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Fad or fiction? Become your own diet detective

At the start of the year, resolutions abound to shed kilos, get ripped, and fit those skinny jeans. With the promise of fast, effortless results, the lure of the quick-fix diet is strong. These diets often work initially due to a drastic decrease in calories; however, a few weeks later you find yourself irritable and hungry, elbow deep in a packet of Doritos, and somehow a kilogram or two heavier than when you started. Feeling depressed, you decide to start a new diet. This is the fad dieting cycle. 

This article will give you the inside knowledge to be your own diet detective and weed out the good diets from the fads.

A fad diet is any program lacking scientific basis. These diets tend to be short-lived and nutritionally inadequate with limited potential for long-term success. 

There are a few key giveaways that a diet plan is dodgy. They may:

  • claim to be ‘new’ and ‘revolutionary’

  • make big claims of effortless transformation using buzzwords such as ‘shred fat’, ‘get ripped’ and ‘rapid weight loss’ 

  • promise to cure disease

  • advocate miracle ‘superfoods’

  • eliminate entire food groups

  • require special supplements 

  • be time bound.

A few examples of fad diets include the Cabbage Soup Diet, The Lemon Detox Diet (or Master Cleanse), The Blood Type Diet, The Baby Food Diet, The Atkins Diet, The Grapefruit Diet and The Paleo Diet. 

The truth about fad diets

While you are likely to experience weight loss initially, little of this will be fat. The body keeps a sneaky store of carbohydrate called glycogen in the liver and muscles for times of fasting—for example, sleeping or endurance training. During a crash diet, these stores are depleted—accompanied by water—for fuel. Glycogen and water are quickly replenished with a few carbohydrate-containing meals, explaining the rapid post-diet weight gain. In response to starvation your body will also start to tear down lean muscle as a fuel source leading to slowed metabolism. So even though you will lose weight during the diet, as soon as you return to your normal eating patterns you will regain it, with interest. 

As a result, yo-yo dieting can actually make you fatter over time. These diets primarily work on deprivation, and are likely to leave you feeling irritable and ‘hangry’. Most importantly, fad dieting does not foster the development of sensible eating habits, setting you up for failure long-term.

Do I need to detox?

The idea that a juice can flush your body of toxins and accelerate your metabolism is a myth. Your body comes with a built-in-detox system that works day and night to prevent toxins from accumulating to harmful levels. Your liver acts like a bouncer for your body. Through a series of complex chemical reactions, the liver is able to neutralise toxic compounds into less-toxic forms, and transform toxins into water-soluble compounds that are eliminated in the urine. The kidneys, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract also play a sophisticated role in toxin removal. In short, there is no need to ‘detox’ because your body is already doing it for you. 

Is there any harm in trying a fad diet?

Fad diets can lead to an array of undesirable side-effects. Short-term you may experience dehydration, light-headedness, irritability, gastrointestinal upset, bad breath and headaches. Fad diet plans can also be very expensive. Long-term fad diets may lead to micronutrient deficiencies, dry flaky skin, disordered eating patterns, and general poor health. These diets can be particularly dangerous for children and pregnant or breastfeeding women.

If you’re serious about a diet and lifestyle overhaul, sustainability and enjoyment are absolutely key to success. The right diet for you should be flexible and sustainable year round. When considering a new diet, ask yourself, ‘Could I follow this plan for life?’ If the answer is no, it’s not the best diet for you.

Tips for long-term health gains, and sustainable weight loss include:

  • Set realistic weight loss goals of 1 to 2 kg per month.

  • Eat a wide range of nutritious foods from all of the five food groups.

  • Cook at home more often.

  • Plan meals at the beginning of the week. We often overeat or go ‘off track’ when we are underprepared.

  • Practise portion control (aim for meals with a fist size portion of starchy food, a palm sized portion of protein, and fill the remaining half of your plate with colourful vegetables and salad).

  • Limit your intake of junk food, soft drinks and alcohol. Choose water as a drink.

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Be consistent.

  • Be careful whose advice (and products!) you buy.


This Smart Eating Week (11-17 February 2019), challenge yourself to do away with fad diets in favour of creating healthy habits that you can practise every day. Your body (and your wallet) will thank you for it.

How does your diet stack up?  Take the Healthy Eating Quiz to find out:

For tailored advice to help you meet your individual nutrition needs, book in to see an Accredited Practising Dietitian at Mater Health and Wellness Clinic. Book an initial consultation with a dietitian at the Health and Wellness clinic for the month of March 2019 and you will receive 20%  off the initial consultation price. To book a consultation call 3163 6000. 


Level 1, Mater Corporate

Services Building

Raymond Terrace

South Brisbane Qld 4101