The most popular diet trends over the last 100 years

Paramount PicturesThere have been a number of diet trends throughout the years.
  • Over the years, there have been a number of diets that promise weight loss, increased energy, and so much more.
  • One of the first diets, Fletcherism, encouraged people to chew their food until it turned to a liquid before swallowing it.
  • Weight Watchers, now known as WW, first launched in 1963 and uses a science-backed points system to help people lose weight.
  • The most recent trend is the Mediterranean Diet, which was named the best diet of 2019 by US News and World Report

Over the years, people have been inundated with books and infomercials about diets that lower your weight, increase your energy, get you pregnant, and a number of other promises that can not be guaranteed from food and food alone.

Although one or two of these diets have stood the test of time, many fall into the fad category: they are popular for a minute, but become obsolete the minute they are proven to be ineffective and – in some cases – dangerous.

From elimination plans to juice cleanses, here are some of the most popular diets over the last 100 years.


Fletcherism was the 1900s’ version of juicing.

Tamara Smith / FlickrThe founder, Horace Fletcher, believed the diet helped reduce food intake.

Developed by food and health faddist Horace Fletcher, Fletcherism encouraged people to chew their food until it turned to a liquid before swallowing it. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Fletcher believed this method “precluded overeating, led to better systemic and dental health, helped to reduce food intake.”

Although slower eating has been linked to more mindful consumption and weight maintenance, there is no evidence suggesting a liquid-based diet is healthy.


In 1928, Vilhjalmur Stefansson tried to push people to eat like Inuits of the Arctic.

Master Sgt. Robert Brown/USAFStefansson promoted a high-fat eating pattern, labelling it as the ‘Friendly Arctic Diet’ and ‘Holiday Diet.’

An anthropologist, Stefansson spent two decades exploring the Arctic. The University of Minnesota reports that, as part of his explorations,Stefansson would eat a high-fat diet similar to that of the Inuits. Following his time in the Arctic, Stefansson promoted a high-fat eating pattern, labelling it as the “Friendly Arctic Diet” and “Holiday Diet.”

This diet may have worked especially well for the Inuits. According to a 2015 study published in the journal Science, Arctic people’s genes have adapted in a way that allows them to consume much higher amounts of fat without suffering the typical risks, like increased cholesterol and triglyceride levels.


People were encouraged to pray their weight away in the 1950s.

bunyarit klinsukhon / ShutterstockThe diet was developed by Reverend Charlie Shedd.

In 1957, Reverend Charlie Shedd published “Pray Your Weight Away,” a book that documented his 100-pound weight loss journey. In the book, Shedd attributed his success to gaining self-discipline through the power of prayer.


The Sleeping Beauty diet of the 1960s has resurfaced in recent years.

Sarah Schmalbruch/INSIDERThe Sleeping Beauty diet encourages people to sleep the day away.

Although getting a good night’s sleep can help with weight maintenance and loss, this fad takes it into extreme and dangerous territory.

First mentioned in “Valley of the Dolls,” the Sleeping Beauty diet is a dangerous weight-loss method that encourages the use of sedatives to sleep for up to 20 hours, thus limiting the time you can spend eating. Sites like Broadly and Women’s Health have reported on the resurgence of this diet in the last few years, noting that it is a form of disordered eating.


Founded in 1963, Weight Watchers has stood the test od time.

Tim Boyle/GettyWeight Watchers is so popular that restaurants include point values on their menus.

According to its official website, Weight Watchers started as a small group of friends meeting at founder Jean Nidetch’s home to discuss their weight loss struggles and successes. Today, the program boasts an impressive 1.1 million members, including celebrities like Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Hudson, and Oprah Winfrey.

The program uses a science-backed points system, which emphasises fruits, veggies, and lean protein. Members track their foods and stay within a certain point range, which is assigned based off their needs and goals.

Though the program has made adjustments to keep up with the times, the concept has always remained the same. In fact, according to Fast Company, the program’s flexibility and focus on lifestyle rather than weight has made it one of the most successful “diets” to date.


The Macrobiotic diet first became popular in the 1960s.

Jennifer Polland /Business InsiderThe Macrobiotic diet pushes organic vegetables, grains, and soy products.

Though army doctor Sagen Ishizuka initially founded the principles of the diet, health guru Michio Kushi is credited for bringing the macrobiotic diet to the US, according to the New York Times.

The diet emphasises eating foods free of chemical preservatives, specifically organic whole grains, vegetables, beans, and soy products.


The Grapefruit Diet of 1971 had people eat the citrus at every meal.

Cala / UnsplashThe goal of the Grapefruit Diet is to lose weight fast.

This citrus saw a rise in popularity in the ’70s due to a diet that promised quick weight loss. According to Healthline,the premise of the Grapefruit Diet was to eat a grapefruit with every meal. The thought was that the grapefruit contained a special enzyme that burns fat fast.

Although the diet may lead to weight loss, it isn’t because of the fruit.

Grapefruit has no special properties when it comes to weight loss,” Elisabetta Politi, nutrition manager of the Duke University’s Diet and Fitness Center, tells Health. She adds that the reason people may lose weight on this diet is that they are consuming less calories.


In 1975, Americans were introduced to the Cookie Diet.

ShutterstockLosing weight while eating cookies sounds like the dream.

Created by Dr. Sanford Siegal in 1975, the Cookie Diet required people to snack on low-calorie cookies throughout the day, according to US News. The cookies were reportedly made with a secret “hunger-controlling” formula to keep your appetite at bay and your calorie count in check.

The diet made a resurgence in 2009, according to the New York Times, with celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and Kelly Clarkson giving it a try.


SlimFast launched in 1977, but grew in popularity during the ’90s.

Slimfast/YouTubeSlimFast was especially popular in the ’90s.

The meal-replacement program was wildly popular in the ’90s, but was a weight-loss method long before then. The SlimFast premise is quite simple, according to its official site. Simply “replace any two meals with SlimFast shakes, bars or cookies, enjoy one sensible meal of your choice and three 100-calorie snacks in between.”

Generally, participants are limited to 1,200 calories a day.


In 1978, the Scarsdale Diet had people increasing their protein and decreasing their snacks.

Flickr/Håkan DahlströmThe Scarsdale Diet was conceptualized by Herman Tarnower.

The Scarsdale Diet emphasised protein consumption and banned snacking, according to Healthline. Another rapid weight loss program, critics of the diet said it missed out on important macronutrients and was not sustainable in the long term.


Everyone was consuming cabbage soup in the ’80s.

Cosy Home/ShutterstockThe Cabbage Soup Diet was one of the first cleanses.

The name says it all: you eat nothing but cabbage soup for seven to 10 days. According to Marie Claire, people claim to lose up to 10 pounds on the Cabbage Soup Diet– but not permanently.

“Because the Cabbage Soup Diet has such a low calorie intake and virtually no protein, almost all weight lost on this diet will be water and muscle, not body fat,” personal trainer and fitness coach Scott Laidler tells the publication.


In 1981, the Beverly Hills Diet made its way outside LA.

Cecilia Par / UnsplashThe Beverly Hills Diet was the West Coast equivalent of the Scarsdale Diet.

The Beverly Hills diet was developed by Judy Mazel , a weight loss advocate who had no nutritional certification. According to the New York Times, the 42-day diet centered around eating fruits for the first 10 days, then adding items like bread and proteins like “steak and lobster.”

Unsurprisingly, experts frowned upon this plan.

“This is the most dangerous diet I have ever come across,” endocrinologist Mark Saginor told People in 1981. “Along with the fat loss you can break down a tremendous amount of lean body mass, and you can lose potassium, which is potentially devastating.”


Jenny Craig came to the US in 1985, and offered prepared meals for followers.

Michael Loccisano / GettyJenny Craig ambassador Valerie Bertinelli.

Originally launching in Australia, Jenny Craig made its way to the US in 1985. According to the official website, participants receive a customised menu of pre-made meals and meet with a consultant who offers support and guidance.

Jenny Craig is very popular among celebrities, including Valerie Bertinelli, Queen Latifah, and Mariah Carey.


The Liquid Diet of 1988 is pretty self-explanatory.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty ImagesThe Liquid Diet was made popular by Oprah Winfrey.

The Liquid Diet, also known as Optifast, was made popular thanks Oprah Winfrey. In 1988, the former talk show host stepped on stage wearing a pair of size 10 jeans and pulling a wagon filled with 67 pounds of fat – a representation fo the weight she lost on Optifast.

According to the New York Times, the Liquid Diet prevents participants from eating food. Rather, they consume liquids – and a very low amount at that. Though participants lose weight quickly, they aren’t able to keep it off. The New York Times reported on several studies, which found that participants gain most of the weight back. That was the case for Winfrey, who wrote about the Liquid Diet on her website:

When I started Optifast in July 1988, I was at 212 pounds. By fall, I weighed 145 pounds. Wearing my size 10 jeans, I pulled a wagon full of fat – representing the 67 pounds I’d dropped – onto the stage.

What I didn’t know was that my metabolism was shot. Two weeks after I returned to real food, I was up 10 pounds. Since I wasn’t exercising, there was nothing my body could do but regain the weight.


In the early ’90s, people were encouraged to eat low-fat foods.

ShutterstockLess fat isn’t always better.

In the ’90s, people believed that eating fats made you fat. But, according to NPR, the fat-free era actually made Americans heavier. Why? Well, according to US News, low-fat products often contain more sugar than their full-fat counterparts. Since sugar acts as an appetite stimulant, this makes you eat more.

Unfortunately, people still believe low-fat is the way to go, despite studies that say you need fat to be healthy.


1994’s Ornish Diet emphasised low-fat, high-fibre foods.

Teri Virbickis/ ShutterstockThe Ornish Diet capitalised on the low-fat trend.

Dr. Dean Ornish convinced people to try his diet by telling them they could, “eat whatever you want, whenever you want it, and however much of it you want.” As the New York Times pointed out in 1994, however, the food on the Ornish diet must be low in fat and high in fibre. Specifically, less than 10% of calories consumed can come from fat.

This is a problem because, well, your body needs fat to survive. According to SELF, you need fat to maintain your body temperature and insulate your organs.


The purpose of 1995’s Zone Diet is to reduce inflammation and improve overall health.

Jonathan Leibson/Getty ImagesJennifer Aniston is a follower of the Zone Diet.

Created by Dr. Barry Sears, the Zone Diet is meant to reduce inflammation which, in theory, should reduce the risk of developing chronic illnesses like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and heart disease.

The diet encourages people to eat in a 40-30-30 principal: 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% fat.


The Blood Type Diet of 1996 has since been debunked and found to deprive people of nutrients.

Flickr/ec-jprA lab test for blood type.

According to VeryWell, the Blood Type Diet was developed by Peter D’Adamo, a naturopathic physician. D’Admo theorised that eating for your blood type would allow you to digest food with greater efficiency, lose weight, and enhance your overall health.

But, as Science Daily notes, several studies have since debunked the Blood Type Diet and found that is actually deprived people of various nutrients.


The Subway Diet swept the nation in the early 2000s.

Subway on FacebookDiners at a Subway.

This meal plan has an interesting backstory. According to the chain’s official website, the Subway Diet was created by Jared Fogle in 1999 when the then 22-year-old replaced two of his high calorie meals with low-fat sandwiches from the restaurant.

Fogle lost 245 pounds in the first 11 months on the Subway Diet. He eventually incorporated exercise into his daily routine, which helped him shed more weight. This weight loss eventually led to Fogle becoming a spokesperson for Subway, though he was eventually dropped when he was charged with – and pleaded guilty to – owning child pornography.

The diet has never been supported by dietitians or even Subway itself.

“We don’t expect people to eat all Subway,” Subway’s corporate dietitian, Lanette Kovachi previously told Business Insider. “We want people to have a balanced diet.”


The Atkins Diet, made popular in 2003, was another high-fat, low-carb eating plan.

Justin Sullivan / StaffOne of many Atkins-based books.

Although it was first conceptualized in the 1960s, the Atkins Diet didn’t become mainstream until 2003 when, according to the official site, Dr. Robert C. Atkins published “Atkins for Life.” The diet, as many know, was a high-fat, low-carb eating plan. It involved phases where you slowly introduced carbs back into your life, though never exceeding 20 grams of carbohydrates a day.

Although many people lost weight on the plan, it did come with some downsides. Several studies found that the Atkins Diet could affect your mood, impact your kidneys, and even causes ketosis, a condition in which your body breaks down fat for energy due to lack of sugar, according to Mayo Clinic.


The South Beach Diet was similar to the Atkins diet, but allowed for some carb consumption.

Michael Buckner / StaffThe creator of the South Beach Diet, Dr. Arthur Agatston.

Cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston introduced the South Beach Diet – named after a poplar Miami spot – in 2003. According to the official site, the high-protein, low-carb diet began as a solution to “quick fix diets” that left people hungry: particularly, Atkins.

Thought critics have found this to be a sustainable diet, Health reports that the South Beach Diet encourages consumption processed vegetable oils, which could pose health risks.


Many celebrities were trying the Master Cleanse in 2006.

Kevin Winter/Getty ImagesBeyoncé followed and advocated for the Master Cleanse.

The Master Cleanse, aka the Lemonade Diet, requires participants to drink a cocktail of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, cayenne pepper, maple syrup, and water for every meal … for 10 days straight. Although it was first developed by “nutrition guru” Stanley Burroughs in the 1940s, it saw a rise in popularity after Beyoncé went on the Master Cleanse to lose weight for “Dreamgirls.”

And she did lose weight because, as experts were quick to point out, she was essentially not eating.

“Of course you’re going to lose weight – you’re starving yourself,” nutritionist Joy Bauer told the New York Times in 2006. “People want a quick fix and they want to be thin so badly that they’re vulnerable and open to almost anything.”

Bauer isn’t the only expert to call BS on this detox diet.Scientist have debunked the Master Cleanse over the last few years, and had some help when Burroughs was convicted for practicing medicine without a licence … twice.


In 2007, people followed the Raw Food Diet in hopes of getting the most nutrients from their produce.

tonefotograpfia/ShutterstockPeople who follow the raw food diet are known as ‘raw foodists.’

Emerging onto the scene in 2007, the Raw Food Diet is exactly what it sounds like: eating only, or mostly, uncooked foods. According to NPR, raw foodists believe that food loses its nutrient content and “life force” when it’s cooked over 112 degrees.

There are several variations of the Raw Food Diet, according to Healthline, and, although it does limit the intake of process food, it can be very restrictive.


The Dukan Diet made its way to the US in 2007, and was ranked the worst diet of 2018.

Bartosz Luczak/ iStockLike many diets before it, the Dukan Diet pushed protein over other nutrients.

Named for its creator Pierre Dukan, the Dukan Diet calls for a high intake of protein and minimal carbohydrates in an effort to shed weight. The diet, which Kate Middleton is rumoured to have followed, is broken into four phases, starting with all-you-can-eat portions of certain high-protein foods.

In January, the US News & World Report released its annual expert ranking of diets and the Dukan Diet was ranked the worst for being “too restrictive” and lacking evidence of success.


In 2008, NutriSystem became the trendy meal plan program.

jeepersmedia/FlickrNutriSystem weight-loss kits.

Although it was founded in the 1970s, NutriSystem saw a revival in 2008 after a new CEO took over, according to Forbes. Similar to Jenny Craig, NutriSystem is a customised weight-loss program where you receive various meals and snacks.


2009’s Fertility Diet promised to help women get pregnant.

In 2009, Drs. Jorge Chavarro, Walter C. Willett, Patrick J. Skerrett released a book with one simple goal: help women get pregnant through their diet. The book, “The Fertility Diet,” utilised research from the Nurses’ Health Study to create 10 diet principals that would help women conceive. According to Harvard Health Publishing, some of those principals included eating more soy and avoiding fats.


The Special K Diet was all the rage in 2009.

TheImpulsiveBuy / FlickrSpecial K cereal was a key part of the diet.

Cereal is delicious, but can you make a diet out of it? That’s what Kellogg’s tried to do with the Special K Challenge – a diet where you replaced breakfast and lunch with Special K cereal or bars.

The company no longer promotes the program, with Kellogg’s CEO John Bryant saying in a 2015 conference call that the diet was, “basically asking people to deprive themselves where they have less calories.”


In 2010, people were following Apple Cider Vinegar Diet to help with digestion.

Kristin Salaky / INSIDERThe Apple Cider Vinegar Diet has mixed reviews.

Did someone say shots? In 2010, health-conscious people were convinced that taking a shot of apple cider vinegar every morning would suppress appetite, improve digestion, and aid with acid reflux. Studies on the diet, however, have produced mixed reviews.

A 2014 review found no evidence of apple cider vinegar affecting metabolism. A 2016 study, however, showed that it could improve satiation, cholesterol, and blood sugar.

For what it’s worth, INSIDER tested the Apple Cider Vinegar Diet and found it had no affect on hunger levels or digestion.


Yes, the Baby Food Diet was a thing in 2010.

sixninepixels/ShutterstockEven babies don’t like the stuff — so why would adults?

Baby food is conveniently portioned, making it the ideal snack for people watching their caloric intake. Or, at least, that’s the thought behind the Baby Food Diet, a meal plan in which you replace real food with its pureed counterpart.

Although this diet ensures you eat your fruits and vegetables, Everyday Health noted that it lacks the fibre, fat, and protein required to keep you full and functioning.


2011’s Duke Diet focussed on hunger cues rather than eating habits.

ShutterstockThe Duke Diet encourages you to indulge.

This “diet” is more about how you think than what you put into your body. According to Everyday Health, the Duke Diet emphasises listening to hunger cues, finding your motivation, and not beating yourself up if you indulge. Essentially, it’s the baseline for intuitive eating.


Juicing became a popular trend in 2012, but have been known to drastically restrict calorie consumption

Paco CT/flickrThe juice trend spawned a number of specialty shops.

Why eat your food when you can drink it? Although juice cleanses have been around for years, they saw a rise in popularity in 2012 thanks to the convenience of shops like Juice Press, Juice Generation, and the like.

Although some people took this as an opportunity to grab something green for an afternoon snack, others saw it as a chance to detox with a juice cleanse – a day- or week-long program where you swapped your meals for various juices.

Most doctors, however, advise against doing juice cleanses – even for a day. As US News reports, juice cleanses severely restrict calorie consumption and deprive participants of protein.


With the rise of Celiac disease, people gave gluten-free eating a try in 2013.

@joefoodie / FlickrToo many people confuse gluten-free with carb-free.

For the 1% of the population that has Celiac’s disease, going gluten-free is not a weight-loss method: it’s a way of life that keeps their intestinal tract in check.

As more people were diagnosed with Celiac’s disease, more gluten-free products became available in grocery stores. And, because gluten is most commonly found in bread, pasta, and other carbohydrates – i.e. foods that have been deemed “bad” – people assumed going glute-free was a way to lose weight.

These people couldn’t be more wrong. According to Health, many gluten-free products have just as many calories as their gluten counterpart.


2014’s Paleo Diet limited followers to vegetables, meats, seafood, and nuts.

Flickr / theilrNuts are encouraged on the Paleo Diet.

According to Health, the Paleo diet follows the food guidelines of the cavemen – mainly fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, and nuts. But if the diet is, essentially, as old as time, why did it take so long to become a trend?

Well, as humans have developed, so have more diseases. The New Yorker reports that people thought they could ward off diseases by returning to the original way of life. Or, at least, the original foods.


People first took note of Whole 30 in 2015, and it has risen in popularity since.

Whole 30The Whole 30 made it’s first appearance in 2009.

According to the official website, Whole 30 advocates “clean” eating: In other words, no added sugars, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, and additives. Although the program has been around since 2009, it didn’t become widely popular until the release of “The Whole30” in 2015.

Although experts say the concept of eliminating or limiting foods that increase hunger and cravings is good, they say the time frame is flawed.

In an interview with TIME, Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital, said “30 days isn’t enough time to turn off systemic inflammation.” Additionally, Fasano said that the restrictions are very generic, and not everyone will benefit from them.


2016 saw people attempting the Goop Detox Diet

When Gwyneth Paltrow sees a trend, she capitalises on it. Such is the case with the GOOP Cleanse which, according to the website, is meant to clean up the menu, re-set the palate, and give your guts a break.

Again, the concept of eating less processed foods is great. But a cleanse that consists of teas and smoothies, like the GOOPCleanse, is not sustainable. One thing the GOOP Cleanse has going for it is that it incorporates proteins like salmon, chicken, and almond butter.


The keto diet was one of the most popular diets of 2018.

ShutterstockKeto has been known to help people get fuller faster, lower blood sugar levels, and lose weight.

You couldn’t get through a conversation about health this past year without taking about keto. Originally developed back in the 1920s as a way to treat epilepsy, the high-fat, low-carb diet rose in popularity over the last year for its potential help people burn fat instead of carbs. It has also been known to help people get fuller faster, lower blood sugar levels, and lose weight.

There are some downsides to the keto diet, including muscle loss, dehydration, and nutrient- deprivation.

If you are considering this diet in 2019, it’s important to read up on how to prepare for keto and keto-friendly swaps that can make the eating plan easier.


The Mediterranean Diet has already been deemed the best diet of 2019, but it’s been around for a while.

Wikimedia CommonsThe Mediterranean diet is praised as one of the healthiest eating plans.

Inspired by the general eating principles of countries that border the Mediterranean sea, the diet encourages the consumption of fruits, vegetables, fish, and heart-healthy fats.

Though the Mediterranean Diet is rooted in ancient civilisation, it became more of a global eating style in 2013 and was named the best diet of 2019 by US News and World Report. It makes sense, considering the diet has been shown to help with weight loss, heart health, and diabetes prevention.

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