A brief timeline shows how we’re gluttons for diet fads


We’ve barely dug ourselves out from beneath the pile of new diet books that arrived to kick off the year, and already the “get in shape for summer” diet books are filling our mailboxes.

That raises the question: If any of these diets actually worked, why would we need more?

That’s because fad diets aren’t going away any time soon. They’re just too appealing, said Dr. Lawrence J. Cheskin of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the school’s Weight Management Center. And sometimes, they even do work.

But that’s no endorsement, he cautions.

Cheskin said that, by definition, fad diets are those that have not been studied objectively. “Almost anything you do that is a diet or a change in habits is going to look like it’s working,” he said. “The question is, can they keep [off the weight] for the rest of their lives? That’s a harder job.”


Cheskin said his weight-loss center takes a team approach to clients, with a staff that includes a psychologist, physician, nutritionist and personal trainer, an approach that is out of reach for the average person but one that underscores just how difficult it is for people to tackle obesity on their own.

The problem, he said, is that changing your eating means changing your life — forever. And that’s not easy in a world where temptations beckon at every turn and a multibillion-dollar diet industry can succeed only if you fail.

“The difference between now and 75 years ago ... is that we didn’t have companies pushing garbage at us at all times,” he said. “You have to insulate yourself from this pernicious environment that pushes you in the wrong direction.... That ain’t easy.”

Dieting dates at least to 1825, when a low-carbohydrate regimen was unveiled in “The Physiology of Taste,” by Jean Brillat-Savarin. Here’s a look at some key points in dieting since that time:

1830: Graham’s high-fiber diet was unveiled, perhaps coincidentally, by the creator of Graham crackers.

1863: Englishman William Banting used a low-carb diet to lose weight and then wrote about it in the booklet “Letter on Corpulence.” It was such a hit that dieters asked one another how the “Banting” was going.


1903: In vogue: chewing each bite of food 32 times, for better digestion and weight loss.

1917: Los Angeles physician Lulu Hunt Peters introduced the world to calorie counting with the bestseller “Diet and Health With Key to the Calories.” Peters, who wrote for the women’s pages of the Los Angeles Times, started out with a pamphlet she sold for 25 cents, with the proceeds going to the Red Cross. It proved to be such a hit that it was later turned into a book.

1925: The cigarette diet coincided with the ad campaign “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.”

1928: The Inuit diet: All the caribou, raw fish and whale blubber you can eat.

1930: The grapefruit diet, which resurfaced two decades later as the Hollywood diet, made a splash by promising weight loss if adherents ate grapefruit at each meal. To this day, a halved grapefruit epitomizes “diet food,” and some experts say there’s something to it, as grapefruit is believed to be a natural appetite suppressant. Also: Stoll’s Diet Aid introduced us to the first of many liquid diet drinks.

1934: The bananas and skim milk diet, promoted by the United Fruit Co.

1950: The cabbage soup diet is one of the oldest fad diets still in use. “It seems to resurface with a new name every 10 to 15 years,” according to It is still popular today with dieters who are either immune to or don’t mind the gas and bloating that can accompany the diet. There is this bonus: You can eat as much cabbage soup as you can stomach.

1960: The Zen macrobiotic diet, a grain-heavy approach created by a Japanese philosopher.

1961: Weight Watchers launched, moving away from “dieting” and toward “eating management.”

1964: “The Drinking Man’s Diet” by Robert Cameron was just what it sounds like, prompting the Harvard School of Public Health to declare it ... unhealthful.

1975: A doctor created a cookie containing “secret amino acid protein blend” that he “mixed “with his own hands” at his Florida medical practice. It promised to help control hunger and help patients stick to a reduced-calorie diet. By 2007, the cookie diet was introduced to the masses via a website. Also: The Pritikin Longevity Center opened in California and sounded the alarm about foods rich in saturated fat and cholesterol.

1976: The Sleeping Beauty diet sounds a bit like a vacation from the kids: Individuals were sedated for several days as a way to promote weight loss.


1981: The Beverly Hills diet helped popularize long-standing ideas about food combining, or, as it were, non-combining: Fruit, under this diet, should only be eaten alone. Thankfully, Champagne is dubbed “a neutral food” that can be enjoyed with anything.

1985: The cave man diet touted food from the Paleolithic era, the precursor to the Paleo diet.

1990s: Diets such as the vegetarian diet and the Mediterranean diet — old as history — became part of the vernacular.

1994: Bacon lovers cheered as Dr. Atkins said fat is our friend.

1995: “Enter the Zone,” by Barry Sears, ushered in the 40-30-30 ratio of carbs, fat and protein, and a flood of Zone cookbooks, snack bars and more.

1995: The Sugar Busters diet: Sugar was declared Public Enemy No. 1.

1996: “Eat Right for Your Type” by Peter J. D’Adamo paired diets with blood type.

2000: The self-explanatory raw foods diet made an appearance.

2003: “The South Beach Diet” by Arthur Agatston admonished us to ditch the “white stuff,” such as sugar, flour and baked potatoes.

2010s: “The Paleo Diet,” “The Paleo Solution” and “The Primal Blueprint” books helped us get in touch with our inner meat lover.

Did we miss your favorite diet? Or the diet that worked best for you? Tell us in the comments below.


Sources: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and various websites.