From the Archives: A Reminder About Fad Diets From ‘The Ghost of Weight Loss Past’

As a reminder, I am on vacation this week and planning to be ‘mostly offline’ – so I scheduled a few post ‘reruns’ from the very early days of the blog (when I had very few readers)! This one was originally posted here.

Rice Cakes

I like to call fad diets ‘fail diets’, because unless you look at one and think ‘wow, that is pretty much how I eat anyway’, you are probably being asked to totally cut out some food group you actually love … and for me that is a sign of ‘rebound failure’. You will feel like you are denying your self and depriving yourself … and then end up on a binge spiral. The degree to which people can totally cut out things they love to eat … well, it is shown pretty solidly through obesity statistics.

I think the mindset needs to be ‘modification’, and NOT ‘massive alteration’. Of course, when I first lost weight there was some of both.

I was reminded of this as someone on Facebook posted about their weight and health issues and how their habits were in dire need of a change … and so they decided to go vegan. Not regulate their intake, not reduce portions and control the balance of processed and fried food, not even go vegetarian … but full-on vegan.

That is a radical change – I am NOT calling becoming vegan a ‘fad diet’, but when people jump to it as a magical cure for weight and health issues, it might as well be. I am again reminded of Bloom County:


Back when I started losing weight a year out of college in 1989, things like yogurt, rice cakes and fat-free salad dressings were all the rage. And because I love salads, love yogurt and fruit, I was easily able to switch over to having grapefruit and plain toast for breatfast, simple salad with fat free dressing for lunch, yogurt & rice cakes for a snack, then a simple dinner.

As I have noted, I lost about 175 pounds when all was said and done in 1989 through a combination of diet and exercise. There is little doubt that I used deprivation and the feelings of hunger to motivate myself. But there was also no way I was giving up steak or ice cream completely. But what is interesting is how one of the staples of my weight loss – rice cakes – is such a terrible food.

Rice cakes: Considered as one of the ultimate ‘diet-food’ in the late 1980s and 1990s, don’t let yourself get fooled by this dish. Rice cakes have a glycemic index of 91 and can make your blood sugar go sky-high. They are bad for weight loss and your overall health.

Fat free salad dressings are another one – full-up with HFCS, they mess with your system. One that I used last year when I started losing weight again was grits. I thought they were like oatmeal – fill you up, good for you. Well, only half of that was true! Grits are absolute crap, as it turns out! Once I found that out over a year ago I quit it immediately.

My point is that for many of us weight control is a lifelong struggle. And there are MANY multi-billion dollar industries that have sprung up around it. But think … what would happen if everyone learned how to lose weight and just lost it and kept it off using nothing but products from their grocery store without needing special pills, chemicals or books? That would be terrible for the industry – and so you have to remember that this industru doesn’t succeed when too many people succeed.

So beware of fad diets and miracle products – because it is not in their best interest for you to succeed.

16 thoughts on “From the Archives: A Reminder About Fad Diets From ‘The Ghost of Weight Loss Past’

  1. Thinking back on some of the “fad diets” of the past few decades is pretty crazy. I remember when I started trying to get “healthy” (or what I thought at the time was healthy) I was eating fat-free everything and cutting calories drastically. While it did help me to loose a few pounds that I had put on in college, I was also starting to work out more and needed to be eating way more than I was. It wasn’t something that could be maintained.
    I love the idea that you should be able to “modify” you’re eating without “massive alteration”. That is they key to making a lifestyle change that you can maintain.

  2. I am STILL trying to convince my husband, who came of age 80’s and early 90’s, that all that “fat free” stuff is absolute sh*t! It’s so hard to break the associations we have for fat free and low calorie being synonymous with healthy. It’s frustrating because it’s all about advertising and false claims, yet people live their lives by it.

    • It is really hard, Michele – even now! My wife still has Weight Watchers thoughts programmed into her on the whole fat free nonsense (cuts way back on points) but is really trying … and I think a big thing is taste, so much stuff made with HFCS tastes like crap, and once you are eating the real stuff again it is hard to go back!

      And I think that we often underestimate the power of the food lobby and industry to shape our entire society’s thought patterns. People like to say ‘it is a choice, get informed, they can’t lie and so on …’ but that misses the fact that they can mislead, nuance the message, make reliable information difficult to obtain and so on.

  3. I can’t stand fat-free or “light” products. I’m on Weight Watchers now (for the 3rd time) everything for me has been about moderation. I use real mayonnaise on my sandwiches, full fat sour cream on my baked potato. I just eat less of it.

    My favorite quote about eating came from Michael Pollan – “Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not too much.” If I can just remember that – I’ll be able to manage my weight successfully.

    • I love that quote – and that way of thinking is just so perfect. My wife on Weight Watchers realized her biggest problem wasn’t about whether the salad dressing had fat … but the fact that she would grab a bag of chips while cooking dinner, or leave the bag on the table while making her lunch and end up eating *cough* several *cough* servings 🙂

  4. Fad diets are just that–fads. Until the next thing comes around. Furbies, Tamagachi, etc, they have all come and gone, but you know what has remained? Coloring, educational programming. Foundational elements. Stick with the timeless classics people!

    • So right as always 🙂 It is interesting to look at history – before WWII making food was a hassle, so as things boomed into the 50s there was a big pitch on convenience and leisure time, so ready-made foods became popular. That only grew through the 60s and 70s (who wanted to make cupcakes from scratch when you could buy a box of Hostess cupcakes?), and reversing it takes time as well!

  5. My journey began with South Beach. Looking back, it was full of deprivation. Biggest challenge for me was inability to recover from slip ups, you had to go back to a 2 week hell to reset your body chemistry. I don’t regret having gone down the SB path, it certainly was easy to understand and paved the way for me to learn more about eating and how my body reacts to inputs, but I’m much more glad that I’ve found new ways to eat balanced but controlled and left the fad in the past.

    • And really anything that helps you learn about food and yourself is a good thing, even if it is weird fad. I have always had an issue with those diets where you buy meals or shakes, because then you really aren’t LEARNING anything other than about paying someone else to think for you. And how do you do that stuff as an athlete? No clue. That is a great thing with weight watchers – you get your activity points. I just hooked MyFitnessPal into my Garmin Express account, so my workout summary tells me what I should be eating (to maintain) … and it is scary sometimes looking at numbers like 4000+ calories!

  6. I loved seeing Milo & Otis! It’s been too long since I read that strip.

    I don’t believe in diets. My step mother in law is always on the latest fad, and she never keeps the weight off. I don’t know how to encourage her to cut it out. I mean, wtf, one diet had her unable to eat tomatoes?!? And she does a lot of those nasty shakes and diet tea… Bleck.

    I could probably stand to tweak my diet a little more, but I only worry when I have energy issues or muscle tiredness. Just last weekend, I was craving a hot dog and I ate one. It was amazing and I don’t regret it one bit.

    • haha Love it! I don’t know how to suggest it to someone else. I have had a number of people dismiss my success through the years at weight loss and maintenance – mainly attributing it to running … that was before we had the ‘you can’t outrun a bad diet’ mantra.

      I really pride myself that one of my keys through the years was ‘no denial’. I had no guilt about that monster ice cream I had a couple of weeks ago – it wasn’t that I earned it or deserved it or whatever … I wanted it, and so I had it. And like your hot dog – it was amazing!

  7. I have a brother-in-law who went from beer, pizza and chicken wings (and large quantities of each) to alcohol-free and vegan overnight, doctor’s orders, and it’s worked for years. But his doctor essentially told him it was that, or he was going to die soon. No idea how true that was, but he changed his behavior like his life depended on it. He now has one meal about every 3 months where he eats meat, drinks, has dairy, whatever. It’s notable because he’s the only person I know who made a drastic change and it stuck.

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