It’s harder to tell these days if a recommended ‘lifestyle change’ may simply be a fad diet. Make a mental checklist with these 5 tips in mind.


Diets have evolved through the years. A decade or so ago, you could spot a diet from a mile away with blatant statements of restriction, deprivation, extreme weight loss, and unabashed fad-ish behaviors.

These days, it’s trickier to detect dieting messages because diets are going out of style.

It’s not trendy any more to say outright that you’re following a diet or that your plan you’re promoting is a diet. So the language has shifted towards “lifestyle change” and language that’s made to sound less restrictive. However, let’s be clear: it still is a diet.

While not all lifestyle changes are harmful, the language can be because it’s often co-opted by diets in disguise.  And because diets don’t work (at best) and can be harmful (at worst), let’s discuss how you can spot a diet in today’s world where they’re trickier than ever to detect.  Here are some simple principles to keep in mind.

1. It uses all-or-nothing language.

When it comes to food, using black-and-white language isn’t helpful, such as: always and never, should and shouldn’t, good and bad, right and wrong. It’s simply not true that you need to do things perfectly. It’s about staying consistent and how it averages over time in the way you’re feeding yourself. And remember, perfect eating isn’t healthy eating, and healthy eating isn’t perfect eating.

2. It vilifies entire food groups.

Any plan or program that tells you to drastically reduce a macronutrient or to completely cut out an entire food group, is a fad diet. Each macronutrient and food group has a role to play in our body, providing it with essential nutrients and energy for wellbeing. Our bodies do best with a wide variety of foods, and consistently nourishing yourself throughout the day. Reducing your eating to only a few foods—no matter how “healthy” you’ve been told those foods are — is simply not health-promoting for your body or for your mental health.

3. It seems too good to be true.

Sweeping promises that seem too good to be true are usually trying to sell you something. Always ask yourself: “Who’s selling and who’s buying into these types of scenarios?”

Doing so can help clarify the dynamic. Be wary and suspicious of sweeping claims of fear-based hysteria around food, and even sweeping claims of magically curing your ailments or struggles with a food or a supplement. Good health requires consistent, daily efforts in nourishing yourself, getting adequate rest, managing stress, staying hydrated, and moving your body as you’re able. It doesn’t just occur one day with a magic pill or a magic food plan. In short, if it seems too good to be true, it is.

4. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach.

If there’s no flexibility for religious background, cultural practices, or socioeconomic status, it’s too rigid. Food and eating are incredibly important parts of our lives, bringing us together with those we love and connecting us to those who have come before. If a food plan takes you away from social situations, or isn’t sensitive and aware of different cultural or religious backgrounds, it’s something to walk away from. You deserve a relationship with food that allows for important family, cultural and traditional meals, connecting you to what’s most important in life.

5. It’s an attempt to trick your body.

Statements like “if you’re hungry, just drink a glass of water” or “eat mindfully so you trick your body into eating less” won’t help you. Your body is wise, and its primary job is to keep you alive — getting adequate nutrition is a huge part of survival.

In other words, your body really can’t be tricked. You either eat that carbohydrate now in a sensible way with your meal, or you choose to skip it and end up bingeing on carbohydrates later in the day. And when you do, you typically consuming far more of that food than you normally would than if you had eaten in a sensible way during the meal. Learn to work with your body rather than against it, and notice how your health and wellbeing actually improve.

Although fad diets can be alluring and compelling, it’s critical to develop a sense of media literacy and savviness. Learn to navigate science and research in a way where you can wade through the vast amount of noise, and land in a place where your relationship with food is sustainable, realistic, and balanced.

Your health is meant to outlast gimmicks and fads.

Adapted from the original article.

Paige Smathers, RDN, CD is a nutrition therapist based in Salt Lake City who helps individuals find positive ways to overcome struggles they experience with food and body image. She specializes in practical, down-to-earth solutions for those in eating disorder recovery and chronic dieting through a weight-neutral positive approach. Paige hosts the popular Nutrition Matters Podcast and runs her private practice, Positive Nutrition.