Most popular Gen X, Gen Z and millennial diets revealed

Woman taking a picture of her diet. (Getty Images)
The most popular diet trends for each generation have been revealed. (Getty Images)

Diet culture has been a hot topic for decades with ever-changing beauty standards and constantly updated scientific advice all having an influence on our food and nutrition habits over the years.

But new research has revealed the most popular diet trends across each age group and how our attitudes to eating has been influenced by the generation we were born into.

The study, by Protein Works, surveyed 1,000 adults, delving into their experiences with diet culture and the types of diets they've explored.

Results revealed that 46% of adults had tried a diet at some point in their lives and 71% of those under 35 believed that diet culture significantly impacts their food choices today.

The findings also showed each generations most popular diets and gave an indication into their health ideals and how they have changed over the years.

Data from the study found that intermittent fasting, no/low-carb diets, and Weight Watchers are the most popular diet trends millennials have tried.

These type of diets all have weight loss as the primary goal and often demonise food groups such as carbohydrates, mirroring the restrictive and guilt-driven attitudes of 90s diet culture, which often glamourised unrealistic body types, and unhealthy disordered eating habits.

This era found people bombarded with images of super-skinny models and celebrities, promoting a narrow definition of beauty.

It also led to the rise in ‘thinspiration’, a trend in the early days of the internet where people shared images of dangerously skinny people as inspiration for their weight loss.

“The issue with promoting low-carb diets is the demonisation of a whole food group," explains nutritionist, Kyle Crowley.

"In fact, carbohydrates are fantastic, delicious and vital sources of energy and nutrients, which play a big part in a well-balanced diet."

"By slightly reducing your normal carb intake, you may see some weight loss benefits purely due to a reduction of calories; however, there are much more sustainable and enjoyable ways to lose weight than removing bread and pasta from your diet.”

(Protein Works)
Protein Works' survey revealed how diet culture has changed over the generations. (Protein Works)

While intermittent fasting and Weight Watchers remain common diet trends for this generation, their top diets also feature Slimming World and the Atkins diet. Collectively, these popular diets promote a low-carb intake with the additional community aspect of promoting ideals of weight loss and thinness, which arguably help promote diet culture throughout society.

"Gen X bridged eras, experiencing the rise of weight loss supplements, fad diets like cabbage soup, and arguably some of the most toxic messaging from the billion diet industry," explains Dr Daniel Glazer, clinical psychologist and co-founder UK Therapy Rooms. "This promoted cycles of shame and harsh self-criticism around food and body size."

Crowley has some words of warning for those considering diets, which restrict one particular food group.

"The Atkins diet is another diet which encourages people to have a negative association with carbohydrates, leading people to believe that one food group alone is the main cause of weight gain, which just is not true," he explains.

"Its method of drastically reducing carb intake, which is the body's primary source of energy, can lead to constipation, nutrient deficiencies and dangerously low blood sugar, along with an array of other health issues."

(Getty Images)
Low carb diets were popular with millennials and Gen X. (Getty Images)

The survey revealed that Gen Z’s most popular diets were detox diets, often done to help remove toxins, lose weight, and promote overall health.

Juice cleanses also feature in second place, highlighting how this generation is not only looking for quick fixes but also prioritising wellness trends over more weight-based diets compared to other generations.

"For Gen Z, raised in the era of social media and body positivity movements, there seems to be a backlash against more extreme or restrictive diets, thank goodness," Dr Glazer says. "But let's be real - influencer culture and those filtered, picture-perfect beauty standards are still an immense pressure to deal with."

Dr Glazer says diets focused on holistic wellness and ethical eating like veganism and intuitive eating really click with Gen Z in a way restrictive diets just don't.

"These appear to resonate so much more with their values and how they choose to live their lives," he adds.

But Crowley has a word of warning for those wanting to try a juice or detox diet. “While fruit and vegetables have many great benefits, such as providing essential vitamins, juices often contain less dietary fibre than whole foods," he explains. "There is also very little research on its effectiveness in flushing out toxins and its ability to aid weight loss efforts."

Crowley says it can also be dangerous for the people participating if they aren't eating enough solid food to meet their energy requirements.

"Often, these detox of juice cleanses can lead to tiredness, irritability and headaches, not to mention it can also increase the risk of eating disorders if not carefully managed," he adds.

Intermittent Fasting proved popular across all generations. (Getty Images)
Intermittent Fasting proved popular across all generations. (Getty Images)

Intermittent fasting was found to be the most popular diet trend across all age groups, with an average of 13% participation among those trying diet trends.

Gen X and Baby Boomers (45-54 years old) led with 15%, followed by 25-34 year-olds at 14% and Baby Boomers at 13%. Meanwhile, only 7% of Gen Z had participated in IF.

Notably, the 5:2 fasting method was specifically mentioned in responses, comprising 14% of all intermittent fasting answers. This approach involves regular eating for five days and restricting calorie intake on the remaining two days of the week.

"Intermittent fasting has been scientifically found to support weight loss efforts and can be effective if done safely," Crowley says. "This is because it restricts the eating window, making it easier to maintain and support a calorie deficit, which is the basic fundamental requirement for any weight loss efforts.

"However, it’s important to note that many of these studies are small and of short duration and require longer-term research to assess IF's sustainable role in weight loss."

Crowley also points out that IF may not be for everyone. "Some people may suffer side effects such as fatigue, nausea and headaches; if so, consult a medical professional," he advises.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic says there has been a noticeable shift towards long-term and sustainable lifestyle changes over quick fixes.

"As scientific research highlights the links between lifestyle, health, and longevity, more people are focusing on treating their bodies well," she explains. "This trend is evident across all ages, with more people across the ages avoiding alcohol and opting for high-quality, organic foods."

Public knowledge about health and wellness is also encouraging people to think about prolonging life and ageing well.

"While access to healthier options can vary based on socio-economic status, the overall trend towards valuing wellbeing and sustainable health practices is clear," Dr Touroni continues. "This reflects a broader shift towards more informed and conscientious lifestyle choices."

As with all the diet trends Crowley says it is important to do your own research and consult a medical professional before trying anything new.

"This way, you can make sure it's safe and effective for you," he adds.