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The risks of fad diets for your tweens and teens

The risks of fad diets for your tweens and teens
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As parents, we are deeply concerned about the well-being of our tweens and teens, especially when it comes to their dietary choices. It’s essential to recognise the psychology behind restrictive eating and its potential long-term impact on their mental and physical health. By Kath Megaw, Clinical Paediatric Dietitian

Research has shown that dieting, especially in the form of fad diets, can trigger a cascade of disordered eating behaviors in vulnerable individuals. Let’s delve deeper into this issue and explore some popular fad diets, along with potential meal examples, while considering the risks for our children.

The psychology of restrictive eating

Restrictive eating, such as following fad diets, can be alluring due to the promise of quick results and improved self-image. For tweens and teens, who may be more sensitive to societal pressures and body image concerns, these diets may initially seem appealing.

However, when restrictive eating becomes a regular practice, it can lead to disordered eating behaviors, such as unhealthy relationships with food, negative body image, and a preoccupation with weight and appearance. In some cases, this can escalate into serious eating disorders like anorexia or orthorexia, characterized by obsessive and compulsive fixation on “healthy” eating.

Research on dieting and disordered eating

Numerous studies have shown that dieting, especially at a young age, can have harmful consequences. Adolescents who engage in dieting behaviors are more likely to develop eating disorders later in life. The rigid rules and deprivation associated with FAD diets can lead to a cycle of binge eating, guilt, and self-loathing, exacerbating negative feelings towards food and body image.

“Adolescents who engage in dieting behaviors are more likely to develop eating disorders later in life.”

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Vegan, and plant-based diets

These diets focus on eliminating or reducing animal-based foods (meat, poultry, fish, and dairy) and emphasise plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, and nuts.

Potential Benefits:

  • Increased consumption of nutrient-rich plant foods.
  • Lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers.
  • Improved environmental impact due to reduced animal agriculture.

Potential Risks:

  • Potential nutrient deficiencies like vitamin B12, iron, and calcium, especially if not properly planned.
  • Restricted food choices may lead to disordered eating patterns or orthorexia (obsession with healthy eating).

Banting, Keto & low-carb diets

These diets are characterised by a significant reduction in carbohydrate intake and higher fat consumption, with the aim of inducing ketosis, a metabolic state where the body burns fat for energy.

Potential Benefits:

  • Weight loss and reduced appetite due to increased fat and protein intake.
  • Improved blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity in some individuals.

Potential Risks:

  • Limited fiber intake from reduced fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can lead to digestive issues.
  • Ketoacidosis risk, particularly for individuals with certain medical conditions.
  • Potential for disordered eating habits and increased risk of anorexia or orthorexia.

Fruitarian diet

This diet comprises mainly fruits and may include nuts, seeds, and vegetables, while excluding animal-based products and grains.

Potential Benefits:

  • High intake of antioxidants and vitamins from fresh fruits.
  • Potential weight loss due to low-calorie intake.

Potential Risks:

  • Potential nutrient deficiencies, particularly in protein, iron, calcium, and vitamin B12.
  • High sugar intake from fruit can lead to blood sugar fluctuations and dental issues.
  • Disordered eating behaviors may develop due to the restrictive nature of the diet.

Fat-free diet

A diet that aims to eliminate all sources of fat, including healthy fats, from the diet.

Potential Benefits:

  • Potential short-term weight loss due to reduced calorie intake.

Potential Risks:

  • Essential fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) may be lacking, as they require dietary fat for absorption.
  • Fat-free foods often contain added sugars and artificial additives to enhance taste.
  • Negative impacts on brain health and hormone production.


As parents, it’s important to encourage healthy eating habits for our tweens and teens. While some FAD diets may have potential benefits, it’s crucial to be aware of the potential risks they pose, including nutrient deficiencies, disordered eating patterns, and the development of eating disorders like anorexia or orthorexia. The risks of fad diets for your tweens and teens - babyyumyum

Instead, focus on promoting a balanced and varied diet that includes a wide range of nutrient-dense foods, and consult with a registered dietitian or healthcare professional if you have concerns or questions about your child’s dietary choices. Together, we can help our children build a healthy relationship with food and support their overall well-being.

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