Fitness and Diet Fads That Don’t Work and Just Might Be Dangerous

By Jake Schroeder
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Movie stars are (mostly) not medical doctors, dieticians or fitness experts. Working out to keep those abs slim doesn’t magically infuse people with wisdom. And yet, here we are, in an era when celebs are treated as though they know it all.

Everywhere we look, there are endorsements of crazy new (or old) diets and fitness tips. But most of them have little to no value and rarely any scientific backing to recommend them. So, if you’re looking to lose weight, skip these ridiculous fads that could cause a lot of harm.

Extreme Carb Cutting

Probably one of the most-promoted diets out there is the low-carb diet. And while processed carbohydrates — think pasta, store-bought bread, candy bars and pretzels — are definitely not healthy choices for every meal, carbs themselves aren’t a bad thing. Your body uses carbohydrates to perform a number of functions, including producing energy.

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Low-carb diets sometimes lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, along with gastrointestinal issues. Most healthy carbs like whole grains provide you with fiber that can help you lose weight. If you have a medical condition like diabetes, talk to your doctor about what kinds of carbs you should eat.

Mud Runs and Obstacle Races

Running can be good for weight loss, heart health and overall well-being (save for your joints). And there are loads of races and competitions you can participate in to keep yourself motivated. But one of the fads in recent years involves running through mud and around obstacle courses.

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There are a couple of potential health issues these can cause. First, you’re even more prone to injury thanks to the intensified elements and wet environments of the races. Second, there have been reported bacterial and viral outbreaks, such as E. coli and norovirus, taking place due to the mud and shared equipment.

Extreme Fitness Classes

Trying a healthy fitness plan that challenges your muscles and keeps your heart rate up and your calories burning is one of the better things you can do for your body. But then there’s the extreme fitness fad. Be careful with this; super-intense exercise of any kind has been known to cause a condition known as rhabdomyolysis.

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This happens to people who engage in a new type of activity at an extremely vigorous level — essentially, you’re doing too much too fast, and your body can’t handle it. Spin classes and similar programs are often places where this happens. Complications of this condition are serious. Muscle weakness, loss of consciousness and even permanent kidney damage can occur.


Weight-loss Pills

Many dieters would love to be able to take a pill and magically melt away excess fat without any extra work. But the reality is that weight-loss pills are pretty much a hoax. There are some that may help with a few aspects of weight loss, but that’s about it.

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The reality is that not only do the majority of diet pills not work at all, but many can cause you to develop other health issues. Some damaging side effects of these pills can include high blood pressure, increased heart rate, liver damage, sleeplessness and increased risk of strokes and heart attacks.

YouTube Training Videos

One of the easiest ways to get in a workout at home is to put on a DVD or open up YouTube and search for a fitness-routine video. But the reality is that many of the workouts on these videos — specifically YouTube workouts — can be dangerous. Most YouTubers don’t have the educational credentials to put out safe videos.

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Many people don’t know how to properly perform specific exercises, and doing them incorrectly can cause injury. Plus, a non-tailored workout that doesn’t match your body’s needs might not result in weight loss anyway.

Juice Cleanses

This popular diet trend isn’t 100% off. Juice cleanses do put some vitamins and minerals into your body if you’re not someone who usually consumes fruits and veggies regularly. But the reality is that juice cleanses do little else. The trend claims that juice cleanses remove toxins from your body — despite the fact that you already have several organs that do this, and they don’t need the juice’s help.

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Side effects for any kind of long-term use of these cleanses can include a weakened immune system, decreased fiber intake (which is a major no-no for weight loss) and potential muscle loss. Plus, cleanses can lead some people to binge-eat afterwards, which destroys any benefits of the cleanse.


The Macro Diet

While being aware of the macros — grams of fat, protein and carbs — you ingest isn’t a bad thing, only relying on those numbers to determine what you eat can be problematic. A macro diet doesn’t look at the whole picture of your nutrition and doesn’t focus on what types of foods you’re eating.

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Instead, the diet allows for eating junk food, processed items and various other unhealthy foods as long as they’re within your macro limits for the day. This can all lead to immune system breakdown, decreased energy levels and deficiencies in important vitamins and minerals.

Six-pack Abs

This is a huge trend in the fitness and diet world that’s been around for a long time, off and on. People with rippling stomachs are routinely all the rage in the fitness-modeling world. But the reality is that many people just don’t have the genetic makeup to develop stomachs like this.

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The idea that having six-pack abs somehow equates to health and fitness isn’t very helpful for people who can’t develop them or that "ab crack" made popular by certain celebs and ads. Try to focus on reaching a healthy weight through diet and exercise, knowing that your body doesn’t have to look like the "ideal" to be healthy.

Social Media Fitness and Diet Challenges

One relatively recent trend on social media platforms is all about doing public fitness or diet challenges. The concept is great: Keep each other accountable so that people don’t backslide on their goals or healthy habits.

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But the execution tends to be problematic. The challenges aren’t a one-size-fits-all thing; they don’t and can’t account for medical advice, body differences and personal-health risk factors. Over-exercising, extreme calorie restriction and similar behaviors that can lead to long-term health issues can arise while participating in these challenges.


Drinking “Raw” Water

Some trends are stranger than others, and this is one of the strangest out there. "Raw" water is simply untreated water. There are claims that it’s healthier and full of probiotics and natural substances that provide your body with a host of beneficial health effects, like stronger joints and fewer wrinkles.

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But the reality is that "raw" water can be dangerous in many, or even most, circumstances. It can be contaminated with microbes and parasites, harmful viruses and chemicals that would normally be removed through the treatment process. These can cause anything from diarrhea to abdominal pain — or worse.

The Baby Food Diet

One unusual fad diet that's rumored to have been created by celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson is the baby food diet. It involves eating 14 jars of baby food and only one normal meal per day. While this diet has no written guidelines or records to advertise it, allegedly several Hollywood celebrities have followed it.

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The primary danger of this diet comes from the lack of fiber. Fiber is vital for every adult’s diet because it aids in healthy digestion. Only by having actual, whole-food meals can an adult get the level of fiber that helps their gut and immune system function.

Sauna Suits

Sauna suits, which are made from a variety of waterproof fabrics, allegedly help people lose weight by causing a wearer to sweat more than usual while exercising. In theory, a sauna suit could help increase weight loss by trapping in the heat that exercising causes, making the wearer sweat.

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While wearing this suit may increase water-weight loss due to the extra heat, this fad is dangerous. If a person loses too much sweat too quickly, there’s a greater chance of having an imbalance of electrolytes and risking dehydration or overheating. This can result in some major health issues.


The Cabbage Soup Diet

Both cabbage and soup can be good for your health — if the soup is low enough in sodium. In fact, a good, hearty veggie soup offers a nutritious way to lose weight when it’s full of wholesome ingredients and high-fiber veggies.

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But the cabbage soup diet is a poor choice because, to follow the plan, you just eat as much of the soup — and only the soup — as you want throughout the day. The problem with this, besides the obvious, is a lack of balance. It can lead to nutrient deficiencies, abdominal pain, exhaustion and other digestive issues.

Colon Cleanses

Sometimes you just know that your colon is blocked up and needs some assistance. That’s a specific occasion during which a healthy approach to clearing the tubes may be necessary — and you should discuss it with your doctor first. But using colon cleanses to lose weight is a different thing entirely.

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The cleanse in this respect uses a tube to flush gallons of water into your colon. This can supposedly detoxify your body and prevent health problems. The reality? These cleanses can be dangerous and cause electrolyte imbalances, dehydration and infections.

Getting a Thigh Gap

One positive thing the fitness community has embraced over the past decade is the idea that "healthy is the new skinny." So, instead of expecting men and women to be supermodel-thin, we’re supposed to focus on getting healthy and fit instead. It sounds better, but there are still some unrealistic expectations with this.

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The idealized thigh gap just isn’t realistic for most people, and whether or not you have one comes mostly down to genetics. There’s no reason to do extreme calorie cutting or lose muscle mass in order to achieve it — it’s not a necessity for "being fit."


“Clean” Eating Overindulgence

Cleaning eating sounds like the perfect solution to all the madness that our food world has become. But there’s more to this whole thing than just eating clean. In fact, one of the biggest issues with this fad is the idea that because a food is "clean," you can eat as much of it as you want.

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While you might lose weight in the early months of switching over to non-processed foods simply because your body is getting healthy nutrients, the weight will come back quickly if you don’t eat those veggies in moderation. It’s still important to track calories.

The Grapefruit Diet

Grapefruit is good. It’s loaded with vitamins A and C and has some potassium. But when you design your diet around one food only, even if it’s a good food, you’re opening yourself up to health issues.

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On this diet, you’re supposed to eat nothing except grapefruit for 10 or so days. This is problematic for a number of reasons, including the fact that grapefruits have no protein. Your body might start to respond oddly. You could find yourself exhausted, and the diet won’t work for long-term anything.

Arsenic Diet Pills

Diet fads have been around for a long time, and one that dates back to the 19th century is diet pills. The fad that swept the country back then involved using arsenic pills to try and boost the metabolism similarly to the way amphetamines do.

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The fact that rat poison was being marketed for human consumption is enough proof that industries were unregulated. The dangers of taking these pills were vast and various. Diarrhea, vomiting and other symptoms were incredibly common. Besides dying, it was common for people who took these pills to develop cancer and skin lesions.


Waist Trainers

Waist trainers aren’t exactly new, but they’re experiencing a resurgence in popularity. In the days of yore, people also wore waist trainers — or corsets. Remember Scarlett O’Hara and her 17-inch waist? Corset. The results of using a corset? Broken ribs, damaged internal organs and painful back problems throughout life.

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Now, we have similar bands called waist trainers that can still do permanent damage and only provide temporary benefits. The trainers compress your internal organs together, limit the blood and oxygen flow in your system and can cause atrophy of your core muscles — giving you the opposite effect of a small, taut stomach in the long run.

The Cotton Ball Diet

This is one of the stranger fads out there. The idea is that a person doesn’t eat while doing the cotton ball diet, but rather dips cotton balls into orange juice, smoothies or lemonade. Then, they eat the cotton balls to get some flavor while "feeling full" thanks to the puffs of fluff.

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Not only is this just plain weird, but it’s also dangerous. Cotton balls are made with chemicals that are not designed for human consumption, and they’re often made of polyester, not cotton. The balls can completely obstruct your intestinal tract, which can become life-threatening.

The HCG Diet

HCG is a hormone that a woman’s body produces during pregnancy. And it’s been part of a diet fad for years now. Severely restricting calories and taking HCG is supposed to make you lose weight in a "healthier" way. The reality is, though, that the method is dangerous.

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Instead, it puts your body at risk for severe health issues. Gallstones, irregular heartbeat, fatigue and depression are just some of the symptoms of using this hormone as a weight-loss supplement. And that’s not to mention that you can typically only eat 500 calories a day on the diet. The Mayo Clinic and physicians elsewhere recommend avoiding this ineffective, dangerous attempt to lose weight.


The Blood-type Diet

This is a unique one that sounds like it’s something scientific — but it’s not. The idea behind the diet is that you eat specific foods based on your blood type. The diet concept comes from naturopathic doctor Peter J. D’Adamo.

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On this diet, you eat certain foods and avoid others based on your O, A, B or AB blood type. There’s no real science behind the concept, and according to some folks at the Harvard Medical School, this diet is too restrictive and can have negative health outcomes.

The Fasting Diet

A lot of fad diets try to cash in on ideas that sound good on a superficial level. The logic of this diet is that by fasting you can reduce your calorie intake, which will lead to weight loss. While this could show results initially, it’s not at all sustainable for long-term weight-loss.

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Depriving your body of food can not only cause stress, but it also triggers your metabolism to slow down. Plus, once the fast is over, your body will naturally boost your hunger levels and make you want to overeat to make up for the lost calories.

The Breatharian Diet

Here’s a unique one that’s hard to believe anyone would attempt to follow: the breatharian diet. It’s like being a pescatarian or vegetarian, only you don’t eat fish or veggies. You "eat" air. And that’s it.

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Proponents of this nutty "diet" suggest that drinking water, breathing in air and absorbing sunshine for months on end are all you need for healthy weight loss. Health experts don’t agree with this at all. This kind of "diet" is extremely dangerous and could cause permanent damage to your body.


10,000 Daily Steps

Pretty much anyone who cares about their weight-loss journey or health in general has heard that we should all walk 10,000 steps each day. That’s several miles, which is a pretty decent distance to get in each day. But as it turns out, the 10,000-step goal was an arbitrary number chosen by marketers, not by medical professionals.

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Interestingly, the Japanese kanji character for the number 10,000 looks like a walking man, and the word "pedometer" in Japan means "10,000-step meter." Thus, the trend began. And science has shown that different bodies require different step goals.

The Apple Cider Vinegar Diet

Here’s another popular diet and health trend that just won’t go away. On it, you’re supposed to mix cayenne pepper, honey and apple cider vinegar together and drink it to boost your metabolism, change your health and drop weight without any additional effort.

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And you’re supposed to sip this concoction three times daily before each meal. This is a mixture that can lead to gastrointestinal issues, especially for anyone with irritable bowel syndrome or chronic heartburn. Or anyone who wants to keep their stomach lining intact over the next decade or so.

The Military Diet

This diet has absolutely nothing to do with the military, so the name is a misnomer. Folks looking for a diet plan that’s healthy and useful for building muscles should look elsewhere. This crazy diet allows a random selection of foods, like hot dogs and cottage cheese, for three days.

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Then, you eat whatever you want for the next four days. And repeat. There’s zero medical backing for this way of eating. Instead, pick a plan that doesn’t do random food choices, and go for one that creates a sustainable change you can actually maintain.


The Tapeworm Diet

Here’s another wild one that hopefully you’ve never considered. It involves ingesting tapeworm larvae. The idea originated in the early 1900s and has somehow stuck around. Tapeworms are parasites, and you don’t want parasites in your body.

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Photo Courtesy: CDC/Wikipedia

They live by eating what their hosts eat, preventing their hosts from absorbing nutrients. And this kind of parasite can cause major issues if the larvae move into the blood vessels, eyes, brain and spinal cord. If that happens, headaches, seizures, blindness and paralysis are sometimes followed by death.

The “Sleeping Beauty” Diet

The idea behind this one is that you can’t eat if you’re sleeping. And sleeping is good for the body. So, supposedly, there can’t be anything wrong with this idea. The gist is that you sleep more, which prevents you from spending time eating.

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However, this is pretty crazy. Sleeping more than your body needs isn’t very helpful, especially because the basis of the diet is taking sleep aids and sedatives to get that extra shuteye. Using those pills has adverse effects on your body, as does not eating enough to actually support your body’s needs.

The Carnivore Diet

Here’s an interesting one. Besides eating the obvious — meat — the other approved foods for this diet are dairy, fish and eggs. You can think of this as being the anti-vegan diet.

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The problem with this diet is that it’s completely unbalanced. Besides missing dietary fiber, there’s a significant number of nutrients you won’t get from meat or animal products. Plus, this diet can deprive people of important plant chemicals in vegetables and fruits that can help reduce the risk of cancer.