The Most Harmful “Fad Diets”

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

Beware of harmful fad dietsObesity is one of the major factors that contribute to various health problems. Being slim and healthy promotes longevity and well-being. However, an insanely thin body being promoted in the name of fashion is compelling people to lose more weight than ever before. In the process, more people are getting attracted to “fad diets” in desperation to cut pounds quickly.

In reality, being extremely thin not only looks painful but is also very harmful. You temporarily lose only water weight at the cost of your health. Your body undergoes high detox with these diets giving rise to unpleasant symptoms and side effects.

What Are Fad Diets?

Fad diets allow you to eat only certain types of food with restricted calorie intake. They promise quick weight loss without any workouts. However, in reality, they are nothing but unbalanced diets as only consumption of few foods is allowed making them unhealthy, harmful and sometimes dangerous. Though these diets claim dramatic weight loss, what you ultimately lose is water weight at the cost of your health. They do not help in any long-term weight loss.

So how do you identify a fad diet? If a diet promises quick weight loss through unbalanced and unhealthy methods then it can be a fad diet. They are mostly targeted for people who are desperate to lose weight quickly or without any workouts. These diets involve extreme food restrictions and are difficult to follow in the long-term. Following these diets can also lead to extreme health complications.

Here are some quick points that can actually help you in identifying a fad diet:

  • Does the diet promise rapid weight loss or swear by its results?
  • Does the diet sound practical and healthy?
  • Does the diet have scientific backups to claim weight loss?
  • Does the diet involve extreme food restrictions?
  • Does the diet provide a list of healthy and unhealthy foods?
  • Does the diet emphasize buying a specific company product?

If your answer is yes to most of these questions, then chances are more than likely that it is actually a fad diet.

Diet And Adrenal Fatigue

Frequently experiencing extreme fatigue along with symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, lower concentration levels, difficulty in waking up, constipation, nervousness, brain fog, palpitations, stubborn weight gain, and a tendency to tremble under pressure can be due to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response protects your body from excess stress.

A nutritious diet plays a significant role in normalizing AFS. A well-balanced diet ensures your body gets all the required nutrition to nourish the adrenals. Stubborn weight gain can be seen in AFS where people often struggle to lose weight and in the process sometimes get attracted to fad diets. But beware, following such diets can have an adverse effect on your adrenal health. Since these diets involve restricted calorie intake, in the end, you might end up feeling more exhausted and worn out.

Your adrenal glands secrete anti-stress hormones to help fight stress. Low-calorie food can impede the normal functioning of the adrenal glands and the end result is wearing them out. With inadequate secretion of anti-stress hormones, your body’s energy level and stress fighting ability will gradually decrease. As a result, you experience high fatigue.

The HPA axis regulates the functioning of multiple systems, including digestion, mood, metabolism, immune, and stress response including energy levels. The pituitary glands, hypothalamus, and the adrenal glands make this axis. Restricted calorie and unbalanced diets can lead to HPA axis dysfunction affecting your NEM stress response and worsening AFS.

Further, fad diets can also cause high detoxification process. As you already have a weak body in AFS, your body is incapable of constantly eliminating the wastes from detox. This can further aggravate AFS symptoms. Hence it is always recommended to keep away from these diets. Instead, mindful eating and following a gentle detox program coupled with moderate exercise under the guidance of an expert can be the best way to lose pounds without causing harm to your health.

Most Harmful Fad Diets To Stay Away From

Let us look into various fad diets which can be harmful to your health:

Master Cleanse

Master Cleanse is also referred to as the lemon cleanse or maple syrup diet. The ten-day diet program only allows for the intake of maple syrup, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper. With such a strict regime, the diet claims to detox the entire body, cure disease, and accelerate weight loss.

Starving yourself for 10 days can be risky. Your body does not receive essential nutrients and vitamins. When your body is deprived of food, you lose a certain amount of weight but at the cost of developing constipation and headaches. People in advanced stages of AFS should stay away from Master Cleanse.

As AFS advances, the body gets weaker. Hence more care needs to be taken while considering any detoxification plan. Since the body is mostly weak during this stage, it is not in a position to eliminate the excess toxins from massive detoxification thus giving rise to various side effects and worsening AFS symptoms. Instead, natural greens such as cilantro and wheatgrass can be used to help detox without disturbing the system.

Grapefruit Diet

The grapefruit is one of the fad dietsAlso known as the Hollywood Diet, it calls for including half a grapefruit or grapefruit juice with each meal and keeping daily caloric intake below 800 calories. Grapefruit contains certain fat burning enzymes which aid weight loss.

Though this weight loss diet might sound promising, there is no scientific evidence to prove it, unfortunately. Moreover, the strict diet regime can turn monotonous increasing your food craving and sliding you back to unhealthy eating.

Restricted calorie diets do not provide your body with the daily recommended nutrition. This hampers efficient secretion of various hormones including adrenal hormones thus increasing adrenal exhaustion. Fruits are high in fructose which can cause a spike in blood sugar levels leaving you fatigued. Hence, those with AFS should be careful when including fruits in their diet.

Sleeping Beauty Diet

This diet dates back to the 1970s. Elvis Presley, The King himself, is believed to have advocated this diet. Your body is fasting when you are asleep. This concept is used in the diet. It encourages sleeping through sedatives for weight loss.

One negative is that sleeping consistently for days puts your body into starvation mode as well as deteriorates the muscles due to lack of movement. It thus gradually pushes your body to high risks – sometimes even to death! Moreover, starvation depletes the body’s nutritional reserves and has a direct impact on your adrenals and therefore worsening adrenal fatigue.

Tapeworm Diet Pills

Though this might sound disgusting, there are people who resort to this diet in desperation to lose weight. This notorious diet involves eating tapeworms directly or taking tapeworm pills. The basic idea behind this diet is that tapeworms secrete certain proteins in your digestive tract which makes your digestive process inefficient. The parasite feeds on the food you ingest. This way you do not gain weight despite eating.

As the parasite in your intestine consumes the food you take, there is considerable weight loss. However, as the parasite grows over time, the feeding interferes with your nutrition – thus leading to malnutrition. The overgrown parasites also cause intestinal blockage. This diet can also cause cysts in the brain, eyes, spinal cord, and liver with lethal consequences. Tapeworm diet pills are both gross and dangerous. Hence this diet is considered illegal (except in Mexico) and banned in the U.S.

Cotton Ball Diet

The cotton ball diet and other fad dietsThis is another crazy fad diet. A fiber rich diet is considered healthy and helps in weight loss. Cotton is rich in fiber and low in calories. It is believed that eating cotton balls can aid weight loss by suppressing your appetite. Cotton balls are soaked in juice and eaten to curb appetite.

In reality, cotton is a fabric and not a food. While swallowing cotton balls can dramatically cut down calorie intake, its side effects include malnutrition and fatal health complications. Cotton is a quick absorbent and can clog your digestive tract leading to complications. Moreover, cotton balls contain harmful bleaching agents and chemicals which can raise the toxin level in your body. If you already have AFS, then you definitely do not want to consider this diet for weight loss.


Okay, after the weird weight loss food tricks, here is finally a trick where you do not have to gulp down any unappealing food. All you need to do is wear specially designed glasses with blue tint lenses. These glasses are designed so that the food seems to look unappealing and you end up eating less.

It is vital to eat consciously. When you eat with a positive feeling, your body secretes hormones crucial for good digestion and great health. Eating is just not a physical phenomenon; it is also connected with the psychological feeling that helps your body with proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. Eating with an unappealing sense can make you feel sick.

Ear Stapling

A surgical tape is stapled at a certain pressure point in the inner cartilage of your ear. This point in your ear is associated with appetite nerve endings that when stimulated curbs the appetite and aids in weight loss. The staple is left intact on your ear for a few months. Along with ear stapling, the person needs to strictly follow a very low-calorie diet.

Though there are reports of weight loss through this method, there is no scientific evidence behind it. The person is required to remove the staple and clean the area regularly to prevent infection. Diabetic patients should avoid ear stapling as they are more prone to infections and find difficulty in healing from wounds. The ear stapling practice does not require any license. Hence, in most cases, the procedure is carried out without adequate precautions which increase the chances of infection and pain.

Diet Patches

These patches contain herbal nutrients that slowly release into the body through the skin. The concept is to provide constant medication for long periods and to reduce appetite.

There is no scientific evidence to prove weight loss through this method. The best way is to follow true weight loss workouts and balanced meals rather than spending money on diet patches.


being cautious with fad dietsFad diets promise dramatic weight loss through the intake of only certain foods and restricted calorie consumption. In the process, your body does not get the daily nutrition intake it needs. Consequently, nutrition reserves of the body gradually deplete which affects normal body functioning. This leads to extreme health complications and sometimes even death.

These diets can cause extreme detoxification which your body sometimes is incapable of handling. With fad diets, your body only loses water weight after facing potentially harmful side effects. People with AFS should especially stay away from such diets and intense detox programs. In AFS, the body is already weak and incapable of consistently excreting waste from severe detox regimes that over time worsen the condition.

Further, strict calorie restrictions can weaken the system and increase adrenal fatigue. The key to effective weight loss is following a practical approach through adopting a healthy lifestyle and eating habits combined with regular workouts.

© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Fad diets involve extreme restrictions on calories and food. Your adrenal glands secrete anti-stress hormones to deal with stress. A nutritious diet is vital for efficient secretion of these hormones. With fad diets, your body stops receiving the required nutrition. This affects the hormonal secretion capacity of the adrenal glands. A decrease in adrenal hormone secretion also causes a decrease in energy level and your body’s ability to fight stress thus increasing adrenal fatigue. These diets can also cause excess detoxification and HPA axis dysfunction worsening AFS symptoms.

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