Fad Diets: Fact or Fiction?

Janet Lockau, Registered Dietitian | HumanaCare

Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight can be challenging, and as we get older it may be even trickier.

Slower metabolism (due to the natural aging process, muscle loss, and reduced activity) and health conditions (some making it harder to exercise) can contribute to unwanted weight gain. Enter fad diets, the solution to your dietary woes, with big promises of dramatic weight loss in no time and with little effort!

How can we tell if the nutrition information is helpful, healthy, and nutritious or a harmful, potentially dangerous sham that could negatively affect overall health?

The Red Flags 

  • Fast weight loss, guaranteed! The truth? It is unhealthy to expect more than a two-pound weight loss per week. Very restricted calorie diets put your body into “starvation mode,” lowering your metabolism even further.
  • Quick and easy results, no exercise required! The truth? Too good to be true.
  • Limited food choices, sometimes eliminating entire food groups. The truth? You could be missing out on essential nutrients, putting you at risk of deficiencies. Even a multivitamin supplement often can’t make up for the nutrients we obtain
    from food.
  • Reports are often anecdotal, the evidence based on the experience or opinions of other people or the media. The truth? Reliable sources use science to support the recommendations.

Fad diets rarely result in long-term weight loss and maintenance and, rather than putting you on the path to better health, may put your health at risk. Slow weight loss might test your patience, but rapid loss can result in losing more than just fat — perhaps water weight but also possibly lean muscle. Bone health can also be affected. Very restricted diets are usually not sustainable, and many revert back to their “normal” diet. The weight often creeps back on, frequently more than what was lost.

Successful weight loss and maintenance depend on an eating plan that you can stick to long term. A healthy diet for seniors should include a variety of foods, with lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. It should allow for healthy fats (found in nuts and seeds, avocado, fatty fish, vegetable oils, and soft margarine) while limiting added sugar intake.

Healthy sources of proteins are especially important since we lose muscle mass as we age. The food guide encourages use of more plant-based proteins such as dried beans, peas, and lentils, tofu and other soy products, in addition to nuts and seeds. Low-fat dairy products (milk, yogurt, kefir, and cheeses) are an excellent source of protein, calcium, and many other nutrients important for bone and overall good health. Fortified dairy alternatives (soy, nut, coconut, rice, and nut milks, for example) may provide similar nutrients, but other than soy milk, tend to be very low in protein content.

For good health and long-term success, ditch the trendy fad diet!



  • Follow Canada’s Food Guide (which is based on current scientific evidence) to get the nutrients you need to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and promote good overall health. 
  • Eat regular balanced meals and healthy snacks, ideally going no longer than three hours without eating. This practice improves satiety, reducing the temptation to tuck into quick and easy foods that are often not the best choices. Limit use of processed or prepared foods and beverages high in sodium, sugar, and/or saturated fats.
  • Stay hydrated with an adequate amount of fluid each day. Thirst might be masked as hunger. As Canada’s Food Guide says, make water your drink of choice.
  • Exercise! Activity plays an important role in weight management at any age and offers many other health benefits. You don’t have to run a marathon. Find an activity that you enjoy, and try to move your body regularly. For more ideas, see Canada.ca’s physical activity tips for older adults.

Before you begin any weight loss program, talk to your medical health practitioner. You might also ask to see a registered dietitian for personal guidance and advice.

Unfortunately, there is no magic pill or formula for easy weight loss. Whatever plan you choose, make sure that it’s good for your long-term health. Even if it takes some time, once you start seeing results, you’ll be glad you made a healthy choice!