A Brief History of America's Favorite Fad Diets, According to Google
Google sent us the top ten diet-related searches for the last decade, and the inconsistency was revealing.
Image: WikiMedia Commons
The only consistent thing about the last 10 years' worth of diet-related Google searches is the lack of consistency.
Google sent me the top 10 trending diet-related search terms in the US for each year since 2006, and every year the entire list is completely replaced with a new list of diet trends and cutely-named cleanses. It's almost as if there's no single eating hack that will make us look better, feel better, and cure all that ails us, at least not one that lasts more than a year.
In 2006, 2007, and 2009, the "lemonade diet,"—a "cleanse" that instructs followers to survive for 10 days off of nothing but water spiked with lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper—topped Google's diet searches. The Paleo diet (a diet that prioritizes lean meats and fresh produce, and shirks processed foods) also topped the list more than once, in 2013 and 2014. But the rest of the searches vary widely from year to year, with most diets only cracking to top ten once and then vanishing into obscurity.
The search trends provide a striking depiction of how fleeting diet fads are, and remind us that quick fixes rarely lead to sustainable solutions.
"If there was one diet that had some superiority, you would not expect the list to ever change," said Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an Ottawa-based doctor and researcher who specializes in weight management and the author a book about this subject called The Diet Fix. "The reason why you're seeing so many different diets listed and searched for is that there is no one solution that will work for everybody."
Freedhoff told me this demonstrates our never-ending search for an elusive, one-size-fits-all quick fix, but that it clearly hasn't been found yet. That said, Freedhoff noted there's a distinction between effective, lifelong diet strategies and "quick fix" cleanses and fads.
"Quick fixes are more about 'I want to fit into this pair of pants but I have zero intention of living like this forever.' That's not a diet, per se, that's just a quick fix," Freedhoff said. "For the diets where the purpose is to live [on it] forevermore, usually they're not as ridiculous or extreme as the cleanses or the ones only designed to use for a week or a month."
But even among those more tempered diets, Freedhoff is a proponent of the concept that there's no single diet that works for everyone, but every diet out there works for somebody. That means if you're considering a diet plan that you have no intention of sticking to for the long haul, you'll probably just end up Googling the next big trend a year later.
But if the diet you're trying works for you—even if it seems unappealing to others—Freedhoff says that's the ticket to sustained success. Intermittent fasting, for example, seems extreme for most people, but there are some people who find success and can sustain these diets for years, if not the rest of their lives.
The National Weight Control Registry, an ongoing study of individuals who have successfully dropped weight and kept it off, has participants that have used a wide range of different techniques to maintain a healthy weight, Freedhoff noted. So while there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, there are diets that work.
"The goal is to find the healthiest life that you can enjoy, not the healthiest life that you can tolerate," Freedhoff said.
Clarification: A previous version of this story identified the searches as the "top" diet-related terms for that year. In fact they are the top trending diet-related searches for each year, which are terms that have increased or accelerated interest over time, but do not necessarily represent the largest volume of searches.