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Leaving Fad Diets Behind: How to Build Healthy and Sustainable Eating Habits

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By Dr. Dawn M. Sweet

Fad diets are built around the promise of rapid weight loss over a short period of time and make claims that are not necessarily supported by empirical evidence.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Fad diets are built around the promise of rapid weight loss over a short period of time and make claims that are not necessarily supported by empirical evidence. They promise a quick fix for a complicated issue. Fad diets are a short-term solution to what — for many — is a lifelong struggle, namely learning to eat sustainably in a healthy and nutritionally-balanced way while leading a physically active lifestyle. The most important components of weight loss — healthy eating habits and the complementary benefits of physical activity — are exactly what fad diets don’t teach.

While fad diets might work in the short term, they are not a long-term solution for living at a healthy and sustainable weight. Fad diets can be calorie and nutrient restrictive, asking you to choose your food based on your blood type or asking you to remove entire food groups. Some will ask you to eat only cabbage or grapefruit for extended periods of times!

When following a fad diet, you increase your risk of nutrient deprivation because you are not reaching your recommended daily allowances (RDA) for protein, fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, all of which your body needs to ensure optimal functioning and overall health. Our bodies need energy and fuel to function optimally, and when we deprive ourselves of proper nutrition in service of rapid weight loss, we ultimately do ourselves a disservice.

Identifying a Fad Diet

A fad diet may not be easy to identify, but there are some telltale signs to look for:

  • Promises of rapid weight loss and claims that sound too good to be true: Lose 10 pounds in five days with a revolutionary approach.
  • No empirical evidence: You can’t find any scientific evidence to support their claims.
  • Removing an entire food group (or more) from your diet: Diets that ask you to remove all fruits, vegetables, protein, carbohydrates, dairy from your diet are not nutritionally sound.
  • One-size-fits-all: Fad diets don’t consider specific, individual nutritional needs or underlying health conditions.

How to Lose Weight and Keep it Off

There are no shortcuts to losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight in a healthy and sustainable way. Sustainable, healthy weight loss requires work and commitment. Reliable, scientifically-validated ways to lose weight and keep it off include:

  • Behavior change. Change your behavior and start small for more sustainable changes to your eating habits. Start by reducing less nutrient-rich food from your diet — one meal at a time — and adding in healthier, nutrient-rich food in its place. For example, instead of that pastry with your morning coffee, make yourself some steel cut oats.
  • Get moving! Physical activity is key to helping create an energy deficit and preserving muscle mass as you begin to lose fat mass. Walking, cycling, hiking, yoga, Pilates, resistance training, aerobic classes are all activities you can pursue alone or with a friend to help keep you motivated to move.
  • Eat mindfully. Take note of when you are hungry and when you are eating because you are bored. Eat meals without the TV on to avoid eating beyond the point of satiety. Pay attention to the taste and texture of your food.
  • Talk to your doctor or a registered dietician. Talk to your doctor about your weight loss goals, or talk to a registered dietician to ensure you are receiving advice and guidance that is tailored to your specific needs and grounded in science. While eating healthy and physical activity promote weight loss, they are not a “one size fits all” approach. It’s important to understand what your specific nutritional needs are relative to your overall health, so working with a doctor or dietician will ensure your weight loss journey is moving in an appropriate direction.
  • Share your goals. Share your goals to eat healthy and engage in more physical activity with your friends and family — you’ll likely find you are not alone and will have a community of supporters who can help and support you as you build healthy habits.


About the Author: Dr. Dawn M. Sweet has over 20 years of experience in the field of communication. Dr. Sweet has given several invited talks to and workshops for academic and private sector audiences on the role of nonverbal and verbal communication in achieving positive outcomes and mitigating bias. Her research has been published in several top ranked peer-review journals, and it has been featured on NPR’s River to River / All Things Considered, Buzzfeed, and Science Daily. Her research has also been used to inform expert testimony.

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