Fad Diets Through The Decades


We can date fad diets all the way back to the 1800s, and so it seems that one diet or another will always be in vogue. Dieting is similar to fashion in that it’s continuously morphing, and even trends of the past can resurface with a new twist. Every incarnation of the fad diet offers something new and exciting for consumers to buzz about – sometimes that something is worthwhile, and other times it’s completely unfounded – but one way or another, fad diets have always contributed to our perception and understanding of what is considered “healthy”.

In the 1930s, we hailed smoking as a safe and effective way to combat weight gain and ignored mounting evidence about its negative, even deadly, health effects until the 1950s. Looking back, it seems so obvious. Smoking is bad for our health! But the in-vogue fad diet at the time meant that people were actively smoking in order to lose weight.

The 1970S AND 80S

In the 1970s, counting calories became all the rage, irrespective of where the calories were coming from. In the 1980s, low-fat diets were trending, when it was widely publicised that fat contains 9 calories per gram compared to just 4 calories in protein and carbs. Fat, therefore, seemed the most effective way to cut calories and lose weight. The downside that we eventually learned; cutting fat reduces satiety so you feel hungry all the time and are susceptible to binging, fat-free foods are still loaded with calories from sugar, and too little consumption of good fat from foods like olive oil, avocado and nuts increase the risk of heart disease.

These days, we know it’s about having the right kind and the right amount of fat, not about quitting it altogether.


The more recent lemon detox diet was another fad that promoted rapid weight loss. Participants consumed nothing but lemon water with cayenne pepper and a sugary syrup for 10 days.  Sounds terrible, right? And although widely and continuously condemned by health professionals, the lemon detox diet still pops up today, marketed to anyone looking for maximum weight loss in a short period of time.


The most recent diet, and perhaps one of the most influential to have peaked in the last decade, is the paleo diet. Helped by its popularity with celebrities and on social media, the paleo diet resulted from a general movement towards clean eating and requires eating foods based on those similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era. A paleo diet typically includes meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, limiting foods that became common when farming emerged (e.g. dairy products and grains).

Although there are some reasonable benefits to having a Paleo diet, such as eating natural and less processed foods, there is increasing evidence that it’s high fat intake results in negative effects on our heart health.

The vital point we need to take note of is the damaging long-term effects that quick-fix, drastic, or fad diets can do to our bodies.

Rapid weight loss is not sustainable and often leads to yo-yo dieting – where weight is lost and then regained over the years – and you result in carrying more weight than you did at the start. A restrictive diet of any kind is most likely to be lacking in essential nutrients and in most cases, is not sustainable long term. Diets that are endorsed or promoted by celebrities need to be taken with a grain of salt. Celebrities are rarely experts in nutrition, and their diets may work in the short-term, but you’ve got a whole life ahead of you, so you need to be thinking about the long term.

It’s no surprise that when someone wants to lose weight they look for a quick fix.  We wish it was that easy, but there is no magic formula. So, when it comes to weight loss, let’s forget fad diets instead look at the big picture to start changing the habits we know we can sustain long term.