The Risks of a Fad-Diet Mind-Set
By Gerard J. Musante, Ph.D.

You’ve heard about them. You’ve probably even tried a few. Fad diets are everywhere – advertised in magazines, discussed on TV, and promoted in books and instructional videos. Scarcely a week goes by without some new diet “guru” claiming that a new method or supplement or weight loss secret will cause your excess pounds to melt away and never come back.

There are diets based on catchy concepts: the Eat Great, Lose Weight Diet; the Fit for Life; the New Beverly Hills Diet; and the Eat Right 4 Your Type diet. There are diets based on eating only one food or just a few: the Grapefruit Diet, the Fruit Juice Diet, and the New Cabbage Soup Diet. There are diets based on dietary supplements – chitosan, senna, chromium picolinate, you name it. There are diets guaranteed to “rid your body of cellulite,” to “sweat off the pounds,” or to “make the pounds melt away.” There are also high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets of all kinds: the Carbohydrate Addicts’ Diet, the Zone Diet, the Sugar Busters Diet, the Atkins Diet, the Protein Power Diet, and the South Beach Diet. If these diets aren’t extreme enough, some proponents suggest outright fasting – not eating at all.

These are all examples of what I call pharmaceutical nutrition: approaches that perceive food as a chemical formulation.

 Like many people, you may feel under siege from all sorts of diet advice. Perhaps your relatives call you to suggest a new weight loss pill they’ve heard about. Your friends pressure you to sample a nutritional supplement that did wonders for them. Your coworkers want you to visit the doctors who helped them lose weight easily. And of course ads on TV, in magazines, and on the Web push all kinds of products, each touted as a miracle cure.

Unfortunately, these fads are all simplistic, and they don’t work well over the long term. Why? Because short-term success may occur as the result of a diet, pill, or surgical procedure, but it won’t resolve your long-term problem. Diets themselves actually have no special power. There’s no proof that the specific composition of a diet can lead anyone to success in losing weight and maintaining that loss. By following a fad diet, you probably will lose weight – but you probably won’t keep the weight off for long.

There’s another issue to consider: fad diets may also damage your confidence in yourself. You may believe that a diet has some sort of special power and that the diet itself will grant the success you crave. When the diet doesn’t work out in the long term, though – and they almost always don’t – you’ll tend to see yourself as the cause of your failure. You may conclude that you can’t control the situation and that you can’t build the confidence to develop and master the skills that will lead you to success. You’ll blame yourself rather than the diet.

Fad diets claim to provide you with the answer (often a simplistic answer), but they don’t even ask the right question.

These many programs, products, and cures all share a common flaw: they encourage you to expect results based on external cure-alls rather than your own insight and self-mastery. They focus only on weight loss. They never address the underlying imbalances that make you vulnerable to using food inappropriately. And until you examine and explore those imbalances, you can’t really take steps to reduce your imbalance. You won’t be able to acquire the important skills that lead to altering your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Gerard J. Musante, Ph.D., is the founder and director of the residential weight loss facility, Structure House Center for Weight Control and Lifestyle Change. As one of the nation’s leading experts on obesity, he has helped thousands of overweight and obese people to win their battles with weight and other health issues.