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Fad Diets: Weight Loss at What Cost?

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Fad Diets: Weight Loss at What Cost?

— By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.

Each January, many people start the year with resolutions to lose weight, with gym owners generally the greatest beneficiaries. A few months later, spring offers new beginnings as the lure of summer acts as an impetus to lose weight. With the hope of drastic, body-changing weight loss, the masses turn to the latest popular diet with high hopes and expectations. Not surprisingly, they often are disappointed, discouraged and disillusioned.

The outcomes from fad diets can range from ineffective, at a minimum, to dangerous. Consider two diet plans that are currently popular:

Ketogenic Diets

Ketogenic diets excessively limit carbohydrates while promoting high-protein intake, to include red meats and processed meats, such as bacon and sausage. Without carbohydrates, the body burns ketones for energy, which results in weight loss.1 However, when the body turns to protein for fuel, ultimately that protein will be depleted and affect muscle growth and repair. Further, excess consumption of red and processed meats can contribute to gout, cardiovascular risk, macular degeneration and other serious health issues.

The Whole30 Program

The Whole30 program is based on the complete elimination of entire categories of food, including sugar and sweeteners, grains, legumes and dairy for 30 days, a period of “transformation.” If one forbidden food is consumed, a new 30 day period must begin. In reality, 30 days is not enough time to forget the appeal of favorite foods. So, instead of turning away from desired foods, many users immediately revert back to their standard diet. However the microbiota of the gut can change during the 30 day period and some people may experience food sensitivities and discomfort when eating typically consumed foods. This plan raises psychological as well as physical concerns. The program asserts that when individuals change their “emotional relationship with food,” a healthy body composition “has to follow.” These claims are not backed by science. This not-too-subtly implies that individuals who are unable to follow a program for “just” 30 days are in some way mediocre. Also, the emphasis is solely on weight loss and appearance, rather than lifestyle change, as the exclusive goal.

In summary, fad diets are rarely sustained and can lead to adverse side effects.2 They promote foods that are permitted within their structure, but in practice their success is based on depravation, often of needed nutrients. Further, telling someone “no” or “don’t” creates unreasonable — and often unattainable — expectations and sets them up for failure.

Effective Methods of Weight Loss

The core of weight loss is to consume fewer calories. As such, the time-tested method of calorie counting is foundational to any weight loss approach. Indeed, during the pandemic, the International Food Information Council found that Americans shifted their eating patterns and calorie counting had become the most popular weight loss method.3

For people with obesity, a Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) follows this approach. Unlike fad diets, each meal and snack is nutritionally balanced. Pre-packaged portions offer convenience and flexibility without the need for complex calorie calculations. When an initial goal weight is achieved, balanced selections representing a range of food groups are re-introduced. VLCDs are part of well-established, evidence-based weight loss programs, such as New Direction Advanced, that incorporate medical supervision and physical activity specific to patients’ needs, offering a safe, effective and satisfying option for patients.


  1. Mayo Clinic: Low-carb diet: Can it help you lose weight?
  2. Fad Diets: Lifestyle Promises and Health Challenges
  3. 2021 International Food Information Council Food & Health Survey

About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.

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