Fad diet red flags

How can you tell which diets and weight-loss programs on the market are safe? There are a number of red flags you can watch out for to help you know which diets or programs might be unhealthy, hurt your performance, or even harm your military career.

Red FlagRed flag #1: Pills, powders, and patches

  • Use caution with any dietary supplement that targets weight loss, fat burning, or suppressing appetite, as they might contain harmful ingredients.
  • Claims about products you wear or put on your body to cause weight loss are generally false.

Instead: Learn more about dietary supplements at Operation Supplement Safety.

Weight loss supplement info Asked & Answered: Weight-loss dietary supplements Find Out More

Red FlagRed flag #2: Non-reputable sources

  • Avoid sources that make claims not backed by a reputable body of science.
  • Blogs, social media sites, and dot-com websites might not be qualified to provide nutrition or health information.

Instead: Look for trusted sites, such as those with addresses that end in .gov, .edu, or .org and are written and reviewed by qualified professionals.

Red FlagRed flag #3: Claims based on questionable information or stories, not science

  • Don’t take one person’s story as scientific evidence.
  • Be wary of terms such as “university tested” or “clinically proven.”

Instead: Focus on facts and comprehensive research—not opinions, questionable statements, or stories.

Red FlagRed flag #4: Miracle cures

  • Promises of dramatic weight loss, “miracle cures” without exercising or watching what you eat, or gaining muscle or increasing your performance overnight are often unreliable and might be unsafe.
  • Not everyone’s health, nutrition, or performance is the same, so be suspicious of universal claims that a program or product “works for everyone” or is “guaranteed to work.”

Instead: Remember it takes time to reach weight-loss, nutrition, health, and performance goals.

Red FlagRed flag #5: Fads and ads

  • Check to see if the website or ad is trying to sell you a product or pay to join a diet or workout program. If so, it’s probably biased.
  • Look out for phony “review” sites that have all positive reviews (“5 stars!”) or general reviews that lack detail (“I lost so much weight quickly!”).

Instead: Focus on websites with information based on facts and not covered in ads or trying to sell you something.

Red FlagRed flag #6: Diets that recommend avoiding entire food groups

  • Restrictive eating plans or programs that don’t provide a variety of foods from different food groups might cause you to miss out on valuable nutrients you need for optimal health and performance.
  • Avoiding certain foods or food groups might not be right for your current training or health conditions. For example, eliminating all carbs might cause your performance to suffer because carbs are your body’s preferred fuel for exercise.

Instead: Follow a well-balanced eating plan to meet your weight and fitness goals.

Red FlagRed flag #7: Simple conclusion, complex science

  • Given the nature of food and people, information about nutrition is complex. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
  • If you read a headline with a bold conclusion, be aware it might be a simple conclusion about a complex scientific question.

Instead: Vet the information and science through reliable sources, including healthcare professionals such as a Registered Dietitian (RD).

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For more information, read HPRC’s “What is a ‘healthy’ weight-loss eating plan, anyway?” and the Federal Trade Commission’s “The Truth Behind Weight Loss Ads.”

Learn more at our “Get into Fighting Weight” guide.


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Dietitians of Canada. (2014). Guidelines for Choosing a Weight Loss Program. Retrieved 21 November 2019 from  https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Weight-Loss/Checklist-for-Choosing-a-Weight-Loss-Program.aspx

Gut check: A reference guide for media on spotting false weight loss claims. (2014). Retrieved 21 November 2019 from https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/gut-check-reference-guide-media-spotting-false-weight-loss