They may be called fad diets, but, man, these weight-loss ideas sure stick around longer than leggings and platform wedges. The Cookie Diet may have earned some street cred when Jennifer Hudson was associated with trying it, but the plan got its start in the ’70s. And that Master Cleanse Beyoncé reportedly used to slim down? It’s probably older than your mom. Read on for more ways women have fought fat for the past century. (Note: Some are really bizarre and unhealthy.)
1930s-’40s diet trends: smoking and the Master Cleanse
Models and celebrities must have gotten the idea that smoking keeps you thin from somewhere, right? It turns out a 1920s-’30s ad campaign is to blame. Cigarette brand Lucky Strike used the line “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet.” Ugh! Do we even need to remind you of all the reasons — infertility, heart disease, lung cancer — smoking is one of the unhealthiest habits for you? Women looking for a quicker fix opted for the lemonade diet, or Master Cleanse. Developed by Stanley Burroughs, the diet allowed only lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup. Nearly 70 years later, Beyoncé reportedly used the same program to shed pounds for her role in 2006’s “Dreamgirls.” Talk about staying power!
1950s diet trend: prayer
Want to drop pounds? Pray for weight loss. The idea may sound nutty to some, but in the 1950s, the Christian dieting industry exploded. After losing 100 pounds, Reverend Charlie Shedd wrote the book “Pray Your Weight Away,” which was published in 1957. The best-seller set the trend for future titles such as “I Prayed Myself Slim” (1960), “Help Lord,” “The Devil Wants Me Fat!” (1978) and “The Weigh Down Diet” (1997), which advised readers not to confuse physical hunger for what was really spiritual hunger. Think this trend has died? Think again. In 2002, Don Colbert, M.D., published What “Would Jesus Eat?” and “The What Would Jesus Eat Cookbook.”
1960s diet trend: support groups and cabbage soup
The ’60s were all about sharing the love, and the concept even applied to dieting. Dieters began forming support organizations. Early in the decade, a group of compulsive eaters formed Overeaters Anonymous. And in 1961, Jean Nidetch invited friends into her New York City home to talk about weight loss. Two years later, after losing 72 pounds, she launched Weight Watchers. But dieting wasn’t always so friendly. The Cabbage Soup Diet was published in a book during this time. It promised dieters they would lose 17 pounds, but users mentioned the gassy side effects — not exactly conducive to close encounters, huh?
1970s diet trend: diet pills
The era touted the miracle of diet pills. Some claimed to stop the body’s absorption of carbs. In essence, they promised you could stuff your face with pizza and bread without consequences. After reports of vomiting and abdominal pain, however, the FDA pulled the pills in 1983 to investigate the long-term side effects. This turned out to be a good thing because researchers found that the undigested starch was going straight to the colon — yikes! Dexatrim was another pill of the era. The appetite suppressant contained the drug PPA (phenylpropanolamine), and in 2000, it too was pulled from the market. The pill was eventually reincarnated as Dexatrim Natural Ephedrine-Free, though some critics still aren’t convinced it’s safe. Our take: Unless they’re prescribed by your doctor, pills are almost never a good idea.
1980s diet trend: Scarsdale Diet
The 1980s swung away from easy fixes and back to hardcore discipline with the Scarsdale Diet. It was a two-week high-protein, low-carb and super-low-calorie diet (1,000 calories or fewer per day!). Author Herman Tarnower, M.D., claimed that by going on and off the diet every two weeks, followers could lose up to 20 pounds per week without any long-term deprivation of any vitamins or minerals. But the food list was restrictive: no butter, no salad dressing (except lemon and vinegar) and no alcohol. Your snack choices were either raw carrots or celery — that’s it. If losing 20 pounds a week sounds too good to be true, it is. For most people, consuming fewer than 1,200 calories a day is considered a starvation diet.
1990s diet trend: low-carb Atkins
Throughout the ’80s, people became aware of red meat’s association with heart disease, so they thought carbohydrates were the answer to a longer life, says Gabriella Petrick, PhD, a food historian at New York University. “The medical knowledge at any given time gets reflected in diets prescribed,” she says. “In the ’80s, the popularity of lean chicken also exploded. And in the ’90s, the Atkins diet was a reaction against ideas in the 1980s that said you need a high-carb diet.” People who had ballooned from all the carbs fell in love with Dr. Atkins. Although he’d been around before the ’90s, his popularity soared after the book “Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution” was released in 1992.
Top 5 diet trends of today
We’re not sure what the lasting diet fad of today will be, but we’ve narrowed down our best bets:
1. Celebrity-endorsed diets: Stars like Jessica Simpson and Eva Mendes swear by Harley Pasternak’s 5-Factor plan.
2. Portion control: 100-calorie pack, anyone?
3. Organic diets: Followers believe that organic foods, without the preservatives and additives of their nonorganic counterparts, may help the body’s digestive system run more smoothly.
4. Diet delivery: Services like Chefs Diet and NutriSystem deliver either fresh or frozen prepackaged meals right to your door.
5. Sweet and savory diets: Think Dr. Siegal’s Cookie Diet (which originally began in 1975) —Jennifer Hudson is reportedly a cookie-diet fan — or the eat-croissants-for-breakfast-and-veggies-for-lunch philosophy of “French Women Don’t Get Fat.”
For more great tips and information, visit Glamour magazine.