas can be healthy for you, the quantity of food being consumed is really where the problem starts. This is a fad diet rooted in excesses that will be hard for your average person to stick to because it does not provide enough sustenance, and harmful for those who get through the pain of not eating enough.
2. The Wheat Belly Diet
The Wheat Belly Diet was created by William Davis, M.D. and taught to many through his book - Wheat Belly. At first glance, it may seem like a diet that could be suitable to bettering your health and helping you to lose weight, however many of the recommended food groups contradict newer scientific research.
The basic idea of this diet is that you remove "wheat" based foods from your diet entirely - which would include bread, pasta, cereal, pretzels, etc. In addition, he advises you to remove barley, rye, spelt, oats, high fructose corn syrup, salt, rice, potatoes, fruit juice, dried fruits, legumes, and more.
What this means is you will find yourself eating some good foods - like many vegetables - and even cutting out some harmful things (like soda, sugary snacks, etc.) but you will also be adopting a diet where meat, dairy and oils are literally front and center on your plate - all of which are known to carry risks for many diseases from cardiovascular problems, allergies, diabetes, and cancer.
3. The Paleo Diet
One of the more concerning fad diets out there is paleo - the "Paleolithic diet." It is incredibly popular at this point in time. Sometimes referred to as the "caveman diet," it advocates the complete opposite of a plant-based diet. The diet consists heavily of grass fed meat, fish, eggs, and to a smaller extent some fruits and vegetables.
The real absurdity in this fad diet is how it hearkens back to significantly earlier times for humanity when we were more hunter-gatherers and looking to just survive, instead of watching what we eat in order to be health conscious. Lifespans back then were generally short and brutal, as a result of natural predators, poor climates, and even the food being consumed.
Like our ancestors, those who adopt a Paleo lifestyle may have some results in the short-term. The problem is animal products and the removal of most starches and plant-based foods from the diet will lead to a number of problems down the road.
Paleo is increasingly common among those who like to workout heavily - doing heavy lifting or exercise routines like CrossFit. Unfortunately, this fad diet can be short sighted as people are inspired by physical changes that they can see, and less reserved by the harmful effects that are internalized, chronic, and long lasting.
4. The Military Diet
This fad diet is one of the more absurd ones I have read about - and doesn't even have roots in the military.
The idea behind this "military diet" is to have 3 days of the real diet - comprised mainly of tuna, toast, hot dogs, saltine crackers, and some other small portions of foods like hard boiled eggs you may expect to find yourself eating if you were in a militarized zone fighting a war. The other 4 days of the week you can either eat as you please, or follow a 1500 calorie diet comprised of recommended foods. The latter of these options is, of course, recommended.
Much like the Paleo diet, the Military Diet appears to be less health conscious and more suggestive that you eat foods that are available. As one can imagine, individuals off to war are not usually granted free reign to the best foods available. During war time, eating is less about long term health and more about promoting short term bursts of energy and survival. Processed foods are useful for storing over a long period of time as well, as consistent availability of fresh food may not be a reality if someone is in the middle of a battle zone.
For your average person, this diet makes little health sense. Given how it promotes such low daily calorie intakes and foods that can easily become a digestive nightmare, I can imagine people losing weight on this diet, but not being healthy or able to keep it off.
The real kicker comes when you note The Military Diet says you can lose "10 pounds in 7 days" and "30 pounds in a month" if you follow it. That may be possible on such a caloric deficit, but it comes with a nutritional deficit too, and won't be healthy or sustainable weight loss.
5. Liquid Diets
Let me preface this by saying not all liquid diets are made the same. Some are exclusively about consuming liquids (so water, juice, smoothies) and deriving all of your daily nutrients in this way. Some heavily regulate your calorie intake - even to extremes like 400 - 800 calories a day. It is this type of diet I am heavily against when examining unhealthy, fad diets.
No doubt for some, consuming smoothies in conjunction with other whole foods can be a useful way to feel more satisfied and get more nutrients into your system. But the core of most fad diets is not the promotion of a balanced diet, but instead replacing this with something extreme to supposedly help people in need.
The biggest problem with extreme liquid diets is the simple inability to get enough nutritional value from them. They come eerily close to starving yourself to weight loss - something which if conducted over time can become a serious health condition like anorexia.
It should be noted that liquid diets are sometimes recommended by doctors in the short term to help chronically obese patients lose some weight before major surgery - like gastric bypass. As this should suggest, desperate times call for desperate measures; but for your average person this would not be a medical necessity.
6. Packaged Food Diets
These days, there are a number of packaged food dieting systems out there. I can remember a decade or two ago when commercials for some of the firsts ones like Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem started to pop up on TV - and at first glance they can be quite enticing as they can provide some simplicity to meal planning if you have the money to fork over. As with most fad diets, they come paired with claims of helping with weight loss.
It is impossible to judge all packaged food diets the same as there are so many out there - but most will likely have similar attributes such as: high sodium content and containing food groups you may not want to eat. As with most packaged foods you can buy at a grocery store, a lot of salt and other preservatives are used to help these foods last longer. High sodium levels are a contributor to high blood pressure and poor cardiovascular health. Additionally, by letting a food service dictate what you are eating, you will often end up eating foods that do not provide you good nutrition including meat and dairy dense meals.
7. Atkins Diet
One of the original fad diets, Atkins Diet has become synonymous with many low carb/high protein diets that persist. It has similar characteristics to the more recent evolution that is the Paleo diet in that you will find yourself eating a lot of meat, and minimizing most other food groups. As a result, you will lose out on many nutrients, and generally have lower quality nutrients that you do receive.
Remember, when it comes to the big macro-nutrient everyone cares about, good protein can be sourced from plants, too!
8. Water Diet
There are many water-based diets out there. Some of them are just designed to motivate you to drink more water, as many people are not getting the recommended 8 cups a day. I can appreciate the promotion of drinking more water, especially in replacement of other sugary and potentially unhealthy drinks like soda, coffee and some juices. The problem with some of these fad water diets is that they promote excessive water consumption, which we have learned can be fatal when drinking too much water leads to water poisoning. The simple solution is drink more water if you don't get enough, but don't binge drink it or go with a diet where all you consume is water for 40 days and nights.
What is an alternative to these harmful fad diets?
Fad diets are the result of good marketing techniques paired with targeting a vulnerable population. Most diets are specifically designed to attract people who are overweight or obese, as escaping extra body weight and a generally poor lifestyle is not an easy task - even if you have the right tools. These diets promote the possibility of shedding the pounds quickly, which no doubt seems appealing to someone who is a hundred pounds overweight and struggling to even walk around their house.
I have found a whole food, plant-based diet to work well for me. There has been much recent scientific research conducted on many of the foods we have consumed growing up, and while most can be okay in the short term, your long term health is of utmost importance. Eating plant-based can provide your body with the key nutrients needed, help you feel satisfied, and cause you to naturally eat "less" by increasing the food density.
No doubt, a plant-based diet can be contorted in such a way that even it can be harmful. It is entirely possible to be on this type of diet and eat too much fatty oils.
But, when done right, it can be a truly life-changing lifestyle!