The “Skinny” on Fad Diets

By Lindsey Johnson

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 42.5% of American adults fit the criteria for obesity, or a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or greater. When including the population that is either overweight (BMI of 25.0-29.9) or obese, a staggering 73.6% of American adults fall into this category. The epidemic does not end there. American children are increasingly overweight as well. Children as young as 2-5 years old have an obesity rate of 13.4%, ages 6-11 are at 20.3% and children ages 12-19 are at 21.2%. Weight maintenance is an important factor in the development of other diseases and it is critical to the health of the nation for the rates of overweight and obesity to trend downward.

Nutrition is a core component of weight loss and weight maintenance. There are multiple approaches to eating for weight loss and it can be difficult to know what is the best for you. Some diets provide a temporary fix while others are long-term strategies for sustainable eating.

We took a look at some of the more popular fad diets of our time and broke them down to see what they really do and claim.

At the end of the day, a well balanced diet combined with exercise and a healthy lifestyle is always your best bet!


Cardiologist Dr. Robert Atkins created his namesake diet in the 1970’s. While the specifics have morphed throughout the years, this diet is based on four phases that restrict carb intake. Initially, the user is only permitted 20 grams of carbohydrates per day, gradually increasing in later phases. While carbs are limited, the two other macronutrients, fat and protein, are permitted in unlimited amounts. Each user discovers the carb intake that allows them continued success.

The Skinny: The Atkins diet has shown positive results for weight loss and includes a maintenance phase for continued utilization. Critics of this approach state that it may include some nutritional deficiencies such as calcium.


First created in the 1980’s, the cabbage soup diet is a one week jumpstart weight loss diet. This diet includes multiple servings per day of homemade cabbage soup as well as the addition of one or two other items each day. The permitted foods vary by day but are primarily fruits and vegetables, along with some meats. This diet is meant to be a short-term option to get started with a weight loss journey. Because it is so low in calories, it is likely to produce weight loss. It also does not allow much protein, which could lead to some muscle loss.

The Skinny: While this diet may achieve up to ten pounds of weight loss within a single week, much of that weight is water weight that will return with the reinstatement of a regular diet.


In the 1990’s, another cardiologist named Dr. Arthur Agatston created a diet that uses some of the same tenets as the Atkins diet but with some modifications. Early versions of the Atkins diet allowed for unrestricted consumption of foods high in saturated fat such as bacon. Dr. Agatston was concerned about the impact of this on his cardiology patients. The South Beach Diet, named for the area where Dr. Agatston practiced medicine, has three phases, one of which is also a maintenance phase.

The Skinny: The South Beach diet is a low-fat, low-carb and high-protein diet that has been proven effective for weight loss and reduction of cardiovascular risk factors.


The Paleolithic Diet, also known as “Paleo” or the “Caveman Diet,” is an eating pattern that focuses on whole and natural foods. It is based on the dietary habits of hunter-gatherers from the caveman era. Processed foods are eliminated, including grains, dairy and legumes. The primary focus is fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish and meat. There is no counting involved. The results come from the elimination of common foods such as processed foods, sugar, dairy and grains, which are contributors to weight gain.

The Skinny: A paleo diet can assist in weight loss by eliminating added sugar and highly processed foods, eating a diet rich in protein but lower in carbs, and reducing calorie intake by converting to natural foods.


The Ketogenic Diet, also known as “keto,” is another weight loss tool that greatly restricts carb intake. Unlike Atkins and South Beach, the keto diet does not increase carbs over time. Instead, it keeps them restricted to approximately 30-50 grams per day. This keeps the body in a state of ketosis, which means that the body burns ketones instead of sugar to provide energy.

The Skinny: While the ketogenic diet may help users lose weight, it is a regimen that is hard to stick with for the long run. Some critics also express concern over the inclusion of high-fat and highly processed meats, which carry their own health risks.


The Grapefruit Diet is based on the premise that grapefruits contain fat-burning enzymes that help the body shed excess weight. This is a short-term solution lasting two to three weeks that includes eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice at every meal. While there are a few variations of this diet, they all recommend low calories and carbohydrates and increased protein.

The Skinny: While users claim they can lose as much as ten pounds in twelve days, there is no research to confirm the benefits of this diet. Rapid weight loss in a short period of time can be unsafe as well as unsustainable.


The Mediterranean Diet is a lifestyle nutrition option that focuses on heart-healthy foods. Eating Mediterranean style means including heart healthy fats such as olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids from fish. The Mediterranean plate is primarily composed of vegetables and fruits, complemented by whole grains, seafood, nuts, legumes and heart-healthy fats. The Mediterranean Diet also sees benefit in small amounts of red wine.

The Skinny: The Mediterranean Diet is a long-term well-rounded approach to nutrition. Two of the world’s five “Blue Zones” are located in Mediterranean cities where this diet is a common part of the culture. Blue Zones are areas with lower incidence of disease and a longer average lifespan. The Mediterranean Diet is not only beneficial for weight loss but also reduces risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, two common diseases in the United States.

Maintaining a healthy weight provides a multitude of health benefits over the long run. Nutrition combined with exercise are the key ingredients in sustainable weight loss. There are many fad diets that may provide a jump start to the weight loss journey but without a long-term sustainable eating habit, the weight will return. The best bet for lifetime success is to find a way to structure and plan your meals that you will be able to do for a period of years. While all of these diets may have weight loss benefits, talk to your provider or dietitian about what is right for you based on your goals and health history.


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