The Mind-Boggling History Of Fad Diets

The babyfood diet. The cabbage soup diet. The Atkins diet. And yet, hard as it is to believe, in the past we've done even worse to be thin.

  • The Swamp Diet. Thomas Short, author of the 1727 not-classic The Causes and Effects of Corpulence had observed that heavier people lived near swamps. The obvious conclusion? To lose weight, live in a dry climate.
  • The Great Masticator . San Francisco art dealer Horace Fletcher was famed at the turn of the 20th Century as "The Great Masticator," because his "chewing diet" mandated that you chew 32 times - once for each tooth - then spit out the food.

    Celebrity Fans: Henry James, John D. Rockefeller.

  • The Inuit Meat-and-Fat Diet In 1928, celebrated arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson outlined his proscribed diet, which he based on his time spent living with the Inuit. Like the Inuit, whose diet has long been a source of fascination to scientists, he recommended everyone subsist on fish and blubber regardless of geographical locale or body type - or, lacking blubber, meat and fat. Exclusively.

    Celebrity Fan: The man himself.

  • The Tapeworm Diet Among the vilest of all known diets, the Tapeworm Diet was - maybe - an urban legend that still persists. Word was, stars of the 50's were able to get their hands on a capsule that set a parasite loose in your body and caused dramatic weight loss; there was some antidote pill that prevented one from dying. When opera diva Maria Callas lost a dramatic 65 pounds, rumor had it the tapeworm diet was her secret. Others just thought she had a tapeworm due to her propensity for eating raw liver. Yes, some people still talk about "swallowing the worm." They should be avoided.

    Celebrity Fan: Maria Callas.

  • The Vegetable Oil Diet: In the early 60s, obstetrician Dr. Herman Taller advanced a novel dieting theory: eat as much as you want, and wash it down with vegetable oil. (Dispensed via pill.) Calories Don't Count was a national bestseller - even though, technically speaking, they do. The FDA later charged Taller with just peddling safflower oil and he was convicted of mail fraud.
  • The Sleeping Beauty Diet: You've heard that lack of sleep can lead to weight gain...doesn't it follow that if you sedate yourself and sleep for days, you'll get really thin? Some folks in the 1960s thought so; and anyone who's read Valley of the Dolls will recall that it's how Neely O'Hara gets showbiz-slim.

    Celebrity Fan: allegedly - and, somehow, plausibly - Elvis.

  • And in case you were wondering: yes, most of these are still practiced in some form. Of course.

    Referenced:
    Sitwell, E. English Eccentrics
    Jay, R. Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women
    Michell, J. Eccentric Lives and Peculiar Notions
    Horace Fletcher [Wikipedia]
    As the Worm Squirms [Snopes]
    Adventures In Diet [BibleLife]
    Herman Taller [Wikipedia]
    ME, ELF and UCEM [LITFL]
    World's Most Dangerous Diets [Weightcritic]