4 of the Most Famous (and Least Effective) Diets of the Past 20 Years

We've seen some pretty strange diet fads come and go. Learn about four of the most popular ones and why they didn't work.


Diet fads come and go, but none has been as consistently successful as the tried-and-true "eat less, move more" guideline. Still, millions of people keep searching for a magic formula that will melt away the pounds faster. Of the all of the diet fads the world has been subjected to, four in particular have gained popularity, generating a lot of talk but not a lot of results. (Read more on STACK's Diet page.)

Low-Fat and Fat-Free Foods

When the low-fat diet craze hit in the early 1990's, celebrities, doctors, and nutritionists endorsed it as a new way of eating. To increase the chances of losing weight, many proponents took the concept further by cutting fat out completely for short periods. Food companies responded by creating fat-free ice cream, cookies, sauces, and snack foods. The only problem? People ate more carbohydrates to compensate for the loss of fat.

Fat is closely linked to satiety. After eating foods that have fat in them, you feel full and satisfied. On the other hand, carbohydrates are not very satiating, especially refined carbs, which increase blood sugar levels quickly, making you  feel even more hungry (and causing mood swings and energy dips).

Fortunately, fat is making a comeback. More research showing the positive effects of monounsaturated and omega-3 fats on heart health. Also, people are learning more about the satiating ability of fat (in moderation, of course). (See How to Incorporate Healthy Fats Into Your Diet.)

Twinkie Diet

Yes, it sounds insane. But this diet gained popularity after Mark Haub lost 27 pounds while eating a Twinkie (or other processed junk food) every three hours. The approach worked because Haub reduced his daily intake by 800 calories. Any decrease in energy intake can lead to weight loss.

Critics argued that this diet can lead to negative health consequences, like nutrient deficiencies and inflammation in the cardiovascular system due to most calories coming from refined carbohydrates (i.e., sugar). Also, few people have as much discipline, self-control and food knowledge as Haub, who is a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University.

Grapefruit Diet

Still popular with some dieters even today, the grapefruit diet is built on the theory that certain compounds in grapefruit help metabolize fat. The theory says that it you eat grapefruit with a meal, those magical compounds will help your body blast the fat out of your system. Well, not exactly. Although grapefruit does have a relatively low glycemic index, it does not metabolize fat, at least not in significant amounts. However, it is high in vitamin C, which may be helpful for burning fat during exercise (but even then only slightly). (Read Top Vitamin Supplements.)

Lemon Juice Diet

The lemon juice diet is favored by people (e.g., highfalutin' celebrity types) who love the idea of detoxification. On the lemon juice diet, you drink nothing but lemon juice, water, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup for a period of days. Obviously, the low caloric intake causes weight loss. But you miss out on basic macronutrients like protein, fats, and carbohydrates (fiber), which are necessary for a healthy metabolism. While the diet can promote initial weight loss, most (if not all) of that weight comes back when you return to your normal routine.

The bottom line: No diet fad beats a healthy lifestyle. Eat nutrient-dense meals, exercise, and listen to your body. You'll be amazed by the results. (Read Diet Programs or Lifestyle Change?)

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