As we are full force in swimsuit season, it’s hard not to notice how a lot of marketing and advertising focuses on new health foods and other tools to help make losing weight easy. Throughout history, doctors, trainers, and all sorts of other health care workers — professional and otherwise — have tried to come up with the one definitive diet that can help everyone shed pounds and sculpt their bodies into a lean and trim shape.
While there has been lots of advancement in this field, many of the so-called diets that have been proposed are utterly laughable today. We’re going to break down some of the weirdest diets in history and see whether they actually work.
Apple Cider Vinegar Diet
Apple cider vinegar has been touted as a miracle substance for centuries. It’s been used to help cure colds, clean counter tops, get rid of bacterial infections, and scour off stubborn hard water stains. It seems impossible that one substance can do all these things — and unfortunately, it is.
The apple cider vinegar diet suggests that spoonful’s or pills filled with apple cider vinegar should be swallowed before every meal, and this weight loss regime had many fans for decades. Now, most people realize that it was the low-calorie diet that was prescribed alongside the vinegar that actually led to most people’s weight loss.
Intermittent fasting is less a diet and more a way of life. Instead of eating three regular meals per day, people practicing intermittent fasting spend anywhere from 12-18 hours a day abstaining from food. Then, they eat one or two regular meals during the period of time where food is permitted.
Experts recommend building up to this extended period of fasting. Some people claim that they feel much more energy when they’re not eating all the time, while others are unable to get through the full fasting period without feeling weak and exhausted. Those who are fasting are encouraged to drink plenty of water to keep their body hydrated.
The Shangri-La diet, which was invented by psychologist Seth Roberts, aims to break the association that all calorific food is tasty. His method for doing this is to drink one to three tablespoons of olive oil and one to two tablespoons of sugar water between meals. The theory being that these high-calorie, low-flavor foods would teach the body to stop associating flavor with calories.
Roberts also suggested that people stop smelling food (so they would want it less), and that they should eat bland food whenever possible. The end goal was to eliminate cravings, so our bodies would naturally want less food.
Have you ever heard someone joke that they eat so much that they must have a tapeworm? This diet takes that joke literally.
People in the late 19th century actually gave money to doctors who sold them tapeworm eggs, which they then swallowed in hopes of getting a tapeworm infection. Tapeworms feed on the food that we eat, stopping the nutrients from being used by our bodies in a healthy way. While short-term weight loss is possible, common complications include dementia, vision problems, and complete organ failure. It seems insane, but people as recently as 2013 were still practicing this diet.
The hCG Diet
hCG is short for human chorionic gonadotropin, and it’s a hormone found in the urine of pregnant women. Many people take pills and are injected with shots that contain hCG because quack physician A.T.W. Simeons put forward a theory that this hormone helps to suppress the appetite of healthy adults, and allows them to subsist on a diet of between 500 and 800 calories from a limited menu of food per day. This number is insanely low, and while people practicing the hCG diet will see short term weight loss, it’s by no means a healthy or sustainable diet.
The Master Cleanse
Popularized by celebs like Beyoncé, the Master Cleanse is a short-term diet that’s meant to restart the body’s relationship to food, and help people drop a few pounds in a very short amount of time. Essentially, for a short period of time — usually a few days to a week — the dieter eats nothing, and drinks a concoction of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and water several times a day.
Some dietitians claim that the body gets tons of nutrients from the lemon and the maple syrup, but in reality, this diet is nothing but short-term starvation.
Like the Master Cleanse, people who practice Breatharianism are simply deluding themselves in to thinking that they’re practicing a diet or a lifestyle. Starvation is neither of those things.
Breatharians believe that drinking and eating is unnecessary. They claim to be able to sustain themselves on prana, the vital lifeforce of the universe. Breatharianism founder Jasmuheen, formerly Ellen Greve, warns not to jump in full throttle immediately. Move from a regular diet through vegetarianism and veganism to a completely liquid diet, then cut out water. While it is true that giving up food will make you lose weight, the human body cannot survive without food and water, and most Breatharians have died attempting this diet.
Baby Food Diet
A diet seems iffy if no one is willing to take responsibility for inventing it. The baby food diet, which is rumored to have been invented by celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson, involves replacing one or two meals and all your snacks during the day with jars of baby food, then eating a single normal meal at night.
Since baby food is fairly disgusting, most people don’t have problems with overindulgence while they’re on this diet. The only problem they’ll have is a crushing nutrient deficiency that will most likely lead to the dieter being exhausted, irritable, and broke. Pre-made baby food can get expensive if you’re eating up to 14 jars a day.
Less a diet and more a way of life, freeganism is a practice where people refuse to eat anything unless it comes to them for free. Freeganism has been practiced as a way to protest against corporate food companies and capitalist interests.
While it may involve some foraging if you live close to nature, for many people who practice freeganism in cities, it involves a lot of dumpster diving and scavenging around the back of grocery stores for food, as well as bartering when there are no leftovers or remnants to be found. It’s not exactly a sustainable lifestyle, as going freegan means that you’ll be dedicating tons of time and energy to finding your next meal.
The Chewing Diet
In 1903, Horace Fletcher, an art dealer with zero medical training, publicized a new diet that he called Fletcherism, or the Chewing Diet. He claimed that he had lost over 40 pounds by simply chewing his food for an extended period of time, then spitting it out once it was completely liquefied. Fletcher claimed that most nutrients would be gone from the food by the time you spit it out, and you’d get the benefit of the vitamins and minerals without having to ingest the calories. This was later proved to be completely false. This bizarre and disgusting diet was practiced by some people, but thankfully, it has mostly been left in the past.
The Last-Chance Diet
The Last-Chance Diet was a quick fix diet designed by Dr. Roger Linn, who invented a liquid protein drink that he called Prolinn. Prolinn was based on collagen, a cheap protein that was made from the hooves and hides of slaughtered animals.
No doubt it was cheap, and it did contain protein, but it failed to provide any other nutrients. Many people on the Last-Chance diet died, and their autopsies revealed that they had lost so much weight that their heart muscles had shrunk.
Grapefruit Juice Diet
Another diet that could also function as an advertisement for citrus fruit is the Grapefruit Juice diet, which suggested that people drink either 8oz of fresh grapefruit juice, or eat half a grapefruit with every meal. While many people following this diet do lose weight, most likely it’s because the other requirement is for dieters to limit their calorie intake to 1,000 calories per day — about a third to a half less than the daily recommendation for adults. Even the Florida Department of Citrus couldn’t ethically back up this diet as they admitted that there’s no evidence that grapefruit actually helps to burn fat.