In the ever-changing food landscape of America, fad diets have existed for decades upon decades, promising a healthier lifestyle and a slimmer, more attractive figure. These fad diets are often quite obviously unhealthy and ill advised, but because these fad diets were endorsed by celebrities and doctors alike, and in a society that idealizes slimness, many are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve a slim figure.

With new scientific and technological discoveries, fad diets in America have greatly changed, from the cigarettes of the Roaring ’20s to the superfoods of the 2010s. While some of these fad diets are more ill-advised than others, they were all popular during their time until a new discovery led to a new fad diet. Regardless of how modern or scientifically based these fad diets are, however, it goes without saying that it’s probably best to seek actual medical advice before you take arsenic or start smoking cigarettes to lose weight.

That said, here are some of the most popular fad diets throughout American history:

1920s: The Cigarette Diet

In the 1920s, in an attempt to keep a loyal consumer base, tobacco companies began to market cigarettes as a means to lose weight, using celebrity and doctor endorsements to do so. Soon enough, tobacco companies began to market to women. “When tempted to over-indulge, reach for a Lucky instead,” said one ad with a trim, smiling woman with an overweight woman standing next to her.

The ads were successful; the number of female smokers in America almost tripled in a matter of five years, and Lucky Strike’s sales shot up 300 percent in one year.

But did this fad diet actually help with the obesity problem? It’s difficult to say due to lack of reliable statistics, but this fad diet was one of the largest contributors to removing the taboo around female tobacco use.

1950s: Cabbage Soup Diet

While this diet was popularized in the 1950s, it still has a following today. The main idea behind this diet is consuming a low-calorie, high-fiber soup with cabbage while also consuming parts of other food groups. It promises up to 15 to 20 pounds of weight loss each week.

This diet is far less harmful than some of the other fad diets in history, such as the 19th-century arsenic diet, the Victorian-era tapeworm diet or the cigarette diet; however, this diet brings its own types of risks. It limits consumption of other food groups, which can lead to nutrient and vitamin deficiencies. And the promised 15 to 20 pounds of weight loss is primarily water weight, meaning after you get off this diet, it’s very easy to regain the lost weight.

1970s: The Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet was introduced during a time when carbs were seen as the evil force behind obesity in America, so when this low-carb diet was introduced by Dr. Robert Atkins, promising up to 15 pounds of weight loss in the first two weeks, it instantly gained a following. The main basis of the diet is to start with low-carb foods, slowly introducing a larger amount of carbs each time until the dieter experiences no weight gain from their diet. However, just like the cabbage soup diet, most of the weight lost is water weight.

2010s: The Superfood Diet

Since the early 2000s, the popularity of superfoods has risen as health has become a bigger priority. Superfoods promise high vitamin, nutrient and antioxidant levels that aid in weight loss, and some promoters even claim they can help cure diseases. When those claims appeared to be backed up by scientific research, the legitimacy of the superfood diet shot up.

With increased popularity came a spike in the food industry, and the the superfood industry today is worth billions.

The superfood diet is one of the healthier fad diets in history. In moderation and with advice from medical professionals, superfood fruits and vegetables can actually help with a healthier, happier lifestyle — but that alone won’t help.

Which of these fad diets is best? None of them — they’ll either end up leaving you disappointed, or they’ll do you more harm than good. Weight loss isn’t supposed to be a dramatic slope downward, and healthy weight loss is slow but sure. It’s always best to seek advice from professionals before starting any diet, regardless of whether you prefer the cigarette diet or the cabbage diet.

Niveditha Bala is a junior at Mandela International Magnet School. Contact her at

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