They Don’t Work: The Worst Health Trends Of The 2010s

Every year, a new health fad comes out. A new technique can help you lose weight, detoxify your body, prevent disease, or improve your exercise. Many people hop on these trends before scientists have a chance to test their efficiency. This is when health trends become dangerous.

If you’ve kept up with health news in the 2010s, you’ve likely heard about fitness apps, keto, and gluten-free dieting at least once. But just because they’re popular doesn’t mean that they work. Some are pointless, others are harmful, and all are the worst health trends of the 2010s.

Calories In, Calories Out

A smart watch measures calories burned during a workout.

The rule “calories in, calories out” has been around for decades. Although it’s not new, it remained popular through the 2010s. But research has proven that calories don’t determine health or even weight loss. For instance, olive oil has 119 calories per tablespoon. But a study of over 7,000 people indicated that olive oil boosts weight loss.

There are several other reasons why dieting isn’t just calories. Certain medications, such as steroids and antidepressants, may increase weight, regardless of calorie intake. Plus, some low-calorie foods, such as artificial sweeteners, still aren’t great for your health.

Instagram Food Presentation

Two people photograph their food in a café with their smartphones.
Getty Images
Getty Images

With the rise of social media, people have started posting their food photos on the daily. It’s so common that people often joke about it. On the positive side, this fad may promote healthy eating by having these photos and recipes reach many people. But the downside is food entrepreneurs.

“Foodpreneurs,” as they’re called, use these food photographs to boost their business. These pictures increase peoples’ appetites, according to a 2012 study in Science Daily. Hence, food on social media quickly transforms from a health movement into a marketing scheme.


Stefanie Hemshall holds food produce for her ketogenic diet.
Jonathan Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
Jonathan Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Low-carb diets have been popular since the ’90s, when health news began demonizing carbs. One of the more recent ones is keto, which limits carbs to between and 25 and 50 grams. But is it successful? Studies conflict.

“The keto diet is primarily used to help reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures in children,” says Registered Dietitian Kathy McManus. “While it also has been tried for weight loss, only short-term results have been studied, and the results have been mixed.” Those who go on the keto diet are at risk of being under-nourished and over-consuming fat.

The Non-GMO Project

Labels on bags of snack foods indicate they are non-GMO food products.
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Since the Non-GMO Project began in 2007, the movement has only grown. The Project asserts that genetically modified foods negatively affect our health, and they aim to label every GMO food clearly. However, several studies–in Agricultural Biotechnology, Genetics, and Environment International, to name a few–have found no health risks in GMO foods.

Once you realize that all modern fruits and vegetables were genetically modified, the theory loses its impact. Thousands of years ago, farmers intentionally cross-bred produce to create new ones. Oranges, bananas, carrots, strawberries, and most cruciferous vegetables would not exist today without genetic modification.

Fitness Apps

The Nike Run Club app is seen on an iPhone.
Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Throughout the 2010s, smartphones became more prominent than ever. With this rise came fitness apps. In theory, these apps remind users to stick to their exercise goals. But research from Endeavour Partners indicates that over half of consumers ignore the apps within six months of installing them.

There are several reasons why fitness apps may not work. One is a psychological phenomenon called reactance. In short, when we feel forced to do something, we resist it. Having an app bug us to exercise more (instead of wanting to exercise more) ends up making people quit.

Gluten-Free Diet

Some gluten free products are put to test in a kitchen.
Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune via Getty Images
Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Less than 1% of Americans have celiac disease, the condition that prevents people from eating dairy. Yet, many more people went gluten-free in 2010s. According to the National Purchase Diary, 65% of Americans thought that avoiding gluten was healthier in 2013. The fad became so common that research in Diabetes Spectrum analyzed its effects.

The researchers concluded that gluten-free diets pose “nutritional risks.” During the study, many participants did not receive enough carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, or minerals in their diet. If you decide to go gluten-free, you’ll need help from a registered dietitian.

Oxygen Cans

A woman inhales oxygen with a Boost Oxygen can.

Simon Cowell, the famous TV personality and judge of American Idol, revealed his anti-aging technique in the early 2010s. He carried small gas bottles with him to inhale pure oxygen occasionally. Cowell claimed that the extra oxygen removed wrinkles and kept his skin youthful.

In reality, those brief bursts of oxygen will do little for your body; they may even cause cell damage. “This a great way to accelerate aging!” claims nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott. He adds that any perceived benefits will only last seconds after inhaling.

Waist Trainers

Khloe Kardashina and her friends wear waist trainers.

If you’ve kept up with Instagram fads, you’ve likely seen the celebrities like the Kardashians working out in waist trainers. These workout corsets are designed to reshape your stomach and promote fat loss. Promoters also say that waist trainers provide back support for heavier lifting.

Gastroenterologist Gina Sam is one of the many doctors to debunk waist trainers. Instead of strengthening your muscles, waist trainers are more likely to weaken your muscles from the strain. Dr. Sam elaborates that wearing a waist trainer too tightly could result in dizziness, nausea, winding, bruising, or fainting.

The Shake Weight

Alex Gerrard demonstrates Shake Weight, a women's fitness product that shapes and tones arms in just six minutes a day.
Johnny Green/PA Images via Getty Images
Johnny Green/PA Images via Getty Images

Although many people think of the Shake Weight as a joke, the product received $40 million in sales during 2010. The Shake Weight is a modified dumbbell that you shake to spot train your arms in six minutes per day. It’s intended to work out specific areas of your arm for the best fat-burning technique.

Unfortunately, the Shake Weight’s main draw is also its biggest downside. Spot training is a myth. Researcher Rodrigo Ramírez-Campillo explains that fat will burn wherever the fat concentration is highest. During his study, participants repeated leg presses three times a week and lost 10% of fat–in their arms.

Paleo Diet

Cooked sausages sit next to spinach and lettuce.
Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

You may have heard about the paleo diet, in which dieters would only eat food that is available to our Paleolithic ancestors. According to its discordance hypothesis, our body’s genetics are not matched to modern, processed foods. By resorting to hunter-gatherer foods, we can theoretically lose weight and become healthier.

While the paleo diet has some benefits, its core hypothesis is simply incorrect. Genetic research has revealed that our bodies have adapted to modern diets after the Paleolithic era. Plus, the diet avoids whole grains and legumes–both of which people ate during that period.

The Feeding Tube Diet

A woman uses a feeding tube to diet.
YouTube/10News WTSP
YouTube/10News WTSP

In 2011, Dr. Oliver Di Pietro introduced a new diet: the KE Diet. Also called the feeding tube diet, the KE Diet feeds people protein powder through a feeding tube for a specific number of days. The dieter cannot eat anything else while on the feeding tube.

There are several problems with the KE Diet, besides shoving a feeding tube through your nose. Dieters can only consume 800 calories per day, which is way too low, according to Registered Dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also warned that KE could cause pulmonary infections and heart problems.

Magnetic Bracelets

The magnetic bracelet is presented by research nurse Judith Mathie to HRH The Prince of Wales during his visit to College Surgery in Cullompton.
Barry Batchelor /PA Images via Getty Images
Barry Batchelor /PA Images via Getty Images

During the mid- to late-2010s, companies like Livestrong promoted the supposed health benefits of magnetic bracelets. According to the theory, some cells and tissues emit electromagnetic impulses that are thrown off balance during injury. Magnetic bracelets are supposed to return the balance and relieve pain, especially arthritic pain.

The American Cancer Society has confirmed that magnetic therapy can alleviate pain. However, these magnetic bracelets don’t do much. In 2009, research in PLoS One reported that arthritis patients felt no different after wearing magnetic bracelets. Efficient magnetic therapy is always done through medical supervision.

Raw Milk

A person pours raw milk into a mason jar.

Raw milk is another example of the attitude, “untampered is better.” Raw milk has not been heated or decontaminated, a process known as pasteurizing. Proponents argue that raw milk has better flavor, nutrition, and immune benefits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with many other agencies, have warned against raw milk. Unpasteurized milk may contain E. coli, Salmonella, and other deadly pathogens. Between 2007 and 2012, 81 disease outbreaks were associated with raw milk. Children, pregnant women, and the elderly and particularly susceptible to these diseases.

Placenta Pills

Placenta pills are contained in a blue bottle.
Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

In 2012, Mad Men star January Jones told People about her unusual health pick-up after giving birth. She took pills made with her dehydrated placenta, the organ that supplies oxygen to a baby in utero. Although this practice is common in other cultures, the recent fad claimed that it could prevent post-partum depression.

In short, we need more research to confirm that placenta pills are safe. The FDA does not regulate them, and Certified Nutritionist Mira Calton claims that the placenta could contain toxins. Plus, there is no research supporting the cure of post-partum depression, says gynecologist Lauren Streicher.

Needing More Vitamin D

A bottle of vitamin D supplements stands in front of the pills.
Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

In the late 2010s, more people took vitamin D supplements than years before. These people believe that vitamin D would erase fatigue, muscle weakness, and even depression. Although vitamin D does help those areas, the trend quickly convinced people that they had a deficiency. Spoiler: they didn’t.

When people take vitamin D supplements without a deficiency, they’re at risk of overdosing. Vitamin D toxicity may cause nausea, vomiting, weakness, and kidney complications. Also, a few studies in JAMA found that vitamin D supplements did not prevent heart disease or cancer as well as sunlight vitamin D does.

Barefoot Exercising

Several people run while barefoot in Central Park, New York City.
Ann Johansson/Corbis via Getty Images
Ann Johansson/Corbis via Getty Images

Have you heard about the anti-shoe exercise trend? The idea is that by exercising barefoot or wearing shoes that mimic bare feet, your posture and shock absorption will improve. But research has indicated that this method doesn’t add much.

In 2016, researchers observed that wearing Masai Barefoot Technology actually increased the force on feet. Plus, jogging in these shoes reduced the range of motion in participants’ hips, knees, and most other joints except the foot. So if you’re looking for less shock on your foot, this trend is not the way to go.

Juice Cleanses

A young woman prepares a smoothie from fresh fruit and vegetables.
Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images
Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images

Throughout the 2010s, juice cleanses have become increasingly popular. The diet requires people to consume only fruit and vegetable juices for a certain amount of time, usually between three to ten days. In theory, juice cleanses will detoxify the body and help people lose weight.

Juice cleanses have some good news, such as a brief water weight loss and nutrient boost. However, the low calories and protein can make your blood sugar drop. This could cause fatigue, dizziness, and headaches. Plus, the diet actually strips the body of digestive fiber, according to Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist Amy Shapiro.

Boot Camp

Female Marine recruits are disciplined with some unscheduled physical training during boot camp.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

By 2011, Boot Camp was already one of the top 10 fitness trends. But why would people choose to engage in military-level workouts? Well, it’s brief and advertises immediate weight loss. But these camps don’t work for everyone.

One reason why boot camps don’t work is in the description: they’re brief. If you return to your previous diet and exercise routine after boot camp, your weight won’t budge. Plus, most boot camps focus mainly on cardio. But a better workout for fat burning features weight training, according to a 2017 study by Wake Forest University.

Lemon Detox Diet

An illustration shows a cup of hot water with lemon slices and two whole lemons on a chopping board.
Susann Prautsch/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Lemon Detox Diet is similar to juice cleansing, but it involves a lemon water mixture. The full mixture includes lemon, water, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup. The supposed body-cleansing diet originally surfaced in the 1940s and experienced a revival in 2006.

Your kidney does all the detoxification that your body needs. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, there is no compelling scientific proof that detox cleanses remove toxins from your body. The Food and Drug Administration also warned that the Lemon Detox Diet could cause electrolyte imbalances.


A No Vaping sign is seen near a light wooden wall surface, with stylized image of a vaping device or e-cigarette crossed out with a red circle.
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Although vaping has become an aesthetic fad, it began as a way to quit dirty habits. Vapes use a concentration of nicotine that’s supposedly less harmful than cigarettes. Because they’re advertised as more healthy, vapes help people quit their habit. They have also become popular with non-smoking people.

In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked 47 deaths associated with vaping. According to researcher Dr. Michael Blaha, nicotine raises your blood pressure and adrenaline, which increases your likelihood of a heart attack. Vapes also harm your lungs with chemicals such as vitamin E acetate and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).