With our society’s constant focus on weight and appearance, people quickly attach themselves to popular or fad diets to achieve quick results. Fad diets are those that experience increases and decreases in popularity, similar to fads in fashion, and usually promise quick fixes and other positive outcomes such as increased longevity.

While not always concerning, fad diets can be restrictive, unsustainable, and often are not evidence-based methods to improve health. Commonly, individuals that begin a fad diet will experience a rapid amount of weight loss followed by a plateau and then often a regression back to old habits. This roller coaster can be exhausting and feel defeating. Here are some of the common things people experience on fad diets.

Rapid Weight Loss

The rapid weight loss experienced in the first one to two weeks of a diet are not likely because of a loss of body fat. Some fad diets restrict carbohydrates and cause the body to release its stored carbohydrate in the liver and muscle known as glycogen. Glycogen itself stores a lot of water with it in the muscle and liver. So when you restrict carbohydrates, you may experience a rapid loss of glycogen and water weight. This may feel encouraging to someone trying to lose weight, but this is what ultimately leads to the plateau that many people experience.

Restricting or Limiting Foods

Any level of restriction on foods like protein, carbohydrates, and fats can cause a negative reaction to the body in some way. For example, restricting carbohydrates leads to additionally restricting fiber in the diet, a food component essential to having healthy blood sugar, digestion, and energy use. Jumping onto a vegan or vegetarian diet without proper education can cause deficiencies in essential B-Vitamins and proteins. Going on low-fat diets removes essential fats from the diet increasing risk for disease. Even if you decide to take a multi-vitamin or supplement to replace these food items, there is no guarantee your body will use those nutrients the same way as they do with whole foods.

Eliminating Foods

Eliminating or avoiding foods that you commonly encounter in your day-to-day life makes it increasingly more challenging to stick to a healthy, balanced diet. Life is complicated enough and the need to stick to a specific diet plan can just add another stressor to deal with. Additionally, when willpower breaks down and you find yourself indulging in those foods you feel lost and guilty.

Healthful Nutrition: A Flexible Approach to  Healthy Eating

There is a reason physicians and dietitians often recommend a traditional and balanced approach to healthy eating, because it is evidence based, proven as sustainable, and creates a healthier relationship with food. Instead of locking into a specific way to eat, try these strategies for improving your nutrition and overall well-being.

Focus on Portion Control and Mindful Eating

With office parties, holidays, dinners, and celebrations, it is easy to overindulge on certain foods you enjoy. Feel free to reach for the sweets and snacks, but focus on how much and how quickly you are eating those foods. For example, if you want to eat a cookie, try cutting it in half and splitting it with someone else. Fill a small bowl with your snacks instead of eating straight out of the bag or container. Stay in tune with your hunger signals before reaching for your next portion. Ask yourself: Am I actually hungry right at this moment? Try learning about mindful eating, the practice of slowing down and enjoying your foods. We often reach for that next portion of food because we are “mindless” or unfocused on what we are doing in that moment. By slowing down and chewing your food, you find that you enjoy it even more and satisfy your cravings with quality and not quantity of food.  

Substitute Processed Foods with More Healthful Options

Here are some common substitutions to consider when working towards balanced eats:

Meats & Proteins:

  • Switch out red meat or pork with lean meats like seafood and poultry. Cuts of beef that are “loin” or “round” tend to be leanest options.
  • Cut away skin and fat from poultry and beef to lower the amount of saturated fat
  • When scrambling eggs, try removing a yolk or two or buy a carton of egg whites to mix with a single egg


  • When baking, try substituting white flour with whole-wheat flour or a 50/50 blend of each. Try substituting Splenda, stevia, or fruits for sugar in baking for lower sugar options
  • Add water to juices and drinks to improve your hydration and reduce sugar content
  • Choose fiber-dense whole-grain breads, wraps, pastas, and grains instead of white flour based products


  • Investigate low-fat baking substitutions like applesauce, plain yogurt, pureed fruits, and mashed bananas instead of butter and oil. Try a 50/50 blend of butter and the other half being a low-fat option
  • Choose low-fat or reduced-fat dairy products
  • Try vinegar and oil-based dressings instead of creamy or sweet processed dressings
  • Bake, broil, or roast instead of frying foods
  • Sauté foods in in broth, wine, or juice instead of oil
  • Use a non-stick cooking spray on pans instead of margarine, oil, or butter
  • Flavor foods with lemon juice and herbs instead of relying on butter for flavor

Focus on Physical Activity

Physical activity is an important component to overall well-being. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity for improvements in health (Department of Health and Human Services, 2018). This could be walking, biking, swimming, gardening, cleaning, or any combination of activities you enjoy. Your 150 minutes could be broken up into five 30-minute sessions throughout the week or can be incorporated in short 10-15 minute walks several times throughout the day. By incorporating more physical activity, you will experience improvements in your health, possibly without needing to make drastic dietary changes.

Be realistic and balanced

Remember to be realistic about the wellness goals you want to achieve. There is no one way to eat that is a perfect fit for everyone. Stay in tune with your body and signals, and eat for a healthy body instead of a number on the scale.

More questions about nutrition?

Health Promotion and Wellness offers free, individual diet analysis and nutrition guidance for those striving to improve their lifestyle. Faculty, staff, and students can meet one-on-one with the Health Promotion and Wellness nutritionist in a confidential setting at no cost.

Participants need to complete a three-day food diary and a health questionnaire available online prior to their nutrition consult. Forms may be returned via email, by campus mail to 2120, by fax to (309) 438-5003, or by hand delivery to the main Health Promotion and Wellness office in 187 McCormick Hall.

Health Promotion and Wellness also provides presentations and workshops for campus groups and organizations. Please call our office at (309) 438-WELL (9355) to request this service.


Department of Health and Human Services (2018). Physical activity guidelines for Americans. Retrieved from: https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/pdf/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf