15 Most Bizarre Diets in History
On the quest for a slimmer physique, dieters have been known to go to extreme lengths. When a healthy diet and exercise just aren’t enough, people turn to the latest, greatest (and often strangest) weight-loss plans, hoping one will finally do the trick. Fad diets have been around for centuries; before The Master Cleanse and Cabbage Soup Diet, there was the Vinegar Diet and the Cigarette Diet. They sound crazy now, but history proves that desperate dieters look for desperate measures. Read on to learn about the craziest ways people have tried to trim the fat.
1727: Avoiding Swamps
In 1727, Thomas Short wrote a treatise called "The Causes and Effects of Corpulence," in which he observed that heavier people tended to live near swamps. His recommendation? Overweight people should pick up and move to more arid climates to avoid the apparent ill effects of swamp life. It may not be a proven weight-loss plan, but it seems like good real estate advice. Photo by Shutterstock.
1800s: Starvation or Hysteria
During the second half of the 19th century, a form of “Victorian anorexia” was all the rage among the middle class and aristocracy of Western Europe. People would literally starve themselves in order to live up to the Victorian notion of frailty, which was associated with spiritual purity and femininity. Photo by iStockphoto.
1820: The Vinegar Diet
The anorexic and bulimic poet Lord Byron popularized the vinegar diet in the 1820s. In order to cleanse his body he would drink plenty of vinegar and water daily (in addition, of course, to his cup of tea with a raw egg mixed in). Side effects included vomiting and diarrhea. No wonder he lost weight. Photo by iStockphoto.
San Francisco art dealer Horace Fletcher became known as "The Great Masticator" after he attributed a 40-pound weight loss to chewing his food…and not swallowing it. After being declined health insurance due to his size, he turned to chewing each morsel of food 32 times (one for each tooth) and spitting out the remains. By his logic, his body would absorb the nutrients it needed without packing on the pounds. The diet’s motto was “Nature will castigate those who don’t masticate.” Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
1925: The Cigarette Diet
It’s hard to imagine that smoking cigarettes could’ve ever been seen as promoting good health, but in the age before Surgeon General warnings, they did just that. Several cigarette companies boasted the appetite-suppressing qualities of their products. One ad for Lucky Strikes eloquently urged smokers to "Light a Lucky and you’ll never miss sweets that make you fat." Photo courtesy of Lucky Strikes.
1928: The Inuit Meat-and-Fat Diet
Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson proposed a weight-loss plan that’s like an extreme version of the Atkins diet. After living in the northern tundra, Stefansson was amazed at how healthy the Inuit people were despite living off caribou, raw fish and whale blubber, and consuming hardly any fruits or vegetables. Stefansson was so intrigued by this diet—and claimed he had lived on it himself––that to prove its effectiveness he checked into New York's Bellevue Hospital, where doctors monitored his health for several months. After observations, he was declared healthy. Photo by Shutterstock.
Early 1930s: Slimming Soap
Wash away fat in the shower? Though it sounds too good to be true, slimming soaps had women rushing for the bathtub in the 1930s. Products like “Fatoff,” “Fat-O-NO” and “La-Mar Reducing Soap” urged users to lather up to slim down. Despite their grandiose claims, these soaps had no magical fat-blasting contents: They were essentially hand soaps made with potassium chloride and other basic ingredients. Photo courtesy of GiGA.com.
1954: The Tapeworm Diet
When people learned that tapeworms—parasitic worms that live in a person’s intestines and consume their nutrients––cause weight-loss in their hosts, not everyone had the same, disgusted reaction. Some people jumped on the tapeworm train and started ingesting cysts (baby tapeworms) in order to eat without gaining a pound. Even proponents of this fad would be grossed out to learn that, in addition to the fact that they can grow up to 25 feet long in the intestine, tapeworms can cause seizures, meningitis or dementia. Photo by iStockphoto.
1960s: The Sleeping Beauty Diet
It’s hard to eat while you sleep, so catching some zzz’s must be a good way to lose weight, right? That’s the idea behind The Sleeping Beauty Diet, which was popularized in the 1960s. Followers (like Elvis) would heavily sedate themselves and sleep for days. Photo by iStockphoto.
1961: The Calories Don't Count Diet
Herman Taller, MD, claimed there was no need to count calories as long as you avoided carbohydrates and chowed down on foods high in fat and protein. The catch? You have to wash it all down with three ounces of polyunsaturated vegetable oil, delivered in a pill he provided. His theory was that when consumed together, the oil and protein stimulate fat loss, to which he attributed his own loss of 65 pounds in eight months. But Dr. Taller got into trouble with the law when it seemed he had been using the book to promote a specific brand of oil, and in 1967 he was found guilty of mail fraud and conspiracy. Photo courtesy of Amazon.
1970s: The Prolinn Diet or The Last Chance Diet
In the 1970s, Roger Linn, MD, advocated eating nothing at all—except, of course, his “miracle” liquid, called Prolinn. Prolinn consisted of ground animal horns, hooves, hides, tendons, bones and other slaughterhouse byproducts that were treated with artificial flavors, colors and enzymes to break them down. In a day, this drink provided only 400 calories, and zero nutrients. So it’s no surprise that at least 58 people who tried the diet suffered heart attacks. Whether it was the drink or the fasting that was to blame, one thing’s for sure: No one should give this diet a chance. Photo by Shutterstock
1980s-2000s: Breatharian Diet
Most diets require the dieter to eschew a certain type of food—be it meat, carbs or sugars. But one diet requires you give up everything. That’s right—you’re supposed to subsist on air alone. Breatharians believe that when humans find the purest sense of harmony with the world, they no longer require food, water or sleep. An Australian woman named Jasmuheen claimed to be a Breatharian, and tried to prove it as part of a 60 Minutes special. But the test was called off after four days when Jasmuheen’s speech slowed, her pupils dilated and she became severely dehydrated. Photo by Shutterstock.
2000s: The Vision Diet
Ever notice how fast-food chains use red and yellow in their logos and restaurants? Those hues are said to stimulate the appetite. Conversely, the color blue is said to suppress the appetite. A Japanese company used this information to create a pair of diet glasses with blue-tinted lenses that are said to make food look unappetizing, thus reducing your desire to eat. Photo courtesy of Yumetai.
2000s: Ear Stapling
The practice of stapling the cartilage of your inner ear to suppress your appetite is loosely based on auricular acupuncture, a form of Chinese healing therapy in which needles are left in the ear for up to one week. With ear stapling, you leave the staple in for six weeks to three months, after which your body will get used to it and it loses its effectiveness. Proponents of this method say the staples stimulate a pressure point that controls the appetite. This weight-loss method hasn’t been proven effective, and can cause a host of dangerous side effects, like serious infection and permanent disfigurement. Photo by Shutterstock.
2000s: The Cotton Ball Diet
Who needs real food when you can fill up on low-calorie cotton balls? That’s what fans of this peculiar diet say. Some eat them dry, while others soak them in gelatin. Because they’re so filling, they’re said to satiate you so you won’t want to eat fattening foods. While cotton balls are high in fiber, unfortunately it’s not the kind of fiber humans need. Photo by Shutterstock.