The Weight Loss Myth of Fad Diets


‘Dieting’ doesn’t work, but a healthy weight loss plan will help you reach your goal.

By Joanne Barker

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD, FAAP

It may seem like many of the kids at school talk about the latest popular diet and weight loss plans. These fad diets usually restrict your food choices and might require special foods, pills, or supplements, too. In return, the promise of a quick and easy way to lose weight probably sounds good. But, a fad diet will always go out of style.

“A lot of teens try every diet out there and feel like failures when they don’t work,” says Linda Schander, LRD, CDE, outpatient dietitian with Sanford Health Eating Disorders Institute, Fargo, N.D. That’s because fad diets are too good to be true.

Like other teens, you may jump from one fad diet to another, and another, hoping you’ll find the right weight loss diet plan. But, you may not even need to lose weight.

For many overweight teens, the first step is to simply hold your current weight. If you’re still growing, as you get taller your weight will spread out and that will lower your BMI (body mass index), which is a measure of your body fat. Increasing your activity, choosing healthy foods, and limiting your portion sizes will help you stop gaining more weight. And that alone could be enough.

In fact, newer science shows the whole concept of “dieting” doesn’t really work for anyone to lose weight or even stay at a healthy weight. Fad diets, at best, offer a temporary fix. Almost everyone who goes on a fad diet gains back every pound they lose — and sometimes more.

The problem is that many people think of a “diet” as short-term. But it really isn’t. What works best to lose weight, scientists find now, is an overall healthy lifestyle plan. It’s not just about what to eat today and tomorrow and while you’re “on a diet.” It’s about learning how to eat well all the time. It’s about how to make healthy choices that help you for the rest of your life.

Plus, fad diets fail to meet kids’ nutritional needs, Schander says. The poor nutrition you get from a fad diet can cause many health problems. While you’re on a fad diet, you run the risk of becoming dehydrated, having diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and headaches, or feeling tired all the time. In the long run, a fad diet could lead to weak bones, anemia, or keep you from growing as tall as you should.

A good, healthy diet, which should be part of your larger healthy living plan, is one that you — and your body — can live with over the long haul, not just a few weeks. It includes balanced nutrition from a variety of foods, which will give your body and brain energy to move and think. The right healthy living plan will also help you learn skills, like how to be physically active, to help you get to a healthy BMI and stay there.