Teens and Fad Diets

Teens and fad diets can be a bad combination. Sometimes teens who want to lose weight will be tempted to try fad diets. Because teens' bodies are still developing, however, fad diets can be harmful to teens. Teens and their parents should learn how to spot and avoid fad diets.


Teens are often interested in trying fad diets. Fad diets may promise teens fast results, but they often restrict what teens are allowed to eat or require special diet supplements. Teens are still growing and developing, so the restrictions placed on their eating habits by fad diets can be harmful to their health. Teens on fad diets restrict what nutrients they get, which can cause malnutrition, short and long term health problems, and cravings for less healthy foods.

Another problem with teens and fad diets is that they often don't deliver on their promises, leaving teens feeling depressed or angry with themselves because they were not able to lose weight as promised. This can lead to lower self esteem and even eating disorders. Teens who do lose weight with fad diets usually put it back on within a year, sometimes even gaining extra weight. This is because the only real way to lose weight is to make lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.

Teens and their parents should be on the lookout for the dangers teens and fad diets, so they can avoid them. Some of the signs to look for include:

  • The fad diet promises fast, dramatic results. Healthy weight loss is usually one or two pounds a week, so if a diet is promising much more than this, the teen may be losing water weight or muscle mass instead, both of which decrease a teens' overall health and usually result in weight gain over the long term.
  • The fad diet claims that teens can lose weight without any exercise. Exercise is an important part of being healthy and keeping weight off.
  • The fad diet is short term, meaning the teen only has to do it for a month or two. Maintaining a healthy weight requires life long changes. A temporary diet will result in temporary weight loss.
  • The fad diet is very restrictive, forbidding some types of foods and only allowing a teen to eat very specific foods. This kind of diet can cause health problems like anemia or osteoporosis, and is also very hard to follow.
  • The fad diet requires special supplements. These supplements are often a waste of money, do not result in long-term weight loss, and may even be dangerous.
  • The fad diet involves skipping meals. It is healthier to eat small, healthy meals throughout the day, and to have breakfast. This helps a teen feel full and avoid unhealthy snacks.

If teens have any questions about if a diet is a fad diet or a healthy way to lose weight, they can make sure the diet is healthy and provides them with what their body needs:

  • Plenty of whole grains
  • Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably at every meal
  • Low fat sources of protein like beans, lentils, nuts, non fat or low fat dairy, and lean meats and fish
  • Some sources of fat, especially the plant-based fats like olive oil, nuts or seeds, or avocado, or fat from low-mercury fish like tuna or salmon
  • A limited amount of refined white flour, sugar, and salt, including an occasional treat like having a small ice cream cone with friends
  • A variety of types of foods
  • Reasonable portion sizes - enough to feel full, but not necessarily, for instance, as much food as a restaurant may offer
  • A healthy number of calories, as recommended by a doctor
  • Water for weight loss? Drink enough water, but not excessive water - usually between 4 and 8 glasses a day is the right amount
  • Physical activity for at least 30 minutes most days

Some types of diets that are part of a lifestyle choice, like being vegetarian or vegan, can be healthy for teens if they talk to a doctor or dietician to make sure they are getting all the nutrients their body needs. If teens are concerned about their weight loss efforts, talking to a doctor is also a good way to evaluate their health and determine their nutritional needs. By learning to eat a healthy diet and make physical activity a part of their routine, teens can avoid fad diets and make healthy choices that will help them lose weight and keep it off.

Sources:

Nemours, TeensHealth, "The Deal with Diets," and "5 Ways to Spot a Fad Diet" [online]

Children's Hospital Boston, Center for Young Women's Health, "Fad Diets vs. Healthy Weight Management: A Guide for Teens" [online]

Livestrong.com, "Facts on Fad Diets' Effects on Teens" [online]

U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus, "Diets" [online]

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