Carrying some extra weight has historically been a sign of health and wealth, and weight loss goals are a fairly recent concept. The first popular diet was developed in 1863, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that a new diet was around every corner. The past 100 years have seen countless popular fad diets and eating trends, and these 10 are among the most well-known.
1. Calorie Counting
The first best-selling diet book, “Diet & Health, with Key to the Calories” was based on a principle that’s still popular today: calorie counting. Written by Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters, the 1918 book was geared towards women and featured witty, conversational language, hand drawn doodles, and practical meal ideas.
2. Beverly Hills Diet
The Beverly Hills Diet was one of the biggest fad diets of the ‘80s, and came along with a best-selling book that sold millions. Beginning with a very restrictive fruit-only phase, the plan slowly goes on to allow other foods as long as they’re eaten in the proper combinations. Rules include eating protein and carbohydrates separately, no mixing of fruits, and waiting at least two hours between switching food groups.
Not only is the Beverly Hills Diet very difficult to follow, but it’s criticized by doctors and nutritionists as having no basis for long-term weight loss. An updated version of the diet released in 1996 came with fewer restrictions than the original plan, but it’s still considered a fad diet that makes big claims it can’t back up.
Once the most buzz-worthy eating craze in America, the Atkins diet favors fats and proteins while restricting carbohydrates during different diet phases.
During a time when dietary fat was considered to be the cause of weight gain, Atkins’ idea that carbs were the real problem was a controversial approach. Both 1972’s “Dr Atkins’ Diet Revolution” and the follow-up, “New Diet Revolution”, sold millions of copies and made Atkins a household name.
Atkins can be effective for short-term weight loss measured in weeks and months. But people find it difficult to stay on the diet for long periods, and usually regain weight once Atkins is discontinued. Most medical professionals and dietitians don’t recommend Atkins, citing concerns with reduced fiber intake, potentials for constipation, and problems with low energy.
4. Grapefruit Diet
An old diet that dates back to the 1930s, the grapefruit diet is a very calorie restrictive plan. In addition to eating much less food than usual, a grapefruit (or grapefruit juice) is consumed before every meal with the belief that it contains a fat-burning enzyme.
Significantly restricting calories will cause weight loss, but the fat-blasting power of grapefruit is a proven food myth. One thing grapefruit can do is mess with your medication, so be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist before upping your intake of this citrus fruit.
5. Paleolithic Diet
The paleo diet seeks to recreate human eating habits from before the invention of agriculture. Based on the theory that the human body has evolved very little in the last ten thousand years, the idea is that modern food is responsible for modern ailments like heart disease and diabetes. Processed food is completely forbidden on the paleo diet, along with dairy, grains, beans and legumes. Meats cooked in animal fat, and fruits and vegetables are OK, along with seeds and nuts that may have been gathered by prehistoric people.
One potential problem with the paleo diet is that there isn’t a definitive list or guide for what to eat or how to portion food. This means that you’ll probably have to figure out how much to eat if you’re hoping to lose weight. You’ll also run into contradictions within the paleo community about what is and isn’t allowed. For instance, some paleo dieters eat butter despite it being a dairy product, while others follow the strict rule that if a prehistoric cave dweller didn’t have it, neither should you.
Some studies show paleo diets are effective for weight loss, but whether they translate into lasting results is up for debate. Most studies are relatively short, and the diet can be difficult to maintain. Calcium deficiency and lack of fiber are potential concerns with this diet, meaning supplementation and careful food choices could be required for long-term paleo success.
6. Master Cleanse
Most of us are probably familiar with the Master Cleanse’s surge in popularity after Beyoncé talked about using it in 2006. But this “cleanse” has actually been around since the 1940s. More of a modified fast than a diet, Master Cleanse participants subsist on tea and a lemonade made with maple syrup and cayenne pepper. While it works for quick weight loss, this no-food diet definitely isn’t a healthy solution, and participants end up regaining weight after returning to solid foods.
7. Ketogenic Diet
The biggest craze of the moment, keto diets are another version of low-carb eating that was popular in the past. Its specific goal is to create a state of ketosis, where lack of glucose forces the body to burn stored fats for energy.
Diet adherents go through initial stages of eating very few carbs in order to induce ketosis, which may initially come along with feeling ill (often called the keto flu). Inducing ketosis has been proven as a way to lose weight quickly, but the diet is tough to stick with long-term.
Despite being the latest eating trend, ketogenic diets have been used for decades to help control epileptic seizures. Keto diets are also being researched for their potential to treat other neurologic and metabolic conditions.
8. Cabbage Soup Diet
The cabbage soup diet has come in and out of popularity for decades, but its origins remain a mystery. This fairly straightforward meal plan involves eating as much homemade cabbage soup as you’d like, with a few other low-calorie foods allowed on some days.
Like the master cleanse, significant calorie reduction means you’re likely to lose weight if you stick to it for a week, but gaining the weight back afterwards is inevitable. With its potential to cause serious gas and cramping, the cabbage soup diet seems more likely to have originated as a joke rather than a serious eating strategy.
9. Alkaline Diet
Alkaline diets are based on the theory that eating acid-producing foods has negative health consequences. Large groups of food including meat, dairy, and most grains are cut out of an alkaline eating strategy, leaving you with a mostly plant-based diet behind. Because an alkaline diet excludes large groups of food, sticking to one long-term will require special care to make sure you’re eating enough protein and healthy fats.
Proponents of the alkaline diet make wide health claims, saying it prevents cancer and heart disease while improving bone and muscle health. But the idea that the food we eat can change the pH throughout the body is deemed untrue by scientists. Urine can be more or less acidic depending on what we eat, but the eating an alkaline diet to reduce bladder or urinary cancers is still unproven.
10. Fasting Diets
Fasting has been used for centuries for religious and medical purposes, and fasting diets for weight loss have been gaining mainstream popularity over the last few years. Some incorporate entire days with no food, while the popular 5-2 diet features five days of normal eating and two restricted-calorie days each week.
Animal studies have shown that fasting can increase lifespan and improve heart and brain health. But there’s some worry these diets promote unhealthy eating and bingeing on non-fast days. Although most fasting diets don’t come with strict rules about what to eat, overeating on non-fast days may erase any potential for weight loss.
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Despite millions of Americans dieting each year, health issues linked to poor nutrition continue to rise. Restrictive diets that promise weight loss magic are often too difficult to keep up long term, and end up contributing to years of weight fluctuation.
It’s a good idea to be cautious of diets that promise dramatic health benefits, especially if they come with products and supplements to purchase. Instead, choose weight loss plans that involve making gradual, practical lifestyle changes that will leave you feeling satiated, energized, and motivated to stay healthy.
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