7 Signs of a Dubious Diet

By Mike Howard


Although it is difficult to ascertain what constitutes a “fad diet”, there are certain shall we say… qualities that come to mind when thinking of a fads. Oh sure, they ALL claim to be a “way of life”, but often they are trying to either start or capitalize on an existing trend.

So here are 7 indications that the diet book you saw gracing the shelves of your local bookstore may be unworthy of your hard-earned dollar.

  1. Promises quick weight loss
    Almost all of them do – this is unrealistic at best and dangerous at worse.
  2. Advocates centering the diet on one particular food
    Eg. grapefruit, peanut butter, coconut diets. Whether or not you eat these foods has no bearing on your weight and health.
  3. Doesn’t insist on exercise
    Surprising how many of them don’t – this is the cornerstone of continued fat loss and maintenance of weight, period. Beware of even those that undermine the importance of exercise.
  4. Offers a simplistic explanation to the complex problem of obesity
    Again, many “gurus” try and convince us that we are fat for a singular reason – this gives them an “angle” at which to sell us with. Whether it is carbs, an absence or abundance of a certain hormone, toxins – obesity is multifaceted.
  5. Claims “proof” without properly conducted, peer reviewed research
    Too many to list here, too. Fad diet authors more than likely skip over that little detail of evidence.
  6. Lists “forbidden” foods
    I’m not completely opposed to this, provided there in some sort of scientifically-based rationale ie. Trans fat-containing foods.
  7. Discourages eating certain foods in combination
    Eg. Fit for Life – this concept is about as scientific as a horoscope. The rationale is so absurd it should make anybody who has taken grade 11 biology cringe.

Diet fads are as much about consumer buying habits as particular nutritional advice. Even advice that proves useful for some individuals – can be turned into a fad by others. Both Atkins and Ornish have been used successfully by some individuals. However in the quest for quick weight loss both diets have – at times – become fads.

Bottom line: Think critically and carefully before making radical dietary changes.


  1. Richard

    I totally disagree with #3 Doesn’t insist on exercise. I went from a 30 bmi to a 23.4 with no exercise. I currently exercise but not for weight management but to maintain muscle mass and flexibility and overall health. I believe diets that tie exercise and weight loss together are a fad/scam which is one of the reasons most people will fail in getting to their healthy weight.

  2. Herbal Remedies with Lauren

    That is a great list. There are so many diets out there that are unrealistic! “Lose 15 pounds in one week” YEAH RIGHT!

  3. Healthy Weight Loss Girl

    Great List! I agree with all of your points. There are so many diets out there which market fast weight loss when in fact there is no such thing! Weight loss is a slow and steady process and everyone who is looking to lose 5 pounds in 3 days is in for a disappointment.

  4. Supplements Canada

    I agree with those tips. Any diet that says it will be “easy”, doesn’t promote exercise or really is unrealistic to continue for the rest of your life is not one you should be doing.

  5. arnoud

    Actually, the diet recommends exercise, but not the typical form of cardio. Walking (even fast walking) is recommended each day or close to it, and if you don’t want to do full body workouts (weights that is), they tell you to not even bother with this diet.
    I’m not the expert, but get your facts straight…

  6. Elizabeth

    I’m sending a link to this to my Mom. Also, my husband teaches critical thinking to high school girls and I’m going to have him print out this list to give to his students. While it’s important to have critical thinking skills to figure these things out on your own, sometimes it’s nice to have a few simple rules of thumb to refer to when faced with the exciting possibilities that new diets offer.

  7. Victoria

    Well written and balanced. I discovered Atkins and low-carb just as it was peaking in popularity. Eventually the dust settles and those who weren’t serious move onto the next fad; those who are serious remain.

    Some people want the quick fix but aren’t ready to make the lifestyle changes that long-term weight loss requires.

  8. Andrea Pelin

    If a diet promises you`ll lose a lot of weight over a short time, try something else. Fad diets are really dangerous, and may harm your health. Exercising is extremely important for those who want to lose weight. It`s not healthy to lose weight without having regular workouts. You can`t find one diet that works for everybody, that`s for sure.

  9. O

    Not sure if I agree with 7…
    I don’t think any diet should require food combinations but it should at least mention one that should be avoided… The fat and sugar combo.

  10. Angel

    This is one reason why I *love* Dr. Ian Smith’s Fat Smash Diet. It’s not really a diet per se, in that as you progress through each phase, you add back in foods. No food is forbidden by the end, you just have to eat sensibly.

    It’s working very well for myself and my husband–no drastic weight loss, but reinforcing good eating habits, incorporating more healthy foods in our diet, etc.

  11. T

    If any of these books were true in what they claimed, then wouldn’t it work for everyone? Wouldn’t everyone be able to loose the weight they want. Diet is books are designed for one thing and one thing only; to make money for the author!! Only professionals take your health seriously and personalize a plan that works best for you. If a person is serious about losing weight, then they should invest their money more wisely and contact the approriate professionals to help get them on the road to better health.

  12. JoLynn Braley

    To me, the word diet means a short-term way of eating that is only done to lose weight. Once the weight is lost, the dieter returns to eating how they did before (and regains the weight).

    I don’t like diets in general, but instead believe that lifestyle changes must be made, i.e.: a regular exercise program, eating only when hungry, stopping when full, and making healthier food choices by eliminating most processed foods and returning to whole foods. πŸ˜‰

  13. Dr.rena shukla

    Diet is a discipline you lay on your mind and hence body ,so that you stop overeating which you have been doing for long and so needed to diet.
    diet is a change to Live in Health, the best diet is sensible, simple and one you can follow all your life.

  14. Jim

    corafan said:
    Why list coconut diets? […]

    There are numerous excellent whole foods out there — but whether you can extrapolate an entire weight loss regime from a single item of food is what is dubious.

    Mike H. said:
    BTW, the link didn’t work – could you refer me to the article that you posted?[…]

    This is the link: here. And it is the Velocity diet.

  15. Mike H.

    Kailash said:
    Good article.[…]

    Hi Kailash,

    I have to confess I think the T-Nation crew are the best of the best and revolutionary in what they do. I’m a huge fan! They have some pretty cutting edge concepts for serious lifters (Chris Shugart’s Velocity Diet is one example). I do think though that the more extreme the diet, the more prone one might be to re-gain. Extremes can work IF people are extremely diligent in keeping exercise levels high and keep calories low.

    Regarding the food combining – I think for certain individuals (diabetics) combining foods can be helpful in keeping blood sugar in check. I disagree with some authors’ assertions that suggest;

    1. Eating carbs, fats, proteins in the same meal causes digestive problems. Nothing escapes the acid soup of your stomach anyways, besides very few foods are exclusively one of the 3 macronutrients. Most human digestive systems are equipped to handle foods in any combo.

    2. Undigested foods putrefy and ferment, causing toxins to accumulate in the intestines. They also claim the body will hold onto fat. The truth is, your colon does an excellent job of eliminating waste in most circumstances. For food to be converted into fat, it has to be broken down into its components and then travel through the bloodstream and used to form triglycerides.

    3. Digestion happens according to 3 seperate segments of the day and even gives times of the day when all of this supposedly occurs. The simple response to this is that the body doesn’t tell time!

    In short, I belive that some people do in fact have trouble with certain foods and/or combinations therof. I just don’t think you can base an entire philosophy around the topic.

    Anyway Kailish – thanks for your thoughts! BTW, the link didn’t work – could you refer me to the article that you posted?

  16. Spectra

    My mom tried the Potato diet once and it was pretty blah. Potatoes at every meal got really old. I went on a diet once called the “Ideal Diet” and it had about 2 pages of off limits foods. I think I subsisted on egg whites, tuna, melba toast, and celery sticks for maybe 3 weeks before I got so sick of it. I went off of it and of course I gained the weight back.

  17. Mike H.

    blest said:
    I agree with this…but South Beach would sorta fit the profile in having forbidden foods – yet South Beach totally rocks. It is a sustainable lifestyle change – as long as you don’t think giving up processed carbs is unthinkable. πŸ˜‰ […]

    Good point… I think SB is one of those diets with sound principles with an aura of fad-ism to it. The title itself is one example – a sexy city. The cover and glossy teal jacket design of the book just screams “look at me! buy me!”.

    There are certainly exceptions to the “forbidden foods” rule – provided it makes scientific/common sense.

  18. Kailash

    Quito said:
    I’ve done this and, um, I don’t recall anything funny happening. What am I missing?

    Heartburn, ouch!

  19. Quito

    Kailash, I agree with your first point. But, on this:

    If you don’t believe me, eat melon for dessert and don’t say I didn’t warn you!

    I’ve done this and, um, I don’t recall anything funny happening. What am I missing?

  20. corafan

    Why list coconut diets? Did you not read all the (very good) comments in the previous post you linked to?

  21. Kailash

    Good article.

    1. But, actually, protein sparing modified fasts work. No carbs and 1g protein per pound per day, with enough calories from fat that your body burns it preferentially. I ate salmon and eggs, along with cellulose vegetables, at 1800 calories/day (used the formula half-way down this page http://www.t-nation.com/readTopic.do?id=546491). I’ve done this fast twice, two weeks worth each time, to lose 10 to 15 pounds. But if you’re not very careful coming off the fast, you’ll gain all the weight back.

    7. Also, there is something to be said for food combining. Fat + carbs spikes insulin worse than either one alone. And foods do digest at different rates. If you don’t believe me, eat melon for dessert and don’t say I didn’t warn you! There’s also the oft-coined wisdom of vinegar delaying the digestion of carbohydrates, which break down poorly in an acid environment. Ah, sweet sweet indigestion… a tip I pray skip.

  22. staci

    i’ll be honest, i’ve never tried a “fad” diet. i’ve always turned to raw foods when i wanted to lose a few pounds. the most body image improvement i have ever seen was using the combination of raw, fresh fruits and veggies and exercise. i’ve never ever had to give up bread. i think it depends on discipline, if you dont have enough, a book is a good way to go. if you do have discipline… then you’re one of few!!

  23. blest

    I agree with this…but South Beach would sorta fit the profile in having forbidden foods – yet South Beach totally rocks. It is a sustainable lifestyle change – as long as you don’t think giving up processed carbs is unthinkable. πŸ˜‰

  24. Adam

    True about thousands of diet books available across the shelves. No single food Or diet plan is good for everyone. It has to be suited to an individual’s need. If someone is looking for a weight loss, exercise has to be a part of the whole plan.