Popular Diets from Over the Years: Do They Work?

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on March 3, 2017Written by Nicole Bowling on March 3, 2017
Popular diets and do they work

Overview

Do you remember your mom or grandma drinking SlimFast shakes for breakfast back in the day? (Chocolate for sure!) Or eating Subway every day in college because it worked for Jared? And who wasn’t tempted to do the Master Cleanse after Beyoncé swore by it to shed pounds for “Dreamgirls”?

For a long time, people have gone to extremes to discover the secret solution for slimming down and staying that way. Here, we’ll take you on a trip down memory lane, highlighting four popular diets from over the years and answering the most important question — do they really work?

SlimFast

Introduced in the late 70s and made popular in the 80s, SlimFast started solely as a meal replacement shake for breakfast and lunch. Then cap the day off with a low-calorie dinner, and bam, the weight should fall off.

Now, you can buy bars, snacks, and different flavors of the traditional shakes from the SlimFast brand. The company promotes a “1-2-3” diet plan: one “sensible meal,” two 200-calorie meal replacements (shakes or meal bars), and three 100-calorie snacks.

Does SlimFast work?

Will you lose weight by following the SlimFast plan? Yes.

Is it part of a healthy, sustainable nutrition approach? Debatable.

While the plan teaches consistent intake throughout the day and encourages mindful eating in response to hunger, the volume of food is low, especially of fruits and vegetables. You are also dependent on their products. With the “1-2-3” plan, you’ll eat about 1200 calories daily, which is not enough for an active woman.

Atkins

Atkins is arguably the most popular low-carb diet, and the one that started the low-carb trend. The diet was created by cardiologist Robert C. Atkins in 1972. Dieters don’t count calories on Atkins, but instead count net carbohydrates.

There are four phases you progress through. The first phase allows only 20–25 net grams of carbs per day. Eventually you reach a lifetime maintenance of 80–100 grams of net carbs per day.

You’ll consume mostly protein and fat on this diet through food sources like meat, poultry, and dairy. And it’s totally fine, even encouraged, to eat bacon — so that’s good, right?

Does Atkins work?

For weight loss in the short-term, yes, because you’re controlling food intake. Over the long-term, though, the Mayo Clinic says studies show low-carb diets like Atkins are no more effective for weight loss than standard weight-loss diets.

There is also something to be said for low-carb eating plans, too. Eating carbs, especially fruits, vegetables, and legumes, is not a bad thing. But daily intake of processed, low-fiber carbohydrates likely is.

Cutting out whole foods groups can cause many people to react differently to the diet. One benefit to those who are gluten-intolerant is that you won’t be eating gluten-containing foods, so it may help you feel better.

Master Cleanse

Also known as the Lemonade Diet, this liquid diet was made famous by Beyoncé, who said in an interview that she used it to shed pounds for her role in “Dreamgirls.”

The diet’s pretty simple: Squeeze 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, and 1/10 teaspoon of cayenne pepper into 10 ounces of water. Drink six to 12 glasses of this mixture per day when you get hungry. Now, do that for seven days. Not kidding.

As this woman who did the Master Cleanse wrote in E! Online, by Day 4 she had just about had it and by Day 5, she had to really work to get her body to do normal activities. And although she lost 8 or 9 pounds, she gained it all back within a few weeks when she started eating normally again.

Proponents recommend that if you’re going to do a Master Cleanse, you should do a three-day precleanse and a three-day postcleanse to ease in and out of the fast. Nothing would wreak havoc on your digestive system more than downing a cheeseburger and fries after consuming nothing more than lemon-maple water for seven days.

Does Master Cleanse work?

In Healthline’s review of the diet, you’ll lose weight from the low-calorie intake. But you’ll also deprive your body of some vital nutrients. The cleanse itself is deficient in proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and essential fats.

Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers was started in the 1960s by a stay-at-home mom in Queens, New York who invited her friends over weekly to discuss weight loss. Now, in any given week, members attend one of over 48,000 Weight Watchers meetings in 30 countries worldwide.

To join, you have to weigh at least 5 pounds more than the minimum weight for your height and weight according to Weight Watchers. You also can’t be pregnant or bulimic.

You start with a daily point budget, with every food and activity having a point value. Eat whatever you want while staying within your daily point allowance and you’ll lose weight.

With celebs like Oprah backing up the program, Weight Watchers continues to gain credit.

Does Weight Watchers work?

If used properly, yes. Because you have flexibility to eat what you like within reason, compliance is much easier. However, it’s important to eat nutritious whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meat, and low-fat dairy — not just those 100-calorie processed snack packs that are so easy to pick up and nosh on.

Takeaway

Fad diets have been around for years, and there are sure to be many more where these ones came from. While many of them will certainly help you lose weight in the short-term, they’re far from healthy for you in the long-term. After all, there’s no substitution for a nutritious, balanced, and varied diet at an appropriate caloric intake. The best diet is the one that you can stick with long-term while improving your health and feeling great. And let’s be honest: We really want to leave the Master Cleanse to Queen Bey.

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