The Four Day Diet Craze

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Michael A. Keller / Corbis

I like to think that I have a truly fascinating job; I monitor the aggregate online behavior of over 10 million Internet users everyday. I can see collectively what web sites people visit and what search terms they use; through Google, Yahoo! Search and other search engines, I have a view into our collective thoughts. You won't be shocked to hear that, come January, we're thinking thin.

Over the past four years I've graphed searches for "diets," and, not surprisingly, the yearly pinnacle occurs during the first week of January. What is surprising is just how fleeting an interest Internet users have in losing weight. By the second week of the year, diet searches begin a precipitous fall, dropping 32% within the first few days of the New Year, only to briefly recover in the summer months for swimwear season. The collapse then resumes until diet interest reaches an all time low on Thanksgiving Day. Diet searches remain in the trough in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, until the last few days of the year, when they surge again and the yearly cycle repeats.

Even more revealing than when we search for diets are the kinds of diet solutions we search for. During the first weeks of the year, diet searches outnumber their closest self-improvement counterpart, "exercise," by 250%. And the list of most popular dieting queries are riddled with quick fixes such as "diet pills" and "the sacred heart diet," an urban-legend diet promising a 10-pound weight loss in seven days. This year even saw the shortest diet query in search engine history, the "three-hour diet." A look at the top ten searches containing the term "diet" for the first week of 2007 proves long-term solutions aren't a major pre-occupation:


South Beach Diet

Atkins Diet

Diet Pills


Diet Plans

Cabbage Soup Diet

Free Diet Plans

You on a Diet

Special K Diet

Lemonade Diet

Source: Hitwise

Of course, even someone with the purest of dieting intentions might have problems on the Internet, where temptation is never more than a click away. In the Food & Beverage category, six of the top 10 food related URLs in January were pizza delivery sites.

Bill Tancer is general manager of global research at Hitwise.