The Silliest Diets of All Time

By Temma Ehrenfeld  @temmaehrenfeld
October 12, 2016

How not to lose weight.

Sometimes when we try to lose weight, we lose our minds instead and adopt tactics both bizarre and dangerous. 

Dieting for health goes back to classical times. According to Louise Foxcroft, author of “Calories and Corsets: A History of Dieting Over 2,000 Years,” fad diets to fight fat took off in Victorian times, when women began lusting to fit into narrow-waisted corsets. Back then, some diet remedies contained arsenic, in dangerous amounts, advertised as a way to speed up your metabolism. With the invention of vulcanized rubber by Charles Goodyear, both men and women began wearing rubber underwear that held in fat and made them sweat — which they hoped would lead to weight loss, but gave them infections. 

Let this list of silly diets inspire you to go for a brisk walk and eat more vegetables as a rational alternative.  


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Chew and Spit. Horace Fletcher advocated chewing a mouthful of food until all "goodness" was extracted, then spitting out whatever remained. A shallot needed to be chewed 700 times, according to Foxcroft. Highly-intelligent men such as Henry James and Franz Kafka took up “Fletcherism,” and at one point, dinner parties were timed to make sure people were chewing enough. Because you consumed so little fiber, you defecated infrequently. Chewing your food well is fine. Spitting it out sounds dangerously close to bulimia.

Vinegar. The poet Lord Byron inspired a generation of young women to eat only vinegar and rice to achieve his fashionable pale thinness. Drinking vinegar is still a popular weight-loss strategy and there’s even some evidence it helps lower the blood sugar spike from carbs. Living on vinegar? No.

Cigarettes. In 1925, Lucky Strike launched an ad campaign: “For a Slender Figure — Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet.” Nicotine can indeed suppress appetite and even blood sugar levels — but smoking could give you a heart or lung disease or cause a stroke. Some people have chewed nicotine gum as a weight loss aid. Just remember that nicotine gum has side effects, and nicotine is more addictive than crystal meth.   

Tapeworm Capsules. Tapeworms can live in your intestine and eat your food before you absorb any calories. They can cause malnutrition, along with stomach pain — and pieces of the worm can randomly come out of your anus. But women have swallowed capsules of tapeworms, usually one called Taenia saginata, in order to lose weight. As you can see in this 1800s ad, women were promised that the “sanitized worms” would banish fat with “no diet, no baths, no exercise”!  In 2013, an Iowa woman bought capsules online and ended up in the hospital


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Sleeping Beauty. In the 1960s and 70s, some women took sleeping pills and dozed off chunks of the day in order to stop themselves from eating during that time. It’s hard to imagine they didn’t get depressed, too. 

The hCG Diet. Also from that era, the hCG diet exploded again on the internet in 2011. HcG stands for human chorionic gonadotropin, now often prescribed to boost fertility. This is the hormone that helps make pregnant women nauseated in the first trimester. Research in the late 1970s and early 1980s debunked taking the hormone to boost weight loss. A recent proponent says you’ll lose less muscle, boost your metabolism and keep the weight off as long as you get injections of the hormone, rather than taking capsules. As with any crash diet, you risk depression and headache and even potentially fatal blood clots, says David Katz, MD, founding director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center.

Cabbage Soup. Please skip the 1,000 plus entries about “Cabbage soup diets” on Pinterest. The promise is that if you eat cabbage-based soup for a week, and very little else, you’ll lose 10 pounds. Cabbage is high-fiber, low-fat, and low-calorie. But you won’t be getting protein or the nutrients you need. If you restrict your calories dramatically this way, you may well shed some pounds — that could happen with any extreme restriction. You’ll lose mostly water and muscle rather than fat. You could be light-headed during the diet. When the weight comes roaring back, discouragement could lead you to give up on your health. A much better idea: Make vegetable soup and a slice of a whole-grain bread a frequent choice for a lunch or a light dinner. 

Baby Food. Tracy Anderson, a celebrity work-out guru, has recommended eating two meals a day of jarred baby food as part of a 600-calorie a day diet. Again, crash diets lead to quick weight loss and crashing disappointment when you regain. 

Breatharian diet. On the argument that plants can survive on air and sunlight, some people have tried this themselves. A handful have been known to die this way, according to news reports


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April 09, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN