The 7 Craziest Diets in History

By Mel Thomassian (RD)

While there’s a general consensus that to lose weight the calories you burn must exceed the calories you consume, how you decide to achieve that goal is certainly up for debate.

I am constantly amazed, horrified and completely baffled by the bizarre weight loss plans people follow these days in an attempt to slim down.A little research into this area reveals that many of the “new” diet trends are merely warmed-over fads from yesteryear. It appears that down through history people have craved weight loss gimmicks – so there’s really nothing new about fad dieting.

7 Fascinating Diet Crazes Dating Back to 1820:

1. Vinegar Diet (1820)

The British poet Lord Byron is credited with popularizing the vinegar diet, and was said to use three tablespoons of vinegar with water before every meal to aid weight loss.

A spin off from this diet, in the form of apple cider vinegar, is still around today, and although simply downing a few tablespoons of vinegar would be relatively easy if it worked, it’s not clear whether there are any properties in the vinegar which aid weight loss.

But, a recent study in mice, due to be published in July 2009, may prove otherwise. I’d like to see the results in humans before I start glugging vinegar morning, noon and night though!

2. Low Carb Diet (1825)

In the book “The Physiology of Taste” Jean Brillat-Savarin stated:

I know what causes obesity. Just talk to fat people. They eat too much starches and sugars.” He says this, “I have 500 conversations over the year with stout people, and each one, they’re telling me, ‘I love the potatoes. I love the rice. I love the bread.'”

The idea that starches make people fat is still around today, and doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere either.

3. “Fletcherizing” (1903)


Horace Fletcher was an American health food faddist who eventually earned the nickname “The Great Masticator.” He argued that food should be chewed 32 times before being swallowed. His dogma taught that:

“All food must be deliberately masticated and not swallowed until it turned to liquid. Fletcher believed that prolonged chewing precluded overeating, led to better systemic and dental health, helped to reduce food intake, and consequently, conserved money. People were cautioned not to eat except when they were “good and hungry,” and to avoid dining when they were angry or worried. They were also told that they could eat any food that they wanted, as long as they chewed it until the “food swallowed itself.”

Fletcher certainly had an interesting view on things, to say the least!

4. Calorie Counting Diet (1917)

Calorie counting was first introduced by Lulu Hunt Peters in her book, “Diet and Health, With Key to the Calories,” which promoted a 1,200-calorie per day diet. Up until this point people referred to food by simple terms, such as “one slice of bread.” However, it then become commonplace for food to be referred to in terms of calorie content.

5. Cigarette Diet (1925)

In the days before tobacco advertising restrictions, several cigarette companies promoted the appetite-suppressing qualities of their products. In fact, one ad for Lucky Strikes urged smokers to “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” For a few years they pushed the health spin even further by getting doctors to prescribe them!

6. The Tapeworm Diet (1954)

805-tapeworm-diet.jpgFor me this diet is the ultimate in craziness. The idea is that after swallowing a pill, the parasite will begin feeding off your food, and therefore you don’t gain weight.

I would have thought that having a meter-long parasite embedded in your intestines is clearly wrong, and after decades of ill-health effects and complications, people now realize the foolishness of this method.

But wait…a quick Google search reveals they’re still doing it. Yuk!

7. Sleeping Beauty Diet (1970)

Not many people enjoy the toils of dieting, and so the idea of being heavily sedated for several days to encourage weight loss may appeal to some. Elvis Presley is said to have tried this diet. However, it’s reported that he left the treatment 10 pounds heavier than when he’d started. Not the effect he was going for I’m sure!

Recent Days

In recent days we’ve had any number of interesting diets, including the Eat Right For Your Type Diet, the Coconut Diet, and not forgetting the Maple Syrup Diet. But, have there been any decent trends worth our attention?

Personally, I think one of the most useful trends we’ve seen lately is simply getting back to basics – moving away from highly processed junk and so-called “diet” foods, and instead focusing on food close to its natural form, such as whole fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.

What’s the worst fad diet you’ve ever come across?

For a closer look at diet history throughout the years check out the ADA’s Timeline.


  1. enfermerita

    Please,I take care of people every workday whose lives come to a crippling end due to a lifetime smoking addiction. Its infuriating.

  2. Chris

    Great Pointers
    I have had the problem you speak about.
    Recently I have lost 10 lbs but gained it back it a week after my diet. It really is all about staying positive and making a change for the long run to really keep the weight off.

    Well good luck and I hope everyone the best with keeping the weight off.


  3. Health Nut

    What about the ice cream diet? 1200 calories of ice cream + 800 calories of protein rich foods. It’s my favorite.

  4. Spectra

    Hi Mike–You may want to check this data out:

  5. Steve Parker, M.D.

    Fletcher may have been on to something, especially if it slowed down eating rates.
    Reference: Andrade, Ana M., Greene, Geoffrey W., and Melanson, Kathleen J. Eating slowly led to decreases in energy intake within meals in healthy women. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108 (2008): 1,186-1,191.

    The Vinegar diet reminds me of Dr. Seth Roberts’ Shangri-La diet in which you take 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil daily to suppress your appetite. Has he admitted yet that it was just a hoax?


  6. Mike

    I was curious if had any references. I was told by a researcher that obesity causes more health complications than smoking in the general public. who knows.

  7. Spectra

    Smoking takes more years off your life than being a little overweight does. On average, smokers live 10 years less than nonsmokers, whether they get cancer or not. Sure, they may be thinner, but I’d rather be a bit fatter and healthy than stick thin with a chronic case of bronchitis and a trach tube in my neck.

  8. Jody - Fit at 51

    An “interesting” look thru history.. and what does that tell us.. fad diets DO NOT work!

    Get back to basics, don’t eat more calories than you burn off, find a eat & exercise program that you can live with for life. What works for one does not necessarily work for you. If you miss a day or eat “bad” one day, who cares, just get back to it the next meal or day.

    Forget the craziness! Just get up & move rather than sit, don’t expect miracles. Be realistic, does not help to set yourself up for failure.

  9. paprika

    What percentage get emphysema or COPD? Stroke? Heart attack?

    What percentage get early hearing loss or loss of smell? How many have changes to their voice due to damaged vocal cords?

    What percentage get ulcers and heartburn? How about impotence? Osteoperosis?

    How many have yellow teeth and fingernails? Premature aging of the skin?

    Put it all together — it’s not a pretty picture, even if “The percentage of smokers who develop cancer is actually very small.” I’d rather have the few extra pounds — or lose them some other way.

    Sorry if this seems harsh — I’ve seen people ill from smoking, it’s upsetting to see a comment that suggests smoking is not that bad. 🙁

  10. Maha

    Back to the basics-foods in as natural a form as possible. And a good night’s sleep. It’s beyond me why people think putting foreign objects or substances into their bodies would actually make them healthier. If we were meant to ingest tapeworms to control our weight, they’d come with whipped cream.

  11. Barry

    The percentage of smokers who develop cancer is actually very small.


    I have to agree – the tapeworm diet is by far the craziest. Knowing how lethal cigarettes can be, this one is a little off the wall too. The risk of developing cancer far outweighs any appetite suppressing benefits they might offer. I’m a fan of the good old “back to basics” campaign – Eat right and move often. The problem is many people don’t take the time to educate themselves on what comprises “eating right” or they are just too lazy to employ the “move often” side of it. We all just want a quick fix.

  13. insideouthealth

    it’s amazing how many ways people create in order to find a short cut to doing a little more exercise and cutting down on a few calories! The key to both of these is enjoyment and variety – both in the foods that you eat and also the activities (rather than exercise) that you do.

  14. Mike

    PS: I am not advocating my diet. It just seems to work for me.

    Good luck to you

  15. Mike

    Thanks for the article. I now realize I have re-invented the wheel.

    I add apple vinegar to one glass of water a day.

    I have one cigarette a day after dinner.

    I count my calories.

    I started to chew my food better (my wife thinks there is room for improvment).

    I never eat spuds, rice. Never bread but sometimes something sweet from the bakery.


    I have been losing 1 pound a day average for the last 80 days.

    Even better, my doctor figures I’m doing great.