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! Am I A Fraud?

The Armchair Psychologist has all the answers you need!

Help! I Might Get Fired!

Dear Armchair Psychologist,

What's the best way to be prepared for a layoff? Because of the crisis, I am worried that my company is going to let me go soon, what can I do to be prepared? Is now a good time to send resumes? Should I save money? Redesign my website? Be proactive at work? Make myself non-disposable?

- Restless & Jobless

Dear Restless & Jobless,

I'm sorry that you're feeling anxious about your employment status. There are many people like yourself in this pandemic who are navigating an uncertain future, many have already lost their jobs. In my experience as a former professional recruiter for almost a decade, I always told my candidates the importance of periodically being passively on the market. This way, you'd know your worth, and you'd be able to track the market rates that may have changed over time, and sometimes even your job title which might have evolved unbeknownst to you.

This is a great time to reach out to your network, update your online professional presence (LinkedIn etc.), and send resumes. Though I'm not a fan of sending a resume blindly into a large database. Rather, talk to friends or email acquaintances and have them directly introduce you to someone who knows someone at a list of companies and people you have already researched. It's called "working closest to the dollar."

Here's a useful article with some great COVID-times employment tips; it suggests to "post ideas, articles, and other content that will attract and engage your target audience—specifically recruiters." If you're able to, try to steer away from focusing too much on the possibility of getting fired, instead spend your energy being the best you can be at work, and also actively being on the job market. Schedule as many video calls as you can, there's nothing like good ol' face-to-face meetings to get yourself on someone's radar. If your worries get the best of you, I recommend you schedule time with a qualified therapist. When you're ready, lean into that video chat and werk!

- The Armchair Psychologist


Dear Armchair Psychologist,

I'm an independent consultant in NYC. I just filed for unemployment, but I feel a little guilty collecting because a) I'm not looking for a job (there are none anyway) and b) the company that will pay just happens to be the one that had me file a W2 last year; I've done other 1099 work since then.

- Guilt-Ridden

Dear Name,

I'm sorry that you're wracked with guilt. It's admirable that your conscience is making you re-evaluate whether you are entitled to "burden the system" so to speak as a state's unemployment funds can run low. Shame researchers, like Dr. Brené Brown, believe that the difference between shame and guilt is that shame is often rooted in the self/self-worth and is often destructive whereas guilt is based on one's behavior and compels us to do better. "I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it's holding something we've done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort."

Your guilt sounds like a healthy problem. Many people feel guilty about collecting unemployment benefits because of how they were raised and the assumption that it's akin to "seeking charity." You're entitled to your unemployment benefits, and it was paid into a fund for you by your employer with your own blood, sweat, and tears. Also, you aren't committing an illegal act. The benefits are there to relieve you in times when circumstances prevent you from having a job. Each state may vary, but the NY State Department of Labor requires that you are actively job searching. The Cares Act which was passed in March 2020 also may provide some relief. I recommend that you collect the relief you need but to be sure that you meet the criteria by actively searching for a job just in case anyone will hire you.

- The Armchair Psychologist