Here’s how much the dieting industry has changed over the years

People resorted to drastic measures to lose weight. They still do, but there’s a focus on health and wellness now.
Life Fitness By Dane

The dieting industry has changed dramatically throughout the years.

Once-successful companies like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig are now seeing sales plummet, as consumers shift away from diet plans and instead embrace body positivity, according to a Mintel report cited by NPR.

“‘Dieting’ is not a fashionable word these days,” Susan Roberts, a nutrition and psychiatry professor at Tufts University, told NPR. “[Consumers] equate the word ‘diet’ with deprivation, and they know deprivation doesn’t work.”

But consumers are still inundated with images and information about “lifestyle trends” – or newfangled versions of diets – that mesh better with today’s obsession with health and wellness.

Here’s how the dieting industry has changed.

People have long sought ways to be thin. Here’s an old advertisement on reducing ‘surplus flesh’ and improving your figure.

Skinney Medspa

Sometimes they resorted to taking pills.

Skinney Medspa

Companies have been body-shaming women for years. This ad flat-out tells women to ‘stop eating.’

The Great Fitness Experiment

People have also resorted to quick fixes — like the ‘grapefruit diet.’ Apparently, people have been doing this since the 1930s.


People still do this today – there’s even a website dedicated to it.

Source: WebMD

SlimFast diets offered an easy fix for a while. The diet debuted in 1977 but became very popular in the ’90s.

Marina Nazario/Business Insider

Source: Bloomberg

Today, people still look for quick fixes — but they’re often under the guise of health, like juice cleanses.

Dr Smood Cold Pressed Juice on display at Goya Foods Grand Tasting Village
Getty Images/Aaron Davidson

Some people engage in what’s called ‘souping.’ The New York Times declared ‘souping is the new juicing’ earlier this year. (That is, if you can afford it.)

Hollis Johnson

Source: The New York Times

Lean Cuisines epitomized a diet about limiting calories. It launched in 1981.


Source: Nestle

The company has made major changes to reflect how people feel about wellness today.

In fact, in late 2015, the company completely rebranded itself to be about “well-being” and not just about “dieting,” Digiday reported.

“We were so closely linked to dieting. That’s really not where women are in America when they think about food today. They want health their way, with their own choices. And the brand really wasn’t reflecting that,” Julie Lehman, Lean Cuisine’s director of marketing, told Digiday.

The company has even launched campaigns encouraging girls to filter out the word “diet.”

Processed, low-calorie snacks were all the rage not too long ago. Who could forget 100-calorie packs, which were extremely popular in the mid- to late 2000s?

Flickr via streamishmc

Source: Newsweek

Now, diets like the Whole 30 advocate not eating any unnatural additives.

The Whole 30 diet also forbids calorie counting. The method involves eating natural foods (sans dairy, legumes, or grains). Many people post impressive before-and-after photos of this method on social media.

“You are not allowed to step on the scale or take any body measurements for the duration of the program,” the website reads. “This is about so much more than just weight loss.”

Low-fat diets were once popular, too. This helped the Subway Diet, which consisted of eating only Subway sandwiches, rise to success in the early aughts.


Dr. Mark Hyman, author of ‘Eat Fat, Get Thin,’ now advocates the benefits of eating fats, like avocado and olive oil.

Israa O./Yelp

Endless photos of avocado toast on Instagram serve as an indication that people aren’t afraid of fat anymore.

Source: Business Insider

Atkins advocates a low-carb diet.

Mayo Clinic notes that the diet was founded in 1972 by cardiologist Robert Atkins. The diet was extremely popular in the early 2000s, and it sparked a debate about if carbs do, in fact, make you fat.

Paleo advocates criticize Atkins for its processed snacks, too.

On the wildly popular 21 Day Fix diet, you’re allowed carbs — within reason. It’s all about portion control.

Breakfast! #21dayfix #beachbodycoach #beachbody

A post shared by Melanie Morris (@melaniemorrisnb) on

Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide program encourages people to eat multiple servings of carbs a day — and the before-and-after photos on her Instagram page are still pretty impressive.

Weight Watchers — which debuted in the 1960s — is known for its famous ‘points system,’ though not all health experts condone it.

And who could forget dessert? This delicious, sugar-free lemon blueberry cake with a chocolate peanut butter drizzle is only 4 #SmartPoints per slice! The best part is that it’s baked with egg whites and apple sauce instead of eggs and oil! This recipe calls for: 1 box of sugar free cake mix (I used Pillsbury’s classic yellow) ???? 1/2c blueberries ???? 1/3c no sugar added apple sauce ???? 1tbsp lemon curd ???? 1 fresh squeezed lemon????3tbsp liquid egg whites????1c water How to make: 1️⃣Prepare cake batter as directed, substituting the apple sauce for oil and the liquid egg whites for eggs. Add water, fresh squeezed lemon, and lemon curd into the mix. 2️⃣ Fold blueberries into the mix3️⃣ Pour batter into a prepared spring form pan or individual cupcake liners.4️⃣Bake for 28 minutes at 350 degrees, or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cake makes 12 servings at 4 SmartPoints per serving ???? Enjoy! – Trish (@wwtrishnicole) #WWTakeover #weightwatchers #BeyondtheScale

A post shared by Weight Watchers (@weightwatchers) on

“Their recommendations for healthy eating are simply unhealthy,”Dr. Joel Furhmanwrote in a blog post, “and not supported by the most updated nutritional science.”

Additionally, the company’s packaged goods are antithetical to how many people focus these days on natural foods versus empty calories.

But it has made changes, too — and it has Oprah to thank.

Oprah Winfrey/Weight Watchers, Twitter

This isn’t just about Oprah’s viral “I Eat Bread” campaign – it’s about how Weight Watchers has changed its approach to dieting.

With its “Beyond the Scale” program, it aimed to shift the company’s focus from just weight loss.

“The way we think about it is that we used to have a very narrow focus on weight, and now weight is one of things we focus on, but it’s not the only thing,” Gary Foster, Weight Watcher’s chief scientific officer, told Time. “The consumer sentiment is, ‘I still want to lose weight, but I’m thinking about in a more holistic way.'” The company’s Instagram even shows a healthier lifestyle versus its packaged foods.

Until recently, diet soda was an easy way for people to watch their calories …

Getty Images/Fernando Leon

… but soda companies have been trying to appeal to people’s desire for wellness by selling diet soda made with stevia and real sugar.


Source: Business Insider

The biggest shift, though, is that many people don’t diet in the traditional sense at all anymore.

Companies like Aerie, with its unairbrushed “Aerie Real” campaign, have shown women that they are beautiful as they are without Photoshop and regardless of their size.

“Consumers are not dieting in the traditional sense anymore – being on programs or buying foods specific to programs,” Mintel analyst Marissa Gilbert told NPR. “And there’s greater societal acceptance of different body sizes.”

While that’s good news for any brand promoting those programs centered on general wellness, it’s bad news for those who relied on old, tired standards.

Of course, there will always be outliers and people looking for a quick fix. However, for the most part, the way people view dieting has changed – which is good because fad diets don’t often work in the long run.