Over the centuries, people have tried some pretty crazy things in pursuit of weight loss, from chewing but not swallowing to sleeping and not eating. All diets work to some extent, says Susan Burke March, of Flagler Beach, Fla., a dietitian and author of Making Weight Control Second Nature: Living Thin Naturally, because you’re restricting your food intake.
But with diet fads, the weight loss is usually temporary and can be quite dangerous. Here are some of the strangest diet fads.
The hCG Diet
In the 1950s, a British physician, A.T.W. Simeons, suggested that adhering to a 500-calorie-a-day diet and getting daily injections of the hormone human choriogonadotropin (hCG), which is produced in early pregnancy, would promote weight loss. The hCG diet (also known as The Weight Loss Cure) works, March says, because you’re eating so little, but there is no evidence that the hormone injections promote weight loss and, in some people, they can be dangerous, causing blood clots, depression, and headaches. The FDA has approved hCG as a fertility treatment, but not for weight loss.
The Twinkie Diet
A bakery manager invented Twinkies in the 1930s, but the diet fad’s origins are unknown. Twinkies have 150 calories each. Eat nothing but Twinkies and you could lose weight. It works, March says, because even if you eat 10, that’s only 1,500 calories a day. “You'll also get mighty tired of it fast. It’s similar to the nothing-but-chocolate diet. You can lose weight because after the first day or two you’re not that interested in eating chocolate.” And you’re depriving your body of essential nutrients.
The Tapeworm Diet
“The tapeworm diet is a draconian way of losing weight,” March says. A tapeworm is a parasite. You can get tapeworms unintentionally from undercooked, contaminated meat, especially pork. Untreated, a tapeworm infestation can be lethal. In the 1900s, hucksters sold pills that supposedly contained tapeworms that would eat the food in your stomach. “It's absolutely inadvisable to infect yourself with something that could be dangerous to you,” says March. Importing or selling tapeworms is illegal in the United States.
The Baby Food Diet
This Hollywood diet fad works by substituting baby food for two, possibly three, adult meals a day. “You will lose weight because you’re restricting calories,” March says. “But you’ll lose a lot of what adults enjoy about food — fibre, taste, and crunch.” Baby food may be pure and high in vitamins, but it’s not appropriate in terms of adult nutrition, says March. Once you start eating like an adult again, the pounds will return.
The Cigarette Diet
This has to be one of the most harmful diet fads ever, March says. If you light up rather than eat, you could see some weight loss — cigarettes have no calories and nicotine is a stimulant. But smoking is the cause of many deadly medical conditions including heart disease and lung cancer. In the 1920s, cigarette manufacturers promoted their weight-loss benefits, but that was long before the dangers of smoking were recognized. “Never start a habit as harmful as smoking to lose weight,” says March.
Aoqili Diet Soaps
Aoqili diet soaps made of seaweed and aloe vera are supposed to not only smooth the skin, but also wash away the fat that lies beneath. Similar to detoxifying seaweed body wraps, aoqili soaps have been used for thousands of years in the east Asian countries. They may make your skin look smoother and softer, but they won’t help you achieve weight loss, March says. “There’s no pill or potion or liquid you could take that will make you lose weight,” she says.
The Sleeping Beauty Diet
This diet advocates sleeping 24/7 for weight loss. You might be tired because you’re starved, but if you sedate yourself to be able to sleep that much, you’re putting yourself in real danger. Elvis Presley apparently was a devotee of this diet fad. “There is some scientific research to support the idea that lack of sleep can contribute to excess weight and obesity,” March says. “So there is something to be said for getting adequate sleep — adequate, not total.”
The Chewing Diet
This diet fad is attributed to Horace Fletcher, who sold art in San Francisco in the early 1900s. He advocated chewing incessantly, until the food was purified, and then spitting out what remained. He supposedly had many fans, including novelist Henry James, industrialist John D. Rockefeller, and cereal mogul John Harvey Kellogg. “This diet at least has some science behind it,” March says. “Studies show if you take your time and eat more mindfully, you will feel full with less.”
The Vision Diet
If it doesn’t look appealing, will you leave it on your plate? That’s the idea behind this craziest of diet fads. Wear blue-tinted glasses, and everything you plan to eat looks disgusting. The most likely outcome: You’ll still eat whatever you want and you could hurt your eyes from wearing the tinted specs for too long. A better vision diet is one that is includes lots of colourful fruits and vegetables, March says. “That way you’re getting lots of antioxidants.”
Ear stapling involves having surgical staples placed in the inner cartilage of the ear. The staples are believed to stimulate pressure points that control your appetite, similar to acupuncture. But after a few weeks, they become ineffective as a weight-loss tool because your body gets used to them. “I don’t know of any science that says this will work,” March says. “It might have a placebo effect. Better to tie a rubber band around your wrist and snap it to remind yourself not to overeat.”
The Cotton Ball Diet
For this diet, you eat cotton balls before meals. The idea is that they fill your stomach so you’re not hungry and don’t eat too much. “But it’s like eating paper,” March says, dismissing this weight-loss plan with one word: nonsensical. Cotton balls have no nutritional value and could damage your digestive tract, March adds. “Have some sugar-free gelatin or drink a big glass of water before eating instead.” Both are better ways of reminding yourself you could feel fuller with less food.