Fad Diets for Weight Loss Have Long History

Fad Diets for Weight Loss Have a Long History


This blog was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read the original post here.

As a registered dietitian I have spent as much time battling wacky weight loss diets as my clients have spent trying to lose weight. Sure, it would be great if you could “lose weight while you sleep” as one fad diet promised, but that’s just not possible. It’s just another empty promise that can do more harm than good in the end.

How can you tell if a fad diet is bad for you? Any diet that puts your health in jeopardy for the sake of losing weight is not good. And sometimes you can tell just by the name!

In honor of National Nutrition Month this March, I’d like to expose some of the fad diets from the past so you won’t be as likely to fall for them in the future. It’s a perfect fit with this year’s theme for National Nutrition Month, Get Your Plate in Shape. The theme combines the equally important messages to balance your food choices and be physically active to get your plate – and your body – into good shape.

Questions about how to get in shape have been around for as long as there have been scales and mirrors! Unfortunately, many of the answers have come in the form of fad diets and wacky weight loss gimmicks. See how many you recognize from this Fad Diet Timeline adapted from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that spans over 200 years, and use it as a reminder that while fad diets may come and go, good nutrition is here to stay.

Fad Diet Timeline

1820 Vinegar & Water Diet, requires mixing apple cider vinegar and water to cleanse the body

1903 “Fletcherizing,” promoted by Horace Fletcher, requires chewing food 32 times

1925 Cigarette Diet, recommends that you “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet”

1928 Inuit Meat-and-Fat Diet, includes caribou, raw fish and whale blubber

1930 Hay Diet, does not allow carbohydrates and proteins to be eaten in the same meal

1950 Grapefruit Diet, is based on the belief grapefruit juice can melt fat

1964 Drinking Man’s Diet, is made up of alcoholic drinks and meat

1976 Sleeping Beauty Diet, individuals are heavily sedated for several days, so can’t eat

1981 Beverly Hills Diet, allows only fruit, in unlimited amounts, for the first 10 days

1986 Rotation Diet, rotates the number of calories taken in from week to week

1987 Scarsdale Diet, is low in carbohydrates and calories

1994 First version of the Atkin’s Diet, a high protein, very low carbohydrate plan

1995 Sugar Busters, eliminates sugar and refined carbohydrates

1996 Eat Right for Your Type, is based on eating foods matched to your blood type

2000 Raw Foods Diet, focuses on eating just uncooked, unprocessed, organic foods

2004 Coconut Diet, replaces most animal fats and vegetable oil with coconut oil

2011 Baby Food Diet, starts with 14 jars of baby food a day and an optional adult dinner

How many did you recognize?

save cash by cutting calories

How Counting Calories is Like Saving Money

This post was written as a guest blog for SplendaLiving.com. You can read the original post here.

I have been compensated for my time by McNeil Nutritionals, LLC, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog With Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.

How much money would you be willing to lose in order to avoid gaining 20 pounds? According to a survey of Consumer Attitudes Towards Food Safety, Nutrition & Health, more than half of Americans (56%) “somewhat” or “strongly” agreed with the statement, “I would rather lose $1,000 than gain 20 pounds.”

Fortunately, there is no one coming to collect this $50 a pound if you happen to gain a few, but there is a way to make a connection to money here. Just think about what it costs to buy larger clothes and pay for a weight loss program if you do gain weight. Now consider the fact that by not gaining weight you can save all that money. And when you include the savings from the improved health you’ll have by not gaining weight, your savings can quickly add up to much more than $1000!

The Dollars and Cents of Counting Calories

An easy way to put this concept to work is to view your Daily Caloric Allowance like a financial payment for a job you are doing. Getting the most out of your calories (or money) is the goal, without exceeding your allotted budget. That means you must shop around for good deals and plan ahead so you can afford what you want while still being able to balance your calorie (or bank) account at the end of the week.

The good news is there are many lower calorie foods and beverages available to help you do just that. Products that are labeled fat-free, low-fat and reduced-fat are almost always lower in calories than their full-fat versions (check the Nutrition Facts to be sure). Those labeled sugar-free are often made with a low-calorie sweetener, such as SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, in place of sugar, and that saves you calories, too.

Just check the Nutrition Facts Label and compare the caloric content and serving size of the foods you buy to similar items in order to see how you can save calories while controlling your weight.

Here’s a couple of excellent sources explaining how to interpret the Nutrition Facts Panel:

Here’s an example of how you can save almost 750 calories in this 2000 calorie menu:

Calories Saved SPLENDALiving(3)

Note: Calorie savings are approximate, based on standard serving sizes and an average of similar products. They are not only the result of the SPLENDA® Sweetener substitution for sugar; other ingredients may provide calorie savings as well.



A look past the headlines reveals the truth about the safety of low calorie sweeteners

Is it the Science or the Sweeteners?


Those colorful little packets of low calorie sweeteners have been on tabletops since the 1950’s when the pink ones first appeared. The blues ones followed in 1981, with yellow, green and orange filling in the rainbow over the next 30 years. The sweetening agents in those packets have also been used in thousands of foods and beverages providing us with a range of sugar free and reduced or no calorie products.

For those of us who have been regular users of low calorie sweeteners in one form or another, their availability has added up to countless calories that we haven’t consumed since they’ve been available. I find it comforting to know I’ve saved 140 calories for every can diet soda I’ve drunk, 30 calories for each packet of sweetener I’ve used and 120 calories for every 8 ounce container of light yogurt I’ve eaten. And I could go on.

So if, like me, you’re also a regular user of low calorie sweeteners, you’re probably wondering why everyone hasn’t embraced their calorie-saving benefits. After following all of the negative press they have received, I think I can explain.

Science Isn’t Emotional

Whenever you see a headline or hear a news broadcast about low calorie sweeteners they always tilt towards the sensational. It seems no one can talk about them rationally, objectively, unemotionally.

But questions that can be answered by sound scientific research are not emotional. The answers are reached by following precise, methodological procedures and the results are published so all the world can see them.

Everyone may not like the results, but you can’t argue with facts. Yet when it comes to reports on low cal sweeteners, they’re always tainted with opinion, conjecture and suspicion.

There is No Conspiracy

Speaking of suspicion, some of the controversy surrounding the safety of low cal sweeteners stems from the belief by a radical minority that you can’t trust the FDA, a government agency, for ruling on the safety of what’s in our food. These naysayers actually believe the chemists, microbiologists, toxicologists, food technologists, pathologists, molecular biologists, pharmacologists, nutritionists, epidemiologists, mathematicians, sanitarians, physicians and veterinarians who serve as food safety experts at the FDA are all corrupt.

I don’t believe in that conspiracy, but for those who do, I have three questions:

  1. If you don’t trust the FDA’s ruling on low cal sweeteners, what about the thousands of other products they have jurisdiction over, including food additives, infant formula, cosmetics, non-prescription drugs, medical devices, and veterinary products?
  2. How do you explain the fact that the regulatory agencies in more than 100 countries have reviewed the research on low calorie sweeteners and have also found them to be safe for use by their populations?
  3. Do you also doubt the integrity of independent health organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and American Diabetes Association, since they, too, have endorsed the safety of low calorie sweeteners?


New Research Doesn’t Cancel Out Old

Even if you accept the wisdom of the experts, what do you do when a new study comes along that “suggests” a particular low calorie sweetener “may” be “linked” to some problem? Whatever you do, don’t toss out all your diet drinks and sugar-free desserts. Those studies do not prove the sweetener caused the problem in question. The researchers have simply made a “connection” between point A and point B, and they’d have to do a whole lot more research in order to connect those dots.

If and until that research is done using the kinds of studies that can prove cause and effect, preferably in human beings, the existing body of evidence stands firm. It helps to keep in mind that much of the scientific process is based on trial and error, and half of that process results is errors. That’s why we don’t abandon the proven and tested body of evidence we already have based on a single study.


How Much Evidence Is Enough?

But for those who still aren’t convinced we know enough about low calorie sweeteners, I offer these final facts:

  • over 200 studies have been done that support the safety and effectiveness of low cal sweeteners
  • low calorie sweeteners have been used around the world for over 40 years
  • more than 200,000,000 people (that’s 200 million) safely use and enjoy low calorie sweeteners!

As a registered dietitian who has been advising consumers about healthy eating habits for over 35 years I feel confident that low calorie sweeteners are not a problem. And when they are used in place of sugar as part of a balanced diet complemented by regular physical activity they can help prevent weight gain – and that is a really big problem.

Traffic light symbol used to help count calories in restaurants

Counting Calories in Restaurants

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.


When you see a red light you know it means “stop.” With that in mind, a study was designed to test whether using a traffic symbol on menus would help people select lower calorie options over just providing their caloric values.

It produced some surprising findings.

There’s no denying that we eat more when eating out. In an effort to slow us down (make that an “amber light”), the Affordable Care Act requires posting calories in restaurants. If you’re into counting calories, this might help.

But if you’re one of the millions of Americans who don’t have a clue how many calories you need each day, those extra numbers next to the price on menu labels won’t mean much.

Traffic Lights and Calories on Restaurant Menus

The study was done by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity in February 2013. To conduct the experiment a restaurant was divided into three sections, all with the same food and menu descriptions. Different information about the caloric content of the items was on the menus in two of the sections. One section had no caloric information and served as the control group. One section had calorie-only information for each item on the menu. The third section had menus with the calorie information and a traffic light symbol. The Green Light indicated 400 calories or less, the Yellow Light meant 401-800 calories, and the Red Light items had more than 800 calories.

Over a two week period, diners were seated at random in one of the three sections during lunch service. They could choose from the 51 options on the menu or the daily special, and had no idea they were participating in a study.

At the end of the meal they were asked to complete a survey that included questions about their demographic characteristics, health consciousness, reason for dining out and frequency, method of item selection (taste, price, healthfulness, etc.) and menu label preference when given the choice between calorie-only or calorie+traffic light. They also completed a checklist indicating everything they ordered. At this point they were informed they were part of a research project.

The Big Surprise

The biggest surprise for me when I read the results had to do with the way people with different levels of “health consciousness” were influenced by the calorie information provided. Here’s what the researchers found:

  • calorie-only labels had the greatest impact on the least health conscious
  • calorie+traffic light menus had greatest impact on the most health conscious
  • calorie-only labels had their greatest impact on the selection of the main entrée
  • calorie-only and calorie+traffic light menus resulted in more extra calories (sides, desserts, drinks) being ordered than by those with no information on their menus
  • calorie+traffic light menus resulted in total calorie reduction of 69 calories

Summary of Key Findings:

At low levels of health consciousness, the calorie-only label led to larger calorie reductions; however, as health consciousness increased, the calorie+traffic light was more effective at reducing entrée calories. The results suggest the calorie-only label does not really tell those who are the most health conscious any new information, so their entrée choices did not change. But the calorie+traffic light label did appear to provide some new information, leading the most health conscious to choose entrée with fewer calories.

Diners who received menus with calorie information actually ordered more extra calories than those who received none. This suggests they may have experienced a “licensing effect,” meaning they felt that by ordering a lower-calorie entrée that had “license” to order an extra side item or dessert.

Lower calorie entrees were chosen by women, people over age 55, and those who ranked health as the most important characteristic when ordering.

Those with higher education ordered slightly fewer extra calories, while those in larger parties ordered more.

The preferred menu information by 42% of the participants was calorie-only, with only 27.5% choosing the calorie+traffic light. The researchers said this could be interpreted to mean the diners want more calorie information on their menus, but do not want to be told what they should or should not consume (i.e., green = good, red = bad).

What helps you make the best selection when ordering from a restaurant menu?