Each year, as the calendar turns from December to January, millions of people make resolutions. And each year, surveys show, many of those self-promises relate to wellness, whether it’s losing weight, eating better, exercising more or simply getting healthier.
But “getting healthier” isn’t a fixed concept. If health advice is anything, it’s fickle. While some concepts stand the test of time—eat fruits and vegetables, get plenty of sleep, exercise when you can—other trends are over practically as soon as they begin. (Remember appetite-suppressant lollipops and Shake Weights?)
As a result, resolutioners of 2010 likely had different goals than will resolutioners of 2020. Here’s a look back at prominent health advice from 2010—and how it stands up going into 2020.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a new version of its federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans in December 2010. Among long-standing recommendations—such as eating a variety of fruits and vegetables and plenty of whole grains—the guidelines also advised Americans to limit saturated fats to 10% of caloric intake; increase low-fat dairy consumption; and limit cholesterol to 300 milligrams per day.
But, of course, federal dietary guidelines aren’t the arbiter of how people eat. Pop culture also plays a big part, and 2010 was a banner year for fad diets. Several of them, oddly enough, involved not eating solid food. Juicing was everywhere, and the “Baby Food Diet” hit the internet, encouraging followers to replace breakfast, lunch and snacks with container after container of baby food. Plenty of people chased all that juice and mush with apple cider vinegar, in hopes of aiding digestion and suppressing appetite, according to .
While nutrition science changed quite a bit throughout the decade, the next version of the Dietary Guidelines, published in December 2015 and meant to last until 2020, included relatively few significant changes. For the first time, HHS suggested a specific cap on added sugars (less than 10% of daily calories), reflecting the broader war on sugar that took hold in the 2010s, sparked by rising rates of obesity and diabetes and replacing the war on fat that took place in the 1980s and 90s.
Meanwhile, the guidelines eliminated its recommended cap on cholesterol, focusing instead on the need to avoid saturated and trans fats, while continuing to push for low-fat dairy—advice that was controversial in 2015, and has only become more so. As fat phobia fades further from memory, a number of studies have suggested that a fat-rich diet may actually prevent obesity and diabetes by balancing blood sugar and boosting satiety. In step with the resurgence of fat, the pendulum has swung from one dieting extreme (juice cleanses) to the other: meat-heavy meal plans like the ketogenic diet, which all but eliminates carbohydrates so that the body can shift to drawing its energy from fat.
But perhaps the most drastic change to take hold since 2010 is the way Americans think about dieting in the first place. The 2010s saw a major shift in the way people—and the media—talk about health, as emphasis on weight-loss and thinness began to give way (albeit not completely) to ideals of strength, holistic health and body positivity. As such, new measures of dieting success began to emerge, like “clean eating” (usually defined as eating whole foods instead of processed versions) and having a healthy gut microbiome. The broader self-care revolution has extended to food, leading many people to self-soothe conditions like anxiety and burnout with adaptogens, herbs thought to help the body fend off physical and emotional stress.
As they had for years prior, the federal dietary guidelines in 2010 recommended that adults who drink do so in moderation—which, according to HHS, meant a drink or less per day for women, and two drinks or less per day for men.Some doctors even encouraged moderate drinking, especially red wine, for its anti-aging and heart-healthy properties.
On paper, that recommendation stands going into 2020, but the conversation started to change in 2018 and 2019. Several prominent studies published in those years suggest that there is no safe amount of drinking, and that the heightened risk of conditions like cancer and obesity associated with alcohol outweigh any of its possible cardiovascular benefits. The self-care, mindfulness and wellness movements also converged to produce a shift away from heavy drinking, especially among millennials. Beverage makers responded in kind, rolling out a slew of non- or low-alcohol options, such as low-alcohol-by-volume craft beers and booze-free, botanical spirits. Seltzer also continues to reign supreme.
Exercise in 2010 was about roughing it. New books and studies brought paleo fitness (a primal fitness regimen that promotes moving like early man) and barefoot running into public consciousness, and ultra-intense bootcamp classes began working their way up the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual list of fitness trends for the first time. (On a lower-key note, yoga continued its ascent after being introduced to the U.S. decades earlier.) CrossFit, the notoriously intense workout program, was also well on its way to the full-fledged phenomenon it would become a few years later. The most recent federal physical activity guidelines at the time, published in 2008, seemed to support the more-exercise-is-better mindset. Though the guidelines did say all exercise is beneficial, it encouraged 150 minutes or more of weekly moderately-intense exercise in chunks of 10 minutes or longer.
While boutique fitness studios peddling ultra-intense boxing, bootcamp, rowing, running and CrossFit workouts are still trendy, the research community has other ideas. Numerous studies have found that short bouts of physical activity, even at low intensity, can prolong lifespan and prevent chronic illness, in some cases just as well as more intense, longer-duration exercise. The latest update to the federal physical activity guidelines, in 2018, agree that any exercise is better than none, even if it’s just a few minutes at a time. Not coincidentally, studios meant for napping and meditation, along with yoga, began popping up in cities all over America in the last few years of the decade.
Jamie Ducharme at jamie.ducharme.