Fad diets can be tempting as they offer a quick fix to long-term problems. Sadly, there is no magic bullet when it comes to nutrition and health. But what exactly is a fad diet, why do they tempt so many Australians, and do they work in the long-term? 

A fad diet is one that promises fast weight loss or radically-improved health, without a scientific basis and is often contradictory to current health advice. Fad diets often cut out entire foods or food groups, are based on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, focus on short-term changes, make claims based on testimonials or a single study, and can involve miracle pills, shakes, or supplements.

What most fad diets have in common is that they encourage you to cut down on the amount of energy, or kilojoules, that you take in. But due to their very nature, ‘quick-fix diets’ aren’t sustainable and once stopped, most people find themselves back where they started. Any diet that excludes key food groups, or is overly restrictive, will raise the risk of nutrient deficiencies, without careful planning to overcome this.

When it comes to health, it makes better sense to take a long-term approach to what you eat. We know any diet that restricts overall energy will likely lead to weight loss in the short-term, but it’s the eating pattern that you enjoy, can stick to, and that fits with your lifestyle that will see long-lasting results. Instead of resorting to drastic changes in your diet, that have no long-term evidence in regard to safety or efficacy, consider small tweaks you can make that will make the world of difference to how you feel today and your overall health and wellbeing over time.

Vegetables, for example, are jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and are low in energy, yet less than seven per cent of Australian adults meet the recommended five-a-day target. And on average, more than one third (35 per cent) of our total energy intake comes from ‘discretionary’ or extra foods like alcohol, soft drinks, cakes, confectionary and sweet or savoury biscuits. So making small changes, such as eating more vegetables and less discretionary foods, will give you the best results.

The potential risks
The safety of fad diets over the long-term is unknown. Because they can be highly restrictive, and often cut out key food groups, following a fad diet means you’re at risk of missing out on important, protective nutrients, that are needed for good health. For that reason, they are especially unsuitable for certain people. Children and teenagers, athletes and highly-active people, those with diabetes, pregnant women, and people with a history of eating disorders should all steer clear of fad diets. In addition, severely cutting down on food may lead to a range of unpleasant side effects, like fatigue, feeling foggy-headed, affected mood, feeling ‘hangry,’ constipation, and headaches.

Accredited Practising Dietitians: All about tailored, evidence-based advice
When it comes to losing weight, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ dietary approach. The key is an eating pattern that is sustainable over time. The Diatitians Association of Australia (DAA) encourages Australians to take a longer-term view to weight loss, based on the recommendations of the Australian Dietary Guidelines, and to seek expert advice and support from an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD). APDs tailor their advice to suit each individual’s lifestyle, goals, health status, and preferences. Their practical advice has a solid grounding of scientific evidence, so you can be confident that you’re making a long-term investment in your health.