40 Atypical Diet Fads and Exercise Ideas Throughout the Decades

Throughout time, one of the most constant trends has been related to dieting. Weight loss gimmicks and fads have been popular dating back to the 1800s.… Trista - September 16, 2019

Throughout time, one of the most constant trends has been related to dieting. Weight loss gimmicks and fads have been popular dating back to the 1800s. While some trends are much safer than others, there has never been a shortage of ways to drop a few pounds. Whether a person is looking to eat better or try a new exercise craze, each year, a new, hot health and wellness movement emerges.

Weight loss is a huge business that generates more than $70 billion per year. There are fad diets, supplements, exercise equipment, videos, and more to help people lose weight. As Americans get bigger, the larger the desire becomes to lose weight. For most of the past several decades, baby boomers have been at the forefront of the diet market, but recently that has shifted. Nowadays, millennials are the most targeted generation, and they are seen as the future generation of dieters. For more information on the many diet fads that have been used throughout history, keep reading! Have you tried any of these diets or exercise techniques?


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1. The Vinegar and Water Diet

One of the first icons of the dieting craze was Lord Byron. Back in the late 1700s and early 1800s, Lord Byron was a famous poet. He was also known for his many diet attempts. Lord Byron was extremely sensitive about his weight and grew afraid of getting fat.

He decided that the best way to avoid gaining weight was to drink vinegar. He drank it every single day in the hope that the acidity would aid digestion and keep him from overeating. Unfortunately, his plan backfired because all of the acid he was consuming made him sick. He couldn’t eat much because he was ill, so he became malnourished. He died from a fever at the age of 36, and although his vinegar diet wasn’t the cause of his death, doctors believed that it made him weak and quite susceptible to illness.

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2. Fletcherism

You may not have heard of the term Fletcherism, but you’ve heard of the concept. This fad was propped up by Horace Fletcher, a food writer. He insisted that chewing food until it was practically liquified was the key to good health.

Even now you hear of some people chewing their food 100 times before swallowing. Fletcherism was designed to help obese people slow down when eating and maximize digestion. Fletcher even insisted that liquids be somehow chewed and mixed with saliva to eat correctly. He also advocated a low-protein diet for followers of his unique methods.

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3. The Cigarette Diet

Before cigarettes were seen as harmful, they were used for dieting purposes. Back in the Roaring 1920s, it was a time of excess, and people considered themselves to be invincible. The cigarette brand Lucky Strike used that to their advantage.

In 1925, Lucky Strike recognized that tobacco has an appetite suppressant quality. They started advertising their products for a cigarette diet with the tagline “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” Lucky Strike’s ad campaign is not only one of the most controversial campaigns in the history of advertising, but also one of the most successful. This was a significant reason why it became socially acceptable for women to smoke cigarettes after World War I.

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4. The Grapefruit Diet

Also known as the Hollywood Diet, the grapefruit diet became popular in the 1930s. Advocates of this diet claim that grapefruit contains fat-burning enzymes. When you follow the grapefruit diet, you eat one grapefruit with every meal.

Along with grapefruit, followers of this diet eat foods that are rich in protein and fat like eggs and meat. They can also eat a limited variety of vegetables. You must avoid starches, sugar, grains, and sweet vegetables on this diet. You aren’t required to exercise while on this eating plan. The grapefruit diet lasts about twelve days, followed by two days off the program.

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5. The Banana and Skim Milk Diet

You will probably not be surprised to hear that this diet was conceived and promoted by the Chiquita Banana company. In the banana and skim milk diet, followers eat only bananas and drink only skim milk throughout the day. This fad diet originated in the 1930s.

Some doctors believed that eating this way could prevent diabetes and lose about 6 to 10 pounds in two weeks. Each day, dieters on this plan were to consume four ripe bananas and a few glasses of skim or nonfat milk. This diet is not recommended because of its restrictive nature and lack of essential nutrients.

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6. The Cabbage Soup Diet

One of the longest-lasting diet crazes is the cabbage soup diet. It started in the 1950s and promised a dramatic weight loss in just one week. Be advised that being on this diet causes a lot of stomach distress and digestive system purging.

On the cabbage soup diet, followers are required to make a cabbage soup that has no added fat or starch and much fiber. You must eat the cabbage soup every day, occasionally adding a potato one day, a few bananas the next, and over a pound of meat the day after. This diet is not safe to be on for the long term and will only help you lose water weight. You will most likely gain back all of that water weight when you return to a standard way of eating.

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7. The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet became popular in the 1950s and 1960s and is still going strong. This diet consists of eating lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats like olive oil. Out of the foods on this list, this is one of the most well-rounded ways of eating.

This diet is popular because it is easy to follow, and it has been proven to lower mortality rates in the countries in which it originated. High quantities of vegetables, olive oil, fish, poultry, and grains can help prevent obesity, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. If you’re looking to try a new way of eating, consider the Mediterranean Diet.

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8. The Tapeworm Diet

One method of losing weight that should not be attempted is the tapeworm diet. This trend dates back to Victorian times, where women in the late 1800s wanted to look sickly. Part of that look was accomplished by swallowing tapeworm pills.

When you swallow a tapeworm pill, the larva hatches in your intestines. It begins to feed on whatever you eat, consuming all of your extra calories. Tapeworms can grow to be over nine meters long and cause severe health conditions like dementia, epilepsy, and meningitis. Swallowing a tapeworm pill will most certainly cause pain and life-threatening health problems.

9. Weight Watchers

Formerly known as Weight Watchers, this diet company is now known as WW. A homemaker created weight Watchers from Queens, New York in 1963. This program was designed to help people make smarter food choices, get more exercise, and form healthy habits without feeling deprived.

A unique aspect of the Weight Watchers diet program is the support system. When Weight Watchers started, participants attended weekly meetings where they would weigh in with a counselor. Then they would talk to other members and get advice and tips on how to get healthy. Having a great support system while losing weight is essential. That is why Weight Watchers has become a diet industry phenomenon.

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10. The Sleeping Beauty Diet

Another dangerous diet fad is the Sleeping Beauty Diet. This diet has been around for decades and was a popular choice for the King himself, Elvis Presley. The basic premise of this diet is that if you are asleep, you’re not awake to consume calories.

On the Sleeping Beauty Diet, followers are tasked with sleeping for unnaturally long periods. Some people even resort to sedating themselves to stay asleep. Elvis used to do this when he needed to slim down enough to fit into his signature jumpsuits. This diet is harmful in that it requires people to sleep for up to 20 hours a day. At the most extreme, it involves taking dangerous, addictive sedatives and avoiding food in a way that mimics an eating disorder.

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11. The Cookie Diet

In 1975, South Florida doctor Sanford Siegal was looking for a way to help his patients lose weight. He baked a batch of cookies containing specific amino acids and gave them to his patients for hunger control. They were instructed to eat six cookies throughout the day and one 300 calorie meal at night.

Dr. Sanford’s Cookie Diet became so successful at helping his patients lose weight that he ended up opening more than 20 additional practices in North and South America as well as many franchised weight loss centers. It may seem ideal to eat a diet of mostly cookies, but this fad, like most diet trends, is based on the simple practice of calorie restriction.

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12. SlimFast

It’s hard to go a day without seeing an ad for SlimFast or a display in your local grocery store. SlimFast was founded in 1977 in Florida and originally began as a diet shake line. Dieters were intended to drink vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry shake for breakfast and lunch, followed by a low-calorie dinner.

In the mid-1990s, SlimFast introduced low-calorie meal bars that could be eaten in place of breakfast or lunch. SlimFast has been a pioneer in the weight loss industry and continues to be popular. They are on top of trends too, as is the case with their new line of keto shakes, bars, and fat bombs.

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13. The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet

The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet was designed by Herman Tarnower, a cardiologist from Scarsdale, New York. This diet is low in calories and carbohydrates and high in protein. It became a trendy diet in the 1970s among fashion elites and society women.

These days, this diet plan isn’t as popular. Nutritional experts believe that the low-calorie requirements are not sustainable, and the high levels of protein can lead to heart disease. Eating a diet low in calories and high in lean protein, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables is much more effective than The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet.

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14. Appetite Suppressants

A more controversial weight-loss method has to be appetite suppressants. Like with cigarettes, several drugs can help you avoid appetite and not want to eat as much. Diet pills and other appetite suppressants were very popular during the 1980s.

Back then, it wasn’t outlandish for doctors to put their patients on appetite suppressants like ephedra and aminorex. After a few years, it was determined that these types of drugs are dangerous and mainly like putting patients on speed. Taking appetite suppressants can lead to heart attack, stroke, and in extreme cases, death. There are a few pills on the market that claim to stop your body from absorbing too many calories, but not much research has been done to prove their effectiveness.

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15. The Aerobics Craze

Aside from diet trends, there have also been several fads in the exercise industry. The one that mostly started the fitness craze in the United States is aerobics. Dr. Kenneth Cooper designed aerobics in the 1970s.

With aerobics, participants take classes guided by instructors that focus on cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, and muscular strength. The lessons begin with a short warm-up, followed by a cardio portion and a muscular training segment. Finally, they cool down with a stretching and flexibility period. The popularity of aerobics exploded around the world in 1982 when actress Jane Fonda released her popular exercise videos, the first being Jane Fonda’s Workout.

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16. Jazzercise

Another popular form of aerobics would have to be Jazzercise. This dance craze began in 1969 when it was founded in Carlsbad, California. During a Jazzercise class, attendees get a full-body workout to popular music that includes dancing, strength, and resistance training.

Jazzercise began as a fun dance class for people who wanted to get fit rather than learn how to dance. It’s an excellent way for people of all fitness levels and ages to have fun and break a sweat. Studies show that listening to music while working out increases performance, so taking an entire class for moving with music is a great way to burn calories.

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17. Fit for Life Diet

One of the diets on this list that is based on alternative medicine and homeopathic ideals is the Fit for Life diet. This plan was created by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond, authors and speakers on anti-aging and longevity. The central aspect of the Fit for Life diet plan is to eat only fruit in the morning.

Additionally, dieters should avoid eating animal protein and complex carbohydrates at the same time. Ideally, it would be best if you stuck to foods that are “live” and have high water content. Also, you shouldn’t drink water with meals because it can dilute digestive juices in the stomach. While it’s good to encourage the consumption of raw fruits and veggies, the other requirements of this diet are what make it a fad.

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18. Liquid Diet

A diet that involves consuming only liquids and soft foods that melt at room temperature is known as a liquid diet. This type of diet is excellent for hydration and maintaining a balance of electrolytes. Liquid diets are best for people who cannot eat solid foods or have issues with their digestive systems.

Many times, a clear liquid diet will be prescribed for people about to undergo surgery. They will have to stick to consuming clear vegetable or chicken broth, clear fruit juices like apple, and gelatin desserts. This classic food trend is an extremely low-calorie diet and should be sustained for a long time. Doctors do not recommend liquid diets for weight loss. They should not be followed outside of medical supervision or a hospital.

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19. Atkins Diet

The popular low carb diet trend began with the Atkins Diet. This diet plan promotes weight loss by restricting carbohydrate levels. Followers of this diet are encouraged to eat a menu rich in meat, eggs, cheese, and low carb vegetables.

Atkins dieters avoid eating fruit, white flour, complex carbohydrates, sugar, and starchy vegetables. Many people, including celebrities like Rob Lowe and Sharon Osbourne, have found success on the Atkins diet. At one point in time in the early 2000s, one in eleven American adults was on the Atkins diet. Doctors do not recommend staying away from carbs for too long and say that eating a diet high in meat and fat can lead to heart issues.

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20. The Zone Diet

Another low carb diet that many people follow is the Zone Diet. A biochemist named Barry Sears designed this method of eating. His idea was that you could reduce your weight by restricting calories and avoiding spikes in insulin release.

Followers of the Zone Diet are encouraged to eat three small meals a day and two snacks with no more than 5 hours between meals. While you can eat protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats, you should choose options that are low on the glycemic index and will not raise blood sugar. On this diet, getting regular exercise is encouraged.

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21. Macrobiotic Diet

A macrobiotic diet can be vegan, vegetarian, or pescetarian. The ideals of this diet are based in Zen Buddhism. This type of diet aims to balance a person’s yin and yang through food and cookware.

Those that follow a macrobiotic diet eat very few animal products, dine on foods that are in season and locally grown, and eat their meals in moderation. While many proponents of the macrobiotic diet believe it can help treat cancer and other serious diseases, there has been no conclusive proof of that. In certain people, especially pregnant women and children, the macrobiotic diet can lead to malnutrition.

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22. South Beach Diet

Arthur Agatston developed the South Beach Diet in 2003. Like many other fad diets, South Beach promotes sticking to a low glycemic diet and avoiding “bad carbohydrates.” This diet consists of three stages, with the first stage being the most strict.

The first stage of the South Beach Diet involves mostly protein and vegetables. As you move into the second and third stages, you will introduce more carbs and less protein and fat into your diet. While this diet has a few good principles to follow, it can cause harm because of how restrictive the first stage is.

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23. Master Cleanse Diet

Speaking of restrictions, not many diets are as strict as the Master Cleanse. With this diet, you drink a concoction of water mixed with various spices. This cleanse intended to be temporary and flush out all of your toxins.

On the Master Cleanse, you are not permitted to eat any food. You can only drink a concoction of water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. Experts have found no evidence that this works to flush harmful toxins out of the human body. Anyone who stays on the Master Cleanse for an extended period may experience adverse side effects because of the lack of fat, protein, and essential nutrients.

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24. HCG Diet

The HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, diet was developed by a British endocrinologist in 1954. He hypothesized that a low-calorie diet paired with injections of the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin could help people lose weight. A woman’s placenta produces HCG after an embryo has attached to the wall of the uterus.

He maintained that this hormone would tick the brain into burning fat instead of muscle. The idea was to give regular injections to a person looking to lose weight as well as place them on a 500 calorie a day diet. Many researchers did not find that this diet was effective and are against the idea of eating so few calories.

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25. No Trans Fats Diet

A diet fad that was famous beginning in the mid-1990s was the elimination of trans fats. The American Heart Association announced that a diet high in trans fats puts people at a higher risk of developing heart disease. There are two types of trans fats: artificial and naturally-occurring.

Some animal products, like meat and milk, may contain natural trans fats. The most harmful trans fats are artificial, and those are created when hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oil to make it more solid. If you look at a food label and see “partially hydrogenated oils” that item contains trans fats; avoid trans fats as they can raise bad cholesterol levels and increase your risk of stroke and heart disease.

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26. Gluten-Free Diet

A significant diet trend that has become popular over the last few decades is the gluten-free movement. People with celiac disease are sensitive to gluten and cannot eat anything that includes it. That means bread, pasta, cakes, and other items that contain wheat are off the table.

Gluten can cause gastrointestinal issues and dermatological problems. Maintaining a gluten-free diet can not only help you lose weight but improve conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Luckily there are many gluten-free products on the market today so you won’t have to sacrifice eating most of your favorite foods.

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27. Low Sugar Diet

Although sugar is delicious, it can cause a myriad of health problems. Refined sugars can lead to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other serious conditions. Adopting a diet low in sugar can benefit everyone!

Being on a low sugar diet essentially means eating foods that are low on the glycemic index. Meat, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are staples of this way of eating. Although fruit has sugar, many types are not too sugary. Stick with apples, pears, berries, and peaches. Stay away from high sugar fruits like watermelon, bananas, and pineapple. Foods like potatoes, white bread, corn, soda, candy, and rice should be avoided on a low sugar diet.

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28. Low Sodium Diet

A great diet for heart health is a low sodium way of eating. Too much sodium in your diet can cause heart disease, hypertension, and heart attacks. Eating a lot of salty food leads to fluid buildup, which can directly weaken your heart.

Normally, you should only have 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Those with heart failure should take in no more than 1,500 milligrams each day. Eating whole foods, avoiding processed junk, and cooking all of your meals can help you stick to a low sodium diet. Be sure to drink plenty of water as well!

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29. Carnivore Diet

The carnivore diet is a monotropic way of eating. That means you eat only one type of food for the entirety of the diet. In this case, you are only allowed to eat meat and other animal products like eggs and milk.

If this sounds extreme, that’s because it is. Those who champion this diet claim that it helps you lose weight, regulate blood sugar, and improve your mood. Not much research has been done about this eating regimen, so there isn’t much information on how it can be beneficial. On the carnivore diet, your goal is to eat zero carbs each day.

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30. Keto Diet

Probably the most popular diet craze in the world right now is keto. The ketogenic diet involves restricting carb intake and increasing how much fat is in your diet. This helps to put your body into ketosis, so you get hungry less often as your body is burning your fat for energy.

When your body goes into ketosis, ketones are produced by the liver. The body will burn fat instead of carbohydrates to fuel the brain. This diet has been remarkable in helping children and adults with epilepsy reduce the number of seizures they experience. Keto involves doing a lot of math to make sure that you are getting an adequate amount of fat each day to keep your body in ketosis.

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31. Intermittent Fasting

A concept that tends to go hand in hand with keto is intermittent fasting. This concept involves spending a large portion of your day in a fasting state. For example, you may be fasting for 16 hours a day with an 8-hour window in which you are permitted to eat.

You can also get stricter with your guideline, like fasting for 20 hours a day and eating for four or fasting for 24 hours at a time. Fans of intermittent fasting believe that eating all of your allotted calories for the day will make you end up eating less than if you were able to graze and snack all day long. Other positives of intermittent fasting include better sleep quality and higher energy throughout the day.

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32. Exercise Gaming

Who doesn’t love video games? There are many different types of video games to choose from, including exercise games. Many people use exercise video games to improve their fitness.

A significant trend in the last few years was the Wii console. This gaming system included handheld controllers that required your whole body to move with them. Interactive games like tennis, bowling, and even fencing could get your heart pumping while you had fun. The Wii also has games for playing sports, doing Pilates, and dancing. The Wii has an additional console, the Wii Fit that was great for checking your weight and working on balance and fitness.

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33. New Technology

Where would we be without our smartphones? Our phones link us to friends and loved ones all over the world. They can also help us stay active.

The app stores on our phones provide a wealth of resources for getting fit. You can find cardio apps, weightlifting apps, yoga apps, and more. There are also GPS trackers that can measure heart rate, map your location, and keep track of your fitness stats. Watches and wearables like the Fitbit and Apple Watch make counting steps and stairs climbed easier than ever. You can even use these devices to monitor your sleep patterns and calories burned.

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34. Dancing

Like we mentioned before with Jazzercise, dancing for physical fitness is hotter than ever! So many people love to have fun while they workout and dancing makes it possible. If you go to your local gym, you will most definitely find a dance class or two on their schedule.

One of the most popular types of fitness dance classes is Zumba. This Latin-infused dance class has been around since the early 2000s and has thousands of loyal followers. It’s a great way to dance to catchy music and learn new dance styles like samba, salsa, and merengue. For a fun cardio workout that will sweat, take an exercise dance class!

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35. Exercise Gimmicks

Although there is a lot of great fitness technology out there, there are also a lot of hokey gimmicks. Many of them are not worth the money, but there are a few gems out there. Good exercise gadgets include TRX Suspension Training, kettlebell training, and the BOSU Balance Trainer.

The bad gimmicks to avoid are ones you may have seen on a late-night infomercial. Things like a band you wear around your waist to stimulate fat burning or a chair that you sit in and move side to side to create abs. There are also wheels that you hold onto and do crunches to help you define your waistline.

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36. Amateur Athletes

A surprising trend you may not have considered is the rising popularity of amateur athletes. In the past decade, the amount of beginners training for a marathon had nearly doubled. Many amateur runners are training hard to qualify for marathons around the world.

So many resources are available for marathon runners these days. There are online marathon training programs that allow you to train without a coach or running club. New marathons start each year, making it easy to find one to race in. Also, training periods have become shorter, so people with full-time jobs have no problem training for a big marathon.

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37. Shoe Trends

For those who work out frequently, especially runners, having the proper footwear is essential. Lately, there has been a rising trend in anti-shoes. People are looking for shoes that make you feel like you are barefoot, walking on sand.

These shoes usually have a curved sole and multiple layers. The idea behind this anti-footwear is to activate more muscles as you walk. They also help to provide shock absorption for joints and improve posture. Many brands advertise these shoes as a way to get fit without going to the gym. You can find this style of footwear in the Skechers Shape Ups or Reebok EasyTones.

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38. Extreme Weight Loss

With the obesity rate climbing each year steadily, more and more people need losing weight. Many people have hundreds of pounds to lose. This has led to the popularity of many extreme dietary measures.

We’ve mentioned several extreme methods before like the Master Cleanse Diet and the Macrobiotic Diet. Another trend that has become more common in the last decade is weight loss surgery. Many people see it as a quick fix, but it’s not an easy solution for weight loss. For several years, the TV show The Biggest Loser showed overweight people dieting and workout for hours each day to drop much weight.

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39. Core Training

A physical ideal that so many people try to achieve is the six-pack. There is an obsession with abs and strengthening the core. So many workouts focus on working out the collection of muscles located in the torso that is tasked with supporting the spine and helping with stability.

Core training is a major part of the fitness industry. It used to be that crunches were all that were performed to gain abs, but now there are so many practical exercises out there. Fun moves like planking, mountain climbers, woodchops, and knee tucks can all succeed at strengthening your core and abdominal muscles.

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40. Lifestyle Changes

One of the best ways to get fit and be healthy is to make a complete lifestyle change. While it would be great if a fad diet like the South Beach Diet could get us to our goal in no time, that’s not realistic. More often than not, the weight you lose on a fad diet will come back once you stop.

That’s why there has been a recent trend of completely overhauling your lifestyle. Committing to a way of eating for life instead of for a short time can help you become healthy and strong in a safe way. It also helps to take so much pressure off yourself if you don’t see a certain number on the scale or a particular clothing size in your closet.