Diet-to-Go Blog
  1. 100 Years of Weight Loss: A History of Fad Diets and Healthy Eating

    We live in a day when the word “diet” is a 4-letter word. While for any other animal on the planet a diet is what they eat, for humans, somehow, it's much more about what we don't eat, usually in an effort to lose weight!

    In the last decade, the weight loss industry has slowly but surely shifted its focus to overall health and wellness, strength training and getting fit, rather than simply losing weight and being thin.

    It’s a good shift, too, as it focuses more on being comfortable in your own skin, and less on trying to reach unattainable goals of what beauty is supposed to look like set by Hollywood and magazine models POST-Photoshop.

    But dieting has a long, strong history dating back hundreds of years. From the cigarette and liquid diets, to weight-loss pills, low carb, and everything in between, the history of diets is a rich one that sometimes focused on overall wellness, often times was a knee-jerk response that failed to deliver long-term results, and a few times was even downright dangerous.

    1917 — Sugar: An Essential Nutrient

    In the book “How to Select Foods” (published March 1917), authors Caroline Hunt and Helen Atwater encourage families to purchase sugar as “essential fuel for the body” and to “add flavor to food.” (Side note, that same book recommended eating lots of bread, cereal, lard, meat drippings, and serving the kids lots of, yeah…)

    Take it or leave it?

    Leave it. Today we know that although moderate amounts of sugar are okay (6-8 teaspoons per day, on average), it’s best to avoid consuming high amounts of sugar as it can lead to weight gain, high cholesterol and other health issues.

    1925 — The Lucky Strike Diet

    The Lucky Strike cigarette company launched an advertising campaign with the tagline “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” The company touted the supposed appetite-suppressing effects of cigarettes. Yikes.

    Take it or leave it?

    Leave it. Obviously we know today that smoking cigarettes causes more than 480,000 deaths per year and is linked to several diseases, most notably lung cancer, upper respiratory diseases and even heart disease and stroke. No bueno.

    1930s — Grapefruit Diet

    In the 1930s, the idea of being thin and losing weight was really starting to take hold. Out of the madness came the Grapefruit Diet, which touted the fruit’s fat-burning enzymes as a way to shed pounds rapidly. The diet (also called the Hollywood Diet) called for eating a grapefruit with every tiny, low-calorie meal.

    Take it or leave it?

    Leave it. The Grapefruit Diet also encourages extremely low calorie intake (800-1,000) a day, which is not only unsustainable, but can be dangerous. (A side note here: There’s nothing wrong with eating grapefruit as a way to meet fruits/veggies nutritional needs, as long as it’s part of a healthy, balanced diet.

    1940s — Food rationing and at-home gardens

    After the start of World War II in 1939, food became more scarce. The government enacted food rationing in 1942 to distribute supplies evenly. That meant families had to make do with less, and many planted “Victory Gardens” to grow their own vegetables and fruits at home.

    Take it or leave it?

    Take it. The FDA recommends eating five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, so having an at-home garden is a great way to ensure you’re meeting those guidelines. Fruits and veggies are packed with vitamins that boost your energy and fill you up — and without those pesky high calorie counts. And some would argue that eating less, and growing more greens at home is good for the planet too. 

    1947 — The rise of frozen foods

    While canned and convenience foods started gaining popularity during World War I, the end of food rationing in 1947 meant these foods started hitting grocery stores en-masse. This was especially true for frozen foods, which had been largely utilized to feed soldiers. Old manufacturing facilities that had produced frozen foods for the battlefield had plenty leftover, so they began selling them to grocers. Now, there’s hardly a grocery store in the country that doesn’t have a whole section devoted to frozen foods.

    Take it or leave it?

    Both. Frozen foods have gotten a bad wrap, but ultimately most nutritionists agree frozen foods only lose a small portion of their nutrients and can still meet your needs (and then some). It’s good to mix them with fresh foods, too, to ensure you’re eating a fully balanced diet. Like the old saying goes — everything in moderation.

    1950s — Cabbage Soup Diet

    No one really knows where this idea came from, but it first went mainstream in the 1950s when some celebrities said they did it to shed huge amounts of weight in a very short period of time. The diet basically calls for stuffing yourself with vegetables only (like cabbage soup) and some fruits for seven days straight to lose 10 or more pounds. The diet also calls for throwing some steak and a baked potato in there on a few of the days.

    Take it or leave it?

    Leave it. As nutritionists will tell you, it’s darn near impossible to lose 10 pounds of fat in a week. Most of the weight this diet takes off is water weight, and it’s hardly sustainable long term. Plus, the calorie-counts consumed are very, very low, which is unhealthy and can lead to loss of energy and brain function. No thank you.

    1954 — TV Dinners

    1954 was a big year for the U.S. It was the year “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. It was the year Elvis Presley released his first single, “That’s All Right.” It was the first time Miss America was broadcast on TV. It was also the year that more and more Americans began buying up TV dinners (think Swanson, for example, which first hit the shelves in 1953). TV Dinners were all the rage because families in the 50s often spent their evenings parked in front of the TV.

    Take it or leave it?

    Leave it. TV Dinners were the very first form of convenience eating for busy families. The only problem is that, these days, most of them lack decent nutrition and are packed with additives like sodium and preservatives. Again, it’s okay to have those things in moderation, but the last thing you want is to make TV Dinners the number one staple in your diet.

    1955 — Tapeworm Diet

    Ah, the Tapeworm Diet. The idea that you can swallow a tapeworm egg, which will subsequently hatch and ingest a portion of your calories for you has been around since the early 1800s (maybe even earlier). Then, in the mid-1950s, rumors flew that opera singer Maria Callas shed 65 pounds using it, and the fad was off and running again. Now, are people really ingesting tapeworms at massive rates? Who knows. Besides a one-off case here and there, there’s been no concrete evidence saying so, although there are a host of online forums dedicated to the concept.

    Take it or leave it?

    Leave it. Kinda seems like a no-brainer on this one, but we’ll say it anyway: Swallowing a live animal in the hopes it will take in half your calories so you can eat whatever you want is not just silly, it’s downright dangerous.

    1963 — Weight Watchers

    It was 1963, and New Yorker Jean Nidetch was trying yet another fad diet to lose weight. As the story goes, she had lost 20 pounds, but was feeling her resolve weakening, and so founded a support group with her other overweight friends. The group developed into weekly classes, she incorporated it in 1963, and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, Weight Watchers International is in 30 countries and operates under a core philosophy of eating smarter, exercising and support.

    Take it or leave it?

    Take it. Weight Watchers’ approach to dieting is well-rounded, encouraging mostly healthy eating, some “cheats,” exercise and support. It is also in line with Diet-to-Go’s philosophy, which is all about common sense healthy eating, with everything in moderation.

    1970 — Sleeping Beauty Diet

    When you’re sleeping, you ain’t eating. That’s the core ideology around the Sleeping Beauty Diet, which encourages people to take sedatives to help them sleep more (sometimes up to 18 hours a day) to avoid consuming extra calories. The diet’s been around for awhile, but went mainstream in 1970 after Elvis reportedly tried it. (Thank you, thank you very much … but we’re guessing that rumor is a bit of a stretch).

    Take it or leave it?

    Leave it. A fairytale indeed, the Sleeping Beauty Diet is largely the stuff of fantasy. We’re literally talking about sleeping your life away ... just so you can be thin. Experts say extreme versions of this diet can even result in death.

    1975 — The Cookie Diet

    Who doesn’t want to eat cookies and lose weight, right? It was that principle that inspired Florida doctor Sanford Siegal to create the Cookie Diet, which calls for some meal replacements of a specially formulated cookie.

    Take it or leave it?

    Leave it. While it’s likely you’ll lose weight as this diet is calorie-restricted, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to sustain it long term. That’s because you really are eating cookies several times a day, and too much of the same will quickly lead to diet boredom.

    1977 — SlimFast founded

    “A shake for breakfast. A shake for lunch. Then a sensible dinner.” So goes the mantra SlimFast pushed for more than 20 years. Thompson Medical Company founded SlimFast as a product line in 1977, until it went private in 1987 and from there went through a series of acquisitions. Today, the company continues to sell its protein and meal shakes in stores and online.

    Take it or leave it?

    Both. If you like the taste, SlimFast shakes and snacks are a fine addition to a well-rounded diet plan, as long as they’re not the only addition. Drinking one now and again when you’re in hurry for breakfast is fine, but count it like you would any other meal, based on its calorie and nutritional content. Drinking SlimFast shakes alone is unlikely to result in sustainable, long-term weight loss.

    1979 — Rise of Weight-Loss Pills

    When Thompson Medical Company wasn’t busy promoting its SlimFast product, it was working on its 1979 launch of Dexatrim, a product promising weight loss with just the swallow of a pill. The pill followed a long line of products reaching back to the 1800s for the treatment of “obesity,” (most of which resulted in severe medical disorders and sometimes death), but was one of the first to be marketed on a grand, national scale. Dexatrim, like many weight-loss pills, claims to help control appetites and burn fat faster.

    Take it or leave it?

    Leave it. If all it took was swallowing a pill to lose weight, then wouldn’t everybody be doing it? The truth is, weight-loss supplements aren’t approved by the FDA for a reason. There’s no solid scientific evidence to back up these claims. Plain and simple, popping a pill is likely doing more harm than good.

    1985 — Fit for Life

    The year is 1985 and it’s the time of mullets and frizzy curls, rubber bracelets, Michael Jackson and Tina Turner, Breakfast Club and parachute pants. It’s also the year Marilyn Diamond released her Fit for Life diet plan. The plan has some strange ideas in it, including that carbs and proteins should never be combined in the same meal, water should not be drunk during a meal, diary is worthless and the only thing that should make it into breakfast is fruits.

    Take it or leave it?

    Leave it. The diet has been dispelled by many dietitians and nutritionists, who say the book’s promise of a “magical secret” to weight loss are not backed up by any scientific evidence whatsoever. Beyond that, it requires a drastic diet overhaul, making it darn near impossible to follow.

    1988 — Liquid Diet

    Drink everything you consume, and watch the pounds melt away. That’s the idea behind the Liquid Diet, which went mainstream in 1988 after Oprah Winfrey strolled out on stage pulling a wagon of the 67 pounds she lost on it. The general principle behind it is to drink your calories — shakes, soups, coffee, tea, popsicles, gelatins, broth and so on — amounting up to about 500 calories a day.

    Take it or leave it?

    Leave it. Like definitely leave it. Unless you have a medical reason to do so, consuming all your calories via liquid is just silly. Even more concerning is that the Liquid Diet calls for only eating 500 calories a day, which is not nearly enough to meet your body’s energy or nutritional needs. Ultimately, eating so few calories will eventually backfire, as it will slow down your metabolism and be impossible to maintain long-term.

    1990 — Rise of low-fat dieting

    The actual idea goes as far back as the 1940s, but it wasn’t until the late 80s, early 90s that the craze took America by storm: Fat was bad — in any form. Low-fat foods quickly hit grocery stores shelves in droves, and the idea was perhaps one of the most pervasive of any diet in history.

    Take it or leave it?

    Both. Fats come in many forms: bad fats are saturated and trans (think butter), while good fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (think avocado and olive oil). It’s more than okay to cut down on foods laden with saturated and trans fats, as they lack real nutritional value and can pump up the waistline. But there’s plenty of evidence to show that healthy fats are not only okay to eat, but can actually help boost your metabolism and keep your heart going strong. But steer clear of low-fat-alternative-versions of processed foods. Fat tastes good, so once fat is removed, a whole lot of sugar, salt and other extras you don't want to consume are added to make your favorite foods palatable again. You're better off consuming the real deal in moderation. 

    1991 — Diet-to-Go founded

    The year was 1991; and amid the low-fat diet craze, Hilton Davis wanted to build something that would help busy people eat healthy, nutritional food and lose weight the right way. The entrepreneur founded Diet-to-Go to do just that, with a solid commitment to providing customers quality meals that tasted great, creating a healthy diet plan that was easy to stick with and lead to lasting, lifelong changes.*

    Take it or leave it?

    Take it. Diet-to-Go is healthy eating made easy. It’s a philosophy the company stands behind by ensuring that meals are balanced, controlled for portion size and convenient. There’s no gimmicks, no guesswork and, most importantly, no difficulty sticking to the plans.

    1992 — USDA introduces Food Pyramid

    How much of each food group should you be eating anyway? That was the question the U.S. Department of Agriculture sought to answer when it introduced the Food Pyramid. The Pyramid is a staple of 1990s culture, but just in case you haven’t heard of it, it’s basically a triangular diagram showing the recommended serving size in each of the food groups.

    Take it or leave it?

    Leave it. Sort of. For the most part, the Food Pyramid provides a decent guideline of what foods are okay to eat and in what amount. A word of caution: Several nutritionists and dietitians have come out against the Food Pyramid, saying it lacks adequate information and groups “fats” together under “use sparingly,” even though some fats are proven to be food for you.

    1992 — Low-carb founded by Dr. Atkins

    No, Dr. Atkins didn’t invent the idea of a “low-carb” diet. But he did take it mainstream with the publishing of his book “Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution.” The idea behind the diet is this: limit carbohydrates (which contain sugar) so the body burns fat (including body fat) for fuel.

    Take it or leave it?

    Take it. While there has been some controversy surrounding low-carb dieting, specifically whether it’s healthy to deprive the body of carbs and whether it is maintainable, most people have found that the diet does, in fact, lead to rapid weight loss. It can also be a complicated plan to figure out, but Diet-to-Go’s Carb30 menu makes that part easy.

    1995 — Zone Diet

    Eat in the zone — that being five times a day. The principle behind the diet is that eating five times a day will keep you full and make it easier to not overeat at each meal. The diet recommends balancing proteins, carbs and fats in a 30%-40%-30% caloric ratio.

    Take it or leave it?

    Both. Although there’s no scientific evidence to prove that the Zone Diet works, the general philosophies behind the diet promote eating lean proteins and healthy fats several times a day, an okay thing to do as long as you’re staying within your calorie budget.

    2000 — Macrobiotic Diet

    A diet to fight cancer? That’s one major philosophy behind the macrobiotic diet, which uses Zen Buddhism principles to promote eating locally grown food, reduce consumption of animals and animal products and eat meals in moderation. It also marries that with what you cook with, encouraging using certain tools made from wood or glass, rather than aluminum foil, microwaves, plastic, etc.

    Take it or leave it?

    Both. Macrobiotic diet proponents tout their diet as a way to stave off cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and it might. That’s because much of the diet falls in line with dietary recommendations for eating right. Does it cure cancer, as some writers claim? There’s no scientific evidence saying so. Either way, the strict guidelines relating to what you eat and how you cook make it cumbersome to follow.

    2002 — Paleo diet

    Eat like a caveman — munch down on foods like fruits and veggies, nuts, roots and meat, while giving up dairy, grains, sugar, salt, alcohol and coffee.

    Take it or leave it?

    Leave it. Not only is it impossible to replicate the diet of our Neolithic ancestors, human genes have since evolved to a point where food available today (like dairy) provide essential nutrients.

    2003 — South Beach Diet

    Think of the South Beach Diet as the little cousin of Atkins. It’s a modified version of Atkins that involves eating high-fiber carbs, unsaturated fats and lean protein. Carbs are categorized as “good” or “bad” and the diet is done in three stages that gradually increases good carbs, fats and protein while decreasing the bad ones.

    Take it or leave it?

    Both. The principles of the South Beach Diet, although not backed by science, are sound in that that they advocate for eating nutritionally balanced meals.

    2004 — Biggest Loser debuts

    Who can forget the TV show that did what no one thought could be done — took overweight, obese people and put them through intense (often brutal) workouts, as well as placed them on a nutrition plan, to watch pounds drop off at an extraordinary pace, week-in and week-out.

    Take it or leave it?

    Leave it. There’s been plenty of controversy surrounding the show for a reason, not the least of which is that many of the contestants have gained the weight back. One of the biggest critiques is that the show places too much emphasis on exercise and not enough on nutrition. But most experts agree: While fitness is important, nutrition is the key to lasting weight loss. Most experts say to follow the 80/20 rule when it comes to weight loss — It’s 80% what you eat, 20% how you work out.

    2006 — Rise of cleansing and juicing

    Drink a magical elixir, cleanse all the toxins from your body — sounds simple enough. Cleansing dates as far back as the ancient Greeks, but it really made it into the mainstream dieting in the last decade or so. The claim is that you can drink a concoction of special vitamins, medicines and natural foods and it will rid your body of toxins, kick-starting your weight loss or healthy lifestyle.

    Take it or leave it?

    Both. Is it hurting to drink a cleanse that will help rid your body of “toxins”? Probably not. Should you count on it to lose weight and kick-start a diet? No. Experts point out that most of the claims made by juicing and cleansing diets avoid the truth: Our bodies already have necessary systems in place (kidneys, liver, etc.) to rid our bodies of toxins. Plus, juicing diets can be dangerous as they put pressure on our bodies’ natural systems and sometimes call for a too-low daily caloric intake.

    2007 — The hCG Diet

    The hCG Diet really took off after Kevin Trudeau released the book, “The Weight Loss Cure, What THEY Don’t Want You To Know,” which included information about hCG, or “Human Chorionic Gonadotropin.” It’s a hormone produced by pregnant women and developed/studied by British endocrinologist Dr. ATW Simeons in 1954. The diet took off after Trudeau’s book, with the claim that you can inject/take the hCG hormone, coupled with a very low-calorie diet (500 a day), to lose 1-2 pounds a day (without feeling hungry).

    Take it or leave it?

    Leave it. The FDA has called the diet “fraudulent” and “dangerous." There is no evidence that hCG helps combat hunger, and although weight loss is possible on this diet, that’s likely due to the extremely low caloric intake of 500 calories per day, NOT the hormone. Plus, people have reported serious side effects, including headaches, fatigue and depression.

    2011 — USDA replaces Food Pyramid with MyPlate

    Remember that whole Food Pyramid thing? After coming under fire from various groups, the USDA in 2011 replaced it with MyPlate, a new way to look at balanced nutrition. MyPlate calls for filling half of your plate with fruits and veggies and the other half with lean protein and whole grains. Dairy is depicted in a bowl on the side.

    Take it or leave it?

    Take it. MyPlate illustrates what a wholesome, healthy diet looks like, leaving you room to pick and choose what foods you’ll eat to get there.

    2013 — The Gluten-free Craze

    Although originally discovered in the 1940s, the gluten-free diet really hit its stride into the early 2000s and on. By 2013, it became a $10.5 billion-industry, with gluten-free foods lining shelves in nearly every supermarket and gracing menus in thousands of restaurants. The idea behind the diet is that gluten (a substance present in cereal grains, especially wheat) can cause upset stomachs, indigestion and other health issues. By eliminating gluten, the diet says, a person can lose weight and avoid any sickness.

    Take it or leave it?

    Leave it. Unless you have been diagnosed with celiac disease (a 2003 study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that less than 1 percent of the U.S. population has celiac disease), it’s unlikely to have much of an impact on your health or help you lose weight.

    2015 — Calorie-counting apps are all the rage

    When Under Armour in 2015 scooped up calorie-counting app myFitnessPal for a cool $475 million, it signaled something big to the weight loss industry: Apps that made it easy to keep a food diary were in, and they were making a big mark. The apps are used to log calories and nutrition intake, set goals and log progress with weight loss and healthy living — simply with the click of a mouse or the tap of a screen.

    Take it or leave it?

    Take it. Apps like myFitnessPal, SparkPeople and FatSecret make it easy to keep track of your daily food intake and goals. They offer fun incentives to lose weight, useful articles and are a proven way to stay committed to your personal plan. 

    2016 — Cricket Diet and more

    What better way to get the daily recommendation for lean protein than eating...wait for it...crickets? That’s the idea behind some strange new trends that went mainstream in 2016. Another big diet craze that started gaining popularity in 2016 was creating a weight loss plan based on individual DNA. Labs said you could send in your DNA and get it analyzed (for a steep price) and they'd send you back a customized meal plan.

    Take it or leave it?

    ???? The jury’s still out on these. Crickets DO provide lean protein, but whether or not they’ll ever be accepted as a viable diet is still up in the air. As for those based on DNA, it’s still pretty new, but more reviews and scientific studies are likely forthcoming.

    THE FUTURE — Mind diet and more

    It’s 2017, and that means a new year with new diet suggestions and healthy living plans. Among those are things like the Mind Diet, which advocates eating leafy greens, nuts, seeds and fish; as well as things like Souping (like juicing, but with soup) and the Sirtfood Diet (which claims you can boost your metabolism by eating dark chocolate and kale). And what the future holds for dieting is still yet to be seen!

    Take it or leave it?

    Both. It depends on the diet. Really any diet that calls for eating a balanced meal with lean protein, healthy whole grains and lots of fruits and veggies, without too much restriction, is going to be a-okay, while those that make sweeping claims of rapid weight loss or that call for extremely low caloric intakes are probably best avoided.

    Diet-to-Go makes healthy eating easy. Our meals are balanced for nutrition and portion-controlled to help people lose weight and eat right.* We have two plans: A 1,200-calorie-per-day plan and a 1,600-calorie-per-day plan. We also have four menus: Balance, Vegetarian, Carb30 (low-carb) and Balance-Diabetes (made specifically for people with diabetes). Learn more about how Diet-to-Go can make your weight loss goals become a reality.

    Did we miss one? What fad diets have you tried? Did they work? Share with us in the comments below!

    * Weight loss results may vary. Results not guaranteed.


    Author: Caitlin H
    Diet-to-Go Community Manager

    Caitlin is the Diet-to-Go community manager and an avid runner. She is passionate about engaging with others online and maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle. She believes moderation is key, and people will have the most weight loss success if they engage in common-sense healthy eating and fitness.


    Overall Health & Nutrition
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