A fad diet is a diet that is popular for a time, similar to fads in fashion. Fad diets usually promise rapid weight loss or other health advantages, such as longer life. They are often promoted as requiring little effort and producing a "quick fix". In many cases, the diet is characterized by highly restrictive or unusual food choices, which can cause serious health problems.
A competitive market for "healthy diets" arose in the 19th-century developed world, as migration and industrialization and commodification of food supplies began eroding adherence to traditional ethnocultural diets, and the health consequences of pleasure-based diets were becoming apparent.:9 As Matt Fitzgerald describes it:
This modern cult of healthy eating is made up of innumerable sub-cults that are constantly vying for superiority. ... Like consumer products in commercial markets, each of these diets has a brand name and is advertised as being better than competing brands. The recruiting programs of the healthy-diet cults consist almost entirely of efforts to convince prospective followers that their diet is the One True Way to eat for maximum physical health ... The specific cult whose "science"-backed schtick a person finds most convincing usually depends on his or her identity biases.:9–13
Sylvester Graham, of Graham cracker fame, is often given credit for creating the first fad diet in the 1830s. Graham promoted a religiously motivated vegetarian diet that emphasized an anti-industrial, anti-medical "simpler" or "natural" lifestyle, with meat and other rich, calorie-dense foods being declared sinful.
Many fad diets were promoted during the 19th century. One of the most effective self-promoters was Bernarr Macfadden, who relentlessly promoted the idea that nearly all diseases were caused by toxins in the blood from poor diet and lack of exercise, and that nearly all diseases could be cured through fasting, eating the correct foods, and physical exercise.
The modern fad diet originated in the 1930s. This was the decade when the first liquid diet drinks were marketed, when the grapefruit diet, first became popular, and when the Zen macrobiotic diet was developed, although it did not become a fad for another generation.
Most fad diets fall into five general groups:
- food-specific diets, which encourage eating large amounts of a single food, such as the cabbage soup diet,
- low-carb diets, such as the Atkins diet, which first became popular in the 1970s,
- high-fiber, low-calorie diets, which often prescribe double the normal amount of dietary fiber,
- liquid diets, such as SlimFast meal replacement drinks, and
A typical weight-loss fad diet requires 600 to 800 calories per day, compared to 2,000 or more for a healthy adult. The restrictive approach, regardless of whether the diet prescribes eating large amounts of high-fiber vegetables, no grains, or no solid foods, tend to be nutritionally unsound, and can cause serious health problems if followed for more than a few days. Fad diet tend to under-emphasize physical activity, and tend not to provide followers with the skills and knowledge they need for long-term maintenance of their desired weight, even if that weight is achieved.
Most fad diets promote their plans as being derived from religion or science. Fad diets may be based completely on pseudoscience (e.g., "fat-burning" foods or notions of vitalism); Most fad diets are marketed or described with exaggerated claims, not sustainable in sound science, about the benefits of eating a certain way or the harms of eating other ways.:33,74, 80, 155
Such diets are often endorsed by celebrities or celebrity doctors who style themselves as "gurus" and profit from sales of branded products, books, and public speaking.:11–12 One sign of commercial fad diets is a requirement to purchase associated products and pay to attend seminars in order to gain the benefits of the diet.
The audience for these diets is people who want to lose weight quickly or who want to be healthy and find that belonging to a group of people defined by a strict way of eating helps them to avoid the many bad food choices available in the developed world.:11 Each year, these people spend tens of billions of dollars on fad diet products, such as liquid meal replacements, in the US alone.
Fad diets tend to result in losing small amounts of weight, usually mostly water, in the first few days or weeks. Afterwards, the weight is almost invariably regained. According to Boston University School of Medicine, 98% of people who lose weight regain it within 5 years. Many diets fail to produce lasting weight loss because dieters revert to old habits after the end of the diet, many diets are not sustainable, and deprivation of certain foods leads to binge eating.
Mainstream diet advice
The basic principles of good diets are so simple that I can summarize them in just ten words: eat less, move more, eat lots of fruits and vegetables. For additional clarification, a five-word modifier helps: go easy on junk foods. Follow these precepts and you will go a long way toward preventing the major diseases of our overfed society—coronary heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, and a host of others ... These precepts constitute the bottom line of what seem to be the far more complicated dietary recommendations of many health organizations and national and international governments—the forty-one “key recommendations” of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines, for example. ... Although you may feel as though advice about nutrition is constantly changing, the basic ideas behind my four precepts have not changed in half a century. And they leave plenty of room for enjoying the pleasures of food.:22
David L. Katz, who reviewed the most prevalent popular diets in 2014, noted:
The weight of evidence strongly supports a theme of healthful eating while allowing for variations on that theme. A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention and is consistent with the salient components of seemingly distinct dietary approaches. Efforts to improve public health through diet are forestalled not for want of knowledge about the optimal feeding of Homo sapiens but for distractions associated with exaggerated claims, and our failure to convert what we reliably know into what we routinely do.
List of fad diets
- The 4-Hour Body
- 5:2 diet
- Alkaline diet
- Baby Food Diet
- Blood type diet
- Cabbage soup diet
- Detox diet
- Drinking Man's Diet
- Dukan Diet
- Gluten free diet, while essential for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, has also been a fad.
- Grapefruit diet
- Immune Power Diet
- Israeli Army diet
- Juice fasting
- KE diet
- Lamb chop and pineapple diet
- Master Cleanse
- Morning banana diet
- Paleolithic diet
- Pritikin Diet
- Scarsdale medical diet
- South Beach Diet
- Superfood diet
- Low-carbohydrate diet 
- Whole30 diet
- High carb/low fat diets
- Food combining
- Liquid diets
- Diet pills, supplements and herbal remedies
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Fad-diets can be tempting as they offer a quick-fix to a long-term problem.
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Even in developed countries, citizens have the right to be provided with good food, but in the United States, for example, many consumers have either wasted their money or harmed their health by various food and diet fads. Many nutrition scientists consider it unethical for “medical quacks” to be making large amounts of money in this way from gullible Americans.
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- Forbes, Gilber, American Academy of Pediatrics, 1980. "[Food Fads: Safe Feeding of Children http://pedsinreview.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/1/7/207]" Pediatrics in Review. 1980;1:207-210. doi:10.1542/10.1542/pir.1-7-207.
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Some population groups seem to be especially wed to the gluten-free diet, with nearly 50% of 910 athletes (including world class and Olympic medalists) adhering to a gluten-free diet, mainly because of the perceived health and energy benefits.
- Gluten-Free, Whether You Need It or Not. New York Times.
- "Gluten-free diet fad: Are celiac disease rates actually rising?". CBS News. 31 July 2012.
People buy gluten-free food "because they think it will help them lose weight, because they seem to feel better or because they mistakenly believe they are sensitive to gluten."
- Sandra Bastin for University of Kentucky Extension Service. August 1998; revised March 2004. University of Kentucky Extension Service: Fad Diets
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'a fad diet by any other name would still be a fad diet.' And the names are legion: the Atkins Diet, the Cheater's Diet, the South Beach Diet, the Zone Diet. Year after year, 'new and improved' diets appear ...
- "People to watch". Nature Medicine. 12 (1): 29. 2006. doi:10.1038/nm0106-29. ISSN 1078-8956.
James Hill wants Americans to shed pounds. But instead of promoting any one fad diet, he embraces most--Atkins, South Beach, grapefruit-only--as relatively effective ways to lose weight.
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- Fad Diets: The Whole30, International Food Information Council Foundation, 25 July 2017
- Media related to Fad diets at Wikimedia Commons