Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

My Take On ​Forty Years Of Diet Trends As A Nutrition Expert


If there's one thing that has been consistent about diets over the last forty years, it's that there is always something new to try.

Thankfully, as of late, there has been a bit more consistency in promoting balanced nutrition and a healthy, active lifestyle. This year, with our nutrition company celebrating 40 years of changing people's lives with great nutrition products, I found myself entertained by re-living the evolution of diet trends and food preferences over the last four decades.

What was 'Happen'en' in the 1980s

The eighties were a time of low-fat, high carb diets and trends. It was all about reducing fat from any source — even the healthy fats — and eating a lot of carbohydrates (including plenty of sugar) which are considered by many to be a huge diet "no-no" today.

The diet fads were fascinating:

  • The Cabbage Soup Diet basically consisted of water and cabbage. Is it any surprise people lost weight? They of course also missed out on plenty of vitamins, minerals and protein, too.
  • The Beverly Hills Diet focused on food combining, guiding people to avoid eating carbs and protein at the same time. This also led to weight loss, but not because of any magical effect of food combining. Since proteins and carbs couldn't be eaten at the same time, meals were just naturally a lot smaller.
  • Diet centers became popular, many of which promoted and sold frozen meals. But the true key to their success was the support and coaching they offered – an approach that still has legs today!
  • Nutrient-rich meal replacements also took hold, primarily through formal, medically supervised weight-loss programs. Then companies (like Herbalife Nutrition) came along with a supportive business model for successful weight loss through improved nutrition via meal replacement shakes, enhanced personal care, coaching and support, and the added business opportunity.

The 1990s: All That and a Bag of Non-fat Chips

Low-fat, high carb diets were still all the rage, so plenty of "fat free" items - like cookies and snack foods - started hitting the market, leading many to believe they could eat all the fat-free treats they wanted without gaining weight. But these "fat free" foods were not "calorie free," and people soon realized that consuming large amounts of fat-free foods led to weight gain — so diets began moving to a more balanced approach.

Popular diets of this decade included:

  • The Zone Diet recommended that each meal should consist of 40% of calories from carbs, 30% from protein and 30% from fat, marking a decided shift from the very low-fat diets of the 1980s.
  • The Blood Type diet made different nutrient recommendations based on an individual's blood type. While this trend has been debunked, it sparked the interest, or maybe even demonstrated foresight, into a trend towards "personalized nutrition," which is currently a hot topic.
  • The Subway Diet was a riff on the meal replacement idea, using a meal of a sandwich, baked chips and diet soda to replace two meals a day.
  • Interest in the Mediterranean Diet also started to surge, as studies began to support the health benefits of this eating pattern which places emphasis on whole plant foods, healthy fats form nuts and olive oil, and minimal intake of refined carbohydrates, including sugar.

In the nineties, we also saw a healthy push towards more fiber, and vegetarianism started to become more mainstream as soy and grain-based veggie burgers started to hit the mainstream market. The no-calorie fat substitute, Olestra, became a popular ingredient for a number of fried snack food items, but was quickly abandoned since it was not absorbed in the body and caused plenty of digestive distress.

The USDA Food Pyramid was also introduced in 1992, and the FDA passed the DSHEA Legislation in 1994 which defined and regulated how supplements were labeled and manufactured, leading to a vitamin and supplement boom.

These Were 'Poppin' in the 2000s

The new century also brought a big shift in eating, with a shift towards higher protein and lower carbs. Over time food manufacturers began to come out with more low-carb options to meet this growing trend. But, as with the low-fat craze of the 1980's, many consumers overate these low-carb (but not low-calorie!) foods and had trouble reaching their weight-loss goals.

Three admitted millennium favorites:

  • The Atkins Diet started to take hold — again. Essentially a very low carb diet, Atkins was originally popularized in the 1960's, and revised over and over.
  • Master Cleanse — a celebrity favorite — consisted of lemon juice, cayenne pepper, a bit of honey and water, and was the Cabbage Soup Diet of the new millennium.
  • The Special K diet became the new version of The Subway Diet, touting cereal and milk as a twice-daily meal replacement and, therefore, a way to manage portion and calorie control.

The raw foods movement also kicked off but stayed niche, since it appealed mostly to vegans. Over-the-counter fat-blockers became available and trans fats were demonized as information came out about how dangerous they were to heart health. "Supersize Me," the documentary that showed the dangers of supersized fast food meals, led McDonalds to end its supersizing practice soon after the film debuted. The food of the decade was bacon; green tea started its heyday; smoothie stores popped up on every corner, and "organic" and "local" food items started entering the mainstream.

The 2010s Were So 'Extra'

Now looking back at the last decade of food trends and habits, we find keto and paleo diets taking prominence over the last ten years, along with a newer eating trend known as intermittent fasting.

These four diets were everything:

  • The Baby Food Diet was driven around the portion-control theme, with adults eating jars of baby food instead of regular meals, but it just wasn't something most people could sustain. It also obviously made restaurant dining impossible.
  • Gluten-Free Diets became really popular as a weight loss strategy since they naturally eliminated wheat-containing foods from the diet in the form of bread, pasta and cereals. But once food manufacturers figured out how to remove the gluten (and keep the calories!), weight loss efforts were, again, stifled.
  • The Paleo Diet was designed to mimic the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, which many believe is more aligned with our genetic makeup. This eating pattern includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, while eliminating dairy, grains and beans.
  • Intermittent Fasting has several variations, but currently the most popular form is one in which all your food for the day is consumed within an 8-hour window while you fast for the remaining 16 hours. While this may be a natural way to cut back on calories – since for most people it means eliminating at least one meal - it can impact nutrient intake if careful choices aren't made.

During the past decade, food trucks popped up everywhere, and meatless meat became mainstream, with the newest meat alternatives providing a flavor profile similar to actual meat and meant to satisfy veggie burger naysayers. Milk replacements — from soy, pea, nuts or oats — appeared everywhere, worrying the dairy farming industry. Good fats ruled, while butter coffee took off as part of the ever-popular Keto diet.

New Decade, Same Trends

So here we are, entering the 2020s, and our fifth decade as a Company. What's next? While trends, ideas of healthy diets and popular food items have definitely evolved over the last forty years, it was definitely interesting to see a pattern of those trends that will continue to stick around:

  • Weight Loss —Through these decades, we've seen that people are always seeking options to manage their weight. Obesity is a growing concern, with predictions that half of the US population will be obese by 2030. Our Company has been on the right side of this trend for forty years, promoting a healthy, active lifestyle, with nutrient-dense and low-calorie options that promote good nutrition and health.
  • Pre-portioned Food and Support Systems — A proven concept since the 80's, people have turned to meal replacements or pre-portioned solutions for a number of years, but often without any guidance. This demonstrates the importance and need for educating consumers about nutrition and healthy habits, which is provided by our entrepreneurial distributors.
  • Personalized Nutrition — We are seeing - and expect to see - more personalized approaches to eating in the 2020's. The truth is that people respond differently to different diets, so as a nutrition company, we expect customization to continue to gain momentum based on individual goals—which is why we offer an array of customizable products and nutrition plans which we believe will better help our customers reach their personal goals.
  • Plant-based Diets and Sustainable Ingredients — Now more than ever, people are realizing the importance of a balanced diet. In fact, the Mediterranean Diet, which first came into prominence in the early 1990's, was named Best Diet Overall for 2020 by US News and World Report. Factoring in the impact on the climate and environment, plant-based and sustainable ingredients (hello meatless meat trend!) will continue to grow in popularity as people consider how their food choices impact themselves and the earth.

Cheers to a healthy 2020 and beyond!

3 min read

Help! I’m Dating a Jerk!

Email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get the advice you need!

Help! I'm Dating a Jerk!

Dear Armchair Psychologist,
I've been dating my boyfriend for a year. After spending some vacation time with him and realizing he is not treating me the way I like I'm wondering — what do I do? I need him to be kinder and softer to me but he says simply, "chivalry is not his thing." I believe when two people decide to be together they need to adjust to each other. I don't think or feel my boyfriend is adjusting to what's important to me. Should I try to explain to him what's important to me, accept him for what he is, or leave him as I'm just not happy and the little gestures are important to me?
- Loveless Woman

Dear Loveless Woman,

I am saddened you aren't getting your needs met in your relationship. Intimacy and affection are important to sustain a healthy relationship. It's troubling that even though you have expressed your needs to your boyfriend that it's fallen on deaf ears. You need to explore, with a therapist, why you have sought out this type of relationship and why you have stayed in it, even when it's making you chronically unhappy? Your belief that couples should adjust to each other is correct to some degree. These things often include compromising and bending on things like who gets the bigger closet or where to go for dinner. However, it's a tall order to ask someone to change their personality and if your boyfriend is indeed a jerk, like you say, who refuses to acknowledge your love language or express kindness and softness, then maybe you should find a partner who will embrace you while being chivalrous.

- The Armchair Psychologist

Update to HELP! My Date is Uncircumcised and I'm Grossed Out!

Hi Armchair Psychologist,
Just wanted to let you know that your article was really offensive to read. Do you refer to women's genitals as: "gross," "ghasty," "smelly," or otherwise? Humans are not perfect, each of us is different and you should emphasize this. I hope that man finds a partner that will love and accept him rather than tearing him down. Which gender has a whole aisle devoted to their "special" hygiene needs? I can tell you it's not men.
With love,
Male Reader

Dear Male Reader,

Thank you for your thoughtful feedback to my Armchair Psychologist column. My email response bounced so am writing you here. I am so sorry I offended you. It wasn't my intention. I actually meant to be sardonic and make the writer see how ridiculous she sounded for the harsh language she used to describe her date. I obviously failed at this sneer since you think I meant to be offensive. Many apologies. I'll do better. Have a wonderful day and keep writing us with your thoughts.

- Ubah, The Armchair Psychologist

Need more armchair psychologist in your life? Check out the last installment or email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get some advice of your own!