Many quick-fix fad diets have seemingly been put out to pasture, but what, if anything, has replaced the fad diets of yore? Are carbs the new calorie? Or have fad diets been usurped by sound nutrition advice based on the food guide pyramid?
"I really think there is a definite trend away from fad diets," says Charleston, S.C.-based wellness expert Ann Kulze, MD, the author of Dr. Ann's 10-Step Diet: A Simple Plan for Permanent Weight Loss and Lifelong Vitality.
While "there are certain individuals out there that go for these fad diets, I definitely think they have worn out their existence," she says. Basically, fad diets are not convenient or sustainable long term.
Rest in Peace
Fad diets of yesteryear included the cabbage soup diet where followers ate nothing but homemade cabbage soup to drop 10 pounds in seven days; the grapefruit diet, a 12-day plan that involves eating 'fat-burning grapefruit or grapefruit juice with each meal to lose 10 pounds; the Scarsdale diet, a low-carb eating plan that restricts calories to about 1,000 each day and shoots for dropping 1 pound a day and 20 pounds in two weeks; the Beverly Hills diet, created by actress Judy Mazel is all about food combinations so food is not stored as body fat; and the Hollywood 48-Hour Miracle Diet is based on consuming a "miracle juice" so that in just 48 hours you will cleanse your body and lose up to 10 pounds.
And the list goes on and on and on … the raw food diet, the macrobiotic diet, the vinegar apple cider diet, the breathing diet …You name it and it's conceivable that there has been a diet based on consuming it and/or avoiding it.
The Changing Face of Weight Loss
"If you really look at these plans, they were all typically very low in calorie -- almost starvation-based," Kulze tells WebMD. "There has been an advancement in science of nutrition and weight loss and a lot of older fad diets are at odds with that information," she explains. Today, "people are approaching weight loss from a different perspective," Kulze says.
Thirty years ago, weight loss was about appearance and aesthetics. Now "the message is out about the impact that [weight loss] has on your health and we have so much wonderful information on how certain foods can promote health," she says. "Permanent weight loss results from permanent diet and lifestyle changes, so the trend has been away from fad diets."
Not to mention the fact that these fad diets are difficult to adhere to, she says. "They take a lot of planning, you have to buy all your own food and you can't go out to eat," she says. "We are really into convenience; we like to go out to eat and these diets took major planning," she says.
Are Carbs the New Calorie?
"With the exception of the macrobiotic diet, which is more philosophical and body cleansing, many of the fad diets of the past were based on caloric restriction," says Geri Brewster, RD, MPH, a nutritionist in New York City and Westchester, N.Y., and the former director of nutrition at the Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine. "We have gone from calorie content to looking at macronutrients," she says.
Broadly, Brewster points out, diets of past were based on calorie control and now we are looking at the type of calorie.
Decades ago, "I really think [fad diets] were popular because for the first time, medical doctors were writing these books," she says. But "there was no magic bullet; they were calorie-control diets."
As time wore on, people grew savvier, more scientific, and started attacking nutrients.
"Diets that were too calorically restrictive are not sustainable long term and were easily replaced by the notion that you could eat more of something," she says. "We removed the fat and that, of course, is incorrect so now it's eliminate the carbohydrates and sugar and go back to protein," she says.
Her hope long term is that the pendulum will swing back into some semblance of normalcy and diets will mainly comprise lean protein, good fats, and complex carbohydrates.
Where Are They Now?
"I haven't seen the Scarsdale diet, cabbage soup diet, or the Beverly Hills diet in a long time," says Samantha Heller, RD, a senior clinical nutrition at the New York University Medical Center in New York City.
"One of the reasons that they have fallen by the wayside is that they are very calorically restrictive and they all say don't stay on them for more than seven to 14 days," Heller says.
"They are not practical, reasonable and clearly, they are not healthy," she tells WebMD.
Today's new breed of diets -- including the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet, and Dr. Phil's Ultimate Weight Loss Solution -- "are not starvation diets like fad diets of past, but the reality is that these diets are hard to stick to, some are unhealthy, and some are very expensive to follow," she says.
"You can gain or lose weight eating anything," she says. "You can gain weight eating healthy foods and lose weight eating hot dogs, but we would like to see you eat healthfully to reach a healthy weight," she says. Eating too many unhealthy foods will increase risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
"What you eat is as important as how much you are eating." Heller says.
So are fad diets passé?
"I think we all would like a quick fix and a quick, easy way to lose weight without work. So if someone comes up with a new angle, it could be a flash in the pan of popularity," Heller says.