A Short History of Fad Diets

Written by
8fit Team @ 8fit
Written by
8fit Team @ 8fit
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Society's obsession with weight loss and the quest for the perfect body has created a lucrative industry for diets, quick fixes, and detoxes that promise drastic results, fast. Fad diets, in particular, have made their mark in the last few decades – chances are, you or somebody you know has tried one at some point.   Out of all the fad diets that exist, are any of them actually effective? Or are they all full of hot air? Join us as we examine five well-known fad diets to see if there's any substance, or none at all.

What is a fad diet?

Perhaps you're asking yourself: what's a fad diet, and what makes it different than any other type of diet? Well, it has a lot to do with the word fad. Much like a fashion fad, a fad diet is one that blows up in popularity and becomes hugely popular for a short amount of time. Just like other fads like low-waist jeans, spiky hair with frosted tips and fauxhawks, fad diets tend to come and go, and when they do go, they tend to get replaced by something else. Over the years, the dieting world has seen all kinds of different trends, ranging from the hard-to-believe to the not-so-unlikely. The thing about most fad diets is that they promise a lot, whether it's super fast weight loss, rock-hard abs or appetite regulation. As with so many other things that seem too good to be true, you've got to take some diets with a grain of salt as often they're rarely as valid as they claim.  

Fad diet examples: 5 to look out for

The Atkins diet

Nothing says "early 2000s' diet-craze" quite like the Atkins diet. This low-carb diet is notorious for making us feel terrible about eating bread or the dreaded c-word: carbohydrates. Named after physician Robert Atkins, who spent decades trying to create the perfect diet, this fad diet skyrocketed into popularity after his 2002 book, Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution. Followers of the Atkins diet allow themselves to eat foods with low-glycemic carbohydrate, including vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli, and asparagus. The rest of the diet is based on low-carb high-protein or high-fat foods like meat, cheese, fatty fish, dairy products, and an array of nuts and seeds.   The Atkins diet can indeed bring about rapid weight loss results, but at what cost? Because following a strict low-carb diet is difficult to sustain in the long run, there's a high risk of rebounding if you decide to start incorporating carbs again. And, basing the majority of your diet on animal products high in saturated fat could lead to an increased risk of heart disease and some unfortunate side effects like constipation.

The South Beach Diet

Another fad diet that rose to fame during the early 2000s' Atkins craze was The South Beach Diet. With a glamorous name that conjures up images of the pastel-colored stucco buildings of Miami Beach. This diet, named after the founder's office location in Florida, was created by celebrity doctor Arthur Agatston, who promoted the diet to his patients years before releasing his 2003 book.

Like the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet is also a low-carb diet built around protein and fats. However, there are some distinct differences. For one thing, the South Beach Diet isn't completely carb-free. While carbs from sources like white rice and white bread are forbidden, dieters can still introduce some whole-grains after practicing the diet for a while.

The diet consists of three phases:

  • Phase 1: The first two weeks of the diet, this phase restricts you from eating bread, pasta, fruit, or potatoes.

  • Phase 2: You can begin adding in more carbs, including whole-grain bread, and pasta, sweet potatoes and fruit.

  • Phase 3: This is the maintenance phase when you've already reached your goal weights.

While that's all well and good, the restrictive nature of the first phase of the first part of the diet can cause people to rebound, and the high amount of saturated fat isn't exactly good for you. However, when using unprocessed, whole foods, the second phase of the diet isn't half-bad. If it weren't for the restrictive first phase and some half-truths and unsubstantiated claims in the South Beach Diet book, this fad diet wouldn't be so out of line.

The cabbage soup diet

It may come as no surprise that the premise of this fad diet is based on eating cabbage soup, cabbage soup and more cabbage soup. Started sometime around the 80s, this diet is still going strong, but usually only among people who are looking for a quick fix.

This rapid weight-loss diet isn’t meant to be a complete lifestyle overhaul, but rather supposed to be a short-term solution – most fans of this eating plan use the cabbage soup diet to kick-start a new weight loss program or slim down ahead of a wedding. Just like the name implies, this fad diet consists of a great deal of fat-free cabbage soup, which, eaten throughout the day, is supposed to provide you with most of your daily calories.

Supporters of the diet claim that you can lose up to 10 pounds in just seven days, but while that may be a possibility, the results are usually temporary and many dieters end up gaining most or all of their weight back. The cabbage soup diet is rather low in nutrient density as well as protein, so it’s a good idea to proceed with caution when trying out this fad diet.

Ketogenic diet

Known to many simply as keto, this low-carb diet has been trending for some time now and seems to becoming more and more popular as time goes on. The idea here is to keep your body in a state of ketosis – hence the name – which means that your body is depending on fats for fuel, rather than carbohydrates. Why should you care? Well, according to proponents of this fad diet, it could prevent or help diabetes, cause rapid weight loss and also help with metabolic syndrome.

Usually, ketosis starts after three to four days of following a diet based on less than 50 grams of carbohydrates a day – even though it’s more than some other low-carb diets, it still takes some adjustment.

Be sure to proceed with caution if beginning a ketogenic eating protocol, as it’s still a controversial diet and can sometimes come with unpleasant side effects including headaches, low energy, and constipation. Be sure to speak with a doctor to see if this fad diet is okay for you or if it’s better to avoid.

The lemon detox diet

Also known as the Master Cleanse, the lemon detox diet is extremely restrictive, yet it has been in and out of the limelight for some time now. More of a juice fast than a diet, we included it among our diet fads examples simply because of its very faddy nature.

Initially developed in the 1940s, this fad diet didn't become well-known until the 1970s, when Stanley Burroughs released his book The Master Cleanse. The "diet" consists of drinking a 60 oz mixture of water, lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne, plus a laxative tea at the end of the day. Fans of the detox claim the cleanse can rid the body of toxins, aid in weight loss, clear up skin and provide you with energy.

Sound too good to be true? It is. The lemon detox diet may do more harm than good, because it provides little nutrition, lacks in protein and fatty acids, and can cause the body to go into starvation mode. The fad diet can also lead to dehydration and in extreme cases, cause metabolic acidosis an extremely dangerous condition.

Even though words like "cleanse" and "detox" may paint this fad diet as a healthy, purifying path to follow, the fact of the matter is the scientific community has substantiated nothing about this diet as yet, and results are strictly anecdotal. After the initial loss of water weight, many people who complete the cleanse gain their weight back as soon as they return to a regular eating pattern.

Should you try a fad diet?

We understand that it's tempting to get swept up into a fad diet, especially if you're desperate for a change in your life. There's no shame – we've all been there. It's worthwhile to keep in mind that there are no quick fixes when it comes to getting healthier and feeling better. It's a process and one that will become easier over time.

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Healthy habits can take time to show results, but with dedication and a little patience, the benefits will surely come. Instead of opting for a fad diet, we recommend nourishing your body with whole foods, vegetables, and fruit – treat your body well, learn from mistakes and enjoy the ride!

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