How to tell if a diet plan or weight loss drink is legitimate

Clara V.
Clara V.Published on

For many Australians, January is a time to reset, plan out goals, and envision what they want for themselves in the coming year. For many, dieting, weight loss, and being overall “healthier” is an important goal.

With brands inundating consumers with diet-related advertising, it’s not hard to see why there’s also a lot of misinformation floating around. Ads for diets, miracle weight loss pills, and flat tummy teas (endorsed by your favourite celebrity or influencer) are everywhere, so it’s important to know how to spot a fad diet plan or product, so that you know how to go about your health goals in a healthy way.

Someone holding two plates of garden salad.

Signs that a diet plan or product will actually work

1. The diet program promotes health over weight loss.

Even if your goal is weight loss, your health should be a priority. A good, sustainable, and effective diet program will promote healthy habits, like getting adequate sleep, trying to lower stress levels, and doing enough exercise. You may lose weight quickly on a fad diet plan, but if you don’t make these changes a part of your lifestyle going forward, then you’ll likely gain that weight back.

2. There are positive reviews of the diet plan or product from people who have been off the diet or have stopped using the product for a while.

If a diet program or product has reviews online, look for reviews from customers who have been off the diet or product for a while. This will help you figure out whether or not the plan or product has promoted sustainable weight loss.

Read reviews of diet and weight loss programs (or read reviews of diet and weight loss products such as weight loss shakes or supplements) to see for yourself what consumers have had to say.

3. The diet excites you.

Generally speaking, a program should make you excited to start it, rather than dread it. Will the diet help you discover new types of food and follow different recipes? Does it encourage healthy portions (i.e. make sure that you’re eating enough and aren’t left hungry after each meal)?

Not only will a meal plan that’s interesting to follow leave you feeling overall happier, but it’s more sustainable to follow long term, and is more likely to help you achieve the results you want. Meal replacement shakes for weight loss, for example, may be doable for a few days, but will probably get boring after a week or so.

How to spot a fad diet plan, weight loss drink or supplement

A fad diet is an eating plan that is unhealthy and usually promotes quick weight loss. Not all diets work, and some fad diets can be harmful to your health. Following a fad diet can cause a slower metabolism, food cravings, headaches, fatigue, eating disorders, and more.

Here are some warning signs of a fad diet or product.

1. The diet recommends you avoid entire food groups.

Excluding entire food groups from your diet can cause you to be more susceptible to nutrient deficiencies. Even carbs, a food group that’s often demonised by fad diet plans, have an important role to play in a healthy diet, providing the body with glucose (which is converted to energy) and fibre (which is important for digestive and heart health, among other things). Conversely, diet plans that focus on certain foods are usually fad diets.

A good plan should include a variety of foods from all the major food groups. It shouldn’t rely on large amounts of vitamins or supplements, as your diet should include all the nutrients you need.

2. The diet or product isn’t backed up by credible scientific evidence.

There should be credible research and science to back up the diet program or product. Check whether it’s backed by doctors and registered dietitians; if the “experts” who promote the diet or product are paid influencers, then that’s a huge red flag. If the claims that a diet make are based on a single study, then that’s also a red flag.

It can be pretty difficult to figure out whether a diet is grounded in scientific evidence, so if you’ve looked into one and are still unsure, discuss it with a healthcare professional.

A flat lay of fresh vegetables (including kale, avocados, tomatoes, and chillis) coming out of two paper bags.

3. The diet or product promises fast, dramatic results.

Everyone’s body is different, and reacts differently to different diets. Put two people on the same diet and they won’t experience the same results; the results may even be drastically different.

If a diet or weight loss program makes promises regarding your results and sets a time frame that you’ll achieve these results within, this is likely a marketing gimmick. This is particularly the case if they tout quick weight loss without supervision by a dietician or doctor.

Things like genetics, stress, other medication, exercise and activity levels, finances, and environmental factors can affect an individual’s weight loss. Diet programs that claim to be able to bypass these factors are knowingly being dishonest.

If it’s too good to be true, it usually is - especially if it claims to have a one-size-fits-all approach.

4. The diet or product claims that you’ll achieve results with little to no effort required.

Physical - and even mental - changes more than often require some level of effort and commitment. If your goal is healthy and sustainable weight loss, then you’ll have to make sometimes significant lifestyle changes, such as changes to your diet and exercise routine. Old habits die hard, so these changes are rarely easy.

A diet plan that is advertised as being able to help you shed kilos without making any other changes to other aspects of your life is likely misleading. Take care to check the fine print of the weight loss program or product to see whether it says it’s more effective when used in conjunction with a diet or exercise regime - this is usually the case.

5. The diet or product promises spot reduction.

Spot reduction is the idea that you can reduce fat in a specific body part. It’s fairly common, for example, to see diet shakes that claim to get rid of stomach fat. Current research, however, says that spot reduction is a myth, so take these claims with a grain of salt.

The bottom line

It's difficult to look past the slogans and see a diet product or program for what it really is. Promises of quick results, "detox" language, and lack of scientific evidence are obvious red flags, but you should do your own research and discuss potential diets with your doctor.

For more information on what to look for in a diet program, read our Diet & Weight Loss Programs Buying Guide. The guide goes through the types of diet programs out there, how to consider your own personal health and lifestyle, what a good diet should do, and more.

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