The All-Time Worst Diet Foods

Food Lists diet
The All-Time Worst Diet Foods

If you’re like me—and countless others—then you too have been personally victimized by diet snack foods. Of course, they still exist, but they were especially prevalent in the ‘90s and 2000s before the body positive movement really started gaining steam. They were often (but not always) ultra-processed, and they pretty much universally tasted terrible.

On the surface, it may seem like these foods were promoting a healthier lifestyle, but in reality, that was far from the truth. They often threw people into binge-and-restrict cycles in which they would deny themselves the food they actually wanted and try to make do with these diet alternatives. And although both men and women are placed under pressure to maintain a certain body size and composition, I noticed mostly women eating these foods in particular.

Some diet foods were better than others, but the following items are, in my opinion, some of the greatest offenders. Luckily, I did not have an almond mom, but still, these snacks traumatized me from an early age. These are the all-time worst diet foods.

Special K

Special K is truly one of the wildest diet foods out there. It looks pretty innocuous—it’s just a bland, basic cereal, but the real horror was in the diet specifically formulated around the cereal. It was called the “Special K diet,” and it required adherents to replace two meals with Special K a day. Yes, the diet was literally just eating cereal, which, I guess, would probably work if it were possible to stick to for more than a couple of days at a time. In the time of low-carb, keto everything, this kind of diet seems unimaginable, but the commercials for it still haunt my dreams.


SlimFast sells meal replacements that are supposed to be reminiscent of dessert but ultimately just taste like chalk. The bars, drinks and other products are all cloyingly sweet and are meant to work as a stand-in for real meals. This Soylent-esque way of eating is truly one of the most depressing things I can imagine, as it basically strips any food-related pleasure from your life and replaces it with a chocolate shake that’s far less appealing than any healthy salad I can imagine. My heart is with all victims of SlimFast—I hope your digestion eventually recovered from your ordeal.


Snackwell’s 100-calorie snack packs ruined my view of a snack. There were years where I truly believed that a snack could never clock in at over 100 calories, which, in the case of Snackwell’s, was barely any food at all. Eating these tiny packs of snacks somehow always made my hunger more virulent, as the miniscule portions only whetted my appetite and made me crave something more substantial. How did we ever think these were better options than plain old fruit?

Cottage Cheese

I absolutely love cottage cheese. But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Diet culture ruined cottage cheese. In decades past, cottage cheese wasn’t celebrated for what it was: a delicious dairy product that just happened to be high in protein and relatively low in calories. Instead, it was bastardized, contorted into a diet food by the dairy industry. Therefore, I spent years believing that cottage cheese could only be enjoyed by people stuck in the throes of a low-grade eating disorder. Thankfully, I’ve gotten past my cottage cheese aversion and can enjoy the full-fat variety happily today.

Subway Sandwiches

Remember when Subway tried to convince us that we could lose weight by eating at the chain on a daily basis, despite the fact that the brand’s bread contains so much sugar that it’s actually categorized as cake in Ireland? We don’t even have to get into Jared Fogle, the man who became famous for his Subway-induced weight loss, who was later discovered to be a pedophile. I still order an Italian BMT from Subway from time to time, but I’m glad I no longer delude myself into thinking it’s a particularly healthy decision.

Most Protein Bars

It seems like everyone is obsessed with protein these days, and I get it, but at some point, it goes too far. Sure, eat your chicken breast and your 99% lean ground turkey all you want. But once you start snacking on foul-tasting chocolate bars that inexplicably pack 30 grams of protein into a single serving, you have to stop convincing yourself this is really about health. There are less depressing ways to meet your protein goals.

Rice Cakes

Oh, rice cakes. I truly believe that anyone who’s suffered from disordered eating has tried to convince themselves that rice cakes were actually delicious at some point. But let’s level with ourselves: Rice cakes taste like absolutely nothing. Let’s just all collectively agree that we want a slice of bread.

Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.

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