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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Scams


Plate and fork with letters spelling out dietBe wary of fad diets:
How to spot diet fraud and quackery

Written by Linda Rellergert, former Nutrition Specialist; Adapted by Molly Vetter-Smith, former State Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension


Beware of diets that...


  • Claim drastic, rapid weight loss and/or “easy, guaranteed and lasting” weight loss. To prevent re-gaining, weight loss should not exceed one or two pounds per week.
  • Encourage you to eat/drink their product a couple times per day in place of your normal meals. This diet technique often lacks variety and will quickly leave you craving other foods which may cause you to binge. Additionally, these diets can end up costing you a lot of money.
  • Rely heavily on undocumented case histories, before and after photos, and testimonials by “satisfied customers.” Models are often used in photos and the testimony is written by the promoter.
  • Leave out one or more food groups. This is unhealthy and can lead to nutritional deficiencies over time. Additionally, this can cause intense cravings resulting in overeating.
  • Claim to get rid of cellulite. Cellulite has nothing to do with diet so if any product claims to banish cellulite, that should be a red flag.
  • Use products with warnings listed on them. Talk to a health professional before taking any over-the-counter weight loss products.


Rather than fall prey to such shameful products in the elusive hope that this will be “the one” that finally works, stick with the core principles of healthful eating and active living. The 33 million dollar diet industry subsists because consumers get into a cycle of failing one fad diet and then buying into the next fad and so on.


Some surprising don’ts:


  • Don’t starve yourself. If you’re hungry, eat healthy foods that you find satisfying. If you force yourself to eat food you don’t feel like eating, you will most likely end up eating (and possibly overeating) the foods you are craving later.
  • Don’t attempt to be perfect in your food choices. Aim to choose healthier food most of the time. Attempting perfection will set you up for frustration and failure.
  • Don’t let occasional setbacks weaken your commitment to lose weight. Instead, expect them because life throws us curveballs and vow to get back on track the next day.
  • Don’t be on a timeline. Changing lifelong behaviors doesn’t happen overnight. Try to make small changes until they become habit and then introduce new changes.


Improving your diet is only part of the equation. In order to lose weight you need to increase your activity level as well. As with dietary changes, don’t set your fitness goals too high. It’s easy to be overzealous when you’re ready for change, but you don’t want to set yourself up for failure. Make a reasonable goal that you can reach with a little extra effort. For example, add an extra 10 minutes or an extra 50-100 steps to your chosen activity (walking, swimming, running, working in the yard, biking, etc.). Once you accomplish that goal and it becomes part of your routine, you’ll be motivated to set a new goal.


Bonus tip: To give you energy before you go for a walk, run or workout at the gym, eat something with carbohydrates like a piece of fruit or granola bar. This is especially important if you exercise early in the morning before you eat breakfast. It will help you get through your workout and not feel starving afterwards.


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Last update: Monday, January 23, 2017