The Weirdest, Craziest Fad Diets Of All Time

Swimsuit season is right around the corner, which means the countdown to get the bikini bod is on. Of course, the combo of a healthy diet and exercise is the best way to go, but that knowledge wasn’t always common back in the day — which is why we have such a long and storied history of completely bonkers fad diets.

Looking back at these eating regimens through the ages, we were struck by one indelible fact: People have done some really crazy stuff in the name of weight loss. How crazy? Well, there was a diet consisting completely of cabbage soup (bet those participants smelled quite fragrant), and don’t even get us started on the cigarette diet. 

So, while we may know better now, let’s take a walk down memory lane and sneak a peek at some of the most popular diet crazes from days of yore. We think it goes without saying that, barring a few notable exceptions, you probably shouldn’t try these at home, mmkay?


1087: The Liquid Diet
Historians credit William the Conqueror as the inventor of the first fad diet. Legend has it that the English king became too heavy to ride his horse, so he went on an all-liquid diet. His liquid of choice? Liquor. The diet didn’t exactly work, and he actually died later that year after falling off the poor, probably exhausted horse.


1820: The Vinegar Diet
“Roses are red, violets are blue. Drink lots of vinegar and you’ll feel ew.” That could’ve been prose by English poet Lord Byron. He regularly cleansed his body by drinking lots of vinegar and water. It’s no wonder he felt lighter after this practice; side effects include vomiting and diarrhea. These days, dieters use apple cider vinegar as a weight loss tool. It reportedly works if you take a couple of tablespoons of the stuff 30 minutes before a meal. Devotees say you’ll feel full and will eat less. We say fine — as long as it’s not your entire meal.


1863: The Banting Diet
We all think of Dr. Atkins as the inventor of the low-carb diet, but that title actually belongs to Englishman William Banting. He lost 50 pounds (we’re talking weight, not British currency here) by cutting bread, butter, milk, and potatoes out of his diet and adding more meat. He wrote a pamphlet, “Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public,” about the experience. It became so popular that “banting” became a new term for dieting.


1920s: The Cigarette Diet
Yes, smoking is an unhealthy, harmful habit. But, that info wasn’t widely known in the 1920s. Flappers, bootleggers, and everyone in between smoked all the time, unaware of the dangers (including heart disease and lung cancer). Cigarette manufacturers even promoted the weight-loss benefits of cigs at the time. Add a bottle of Champagne into the mix, and you’d have the diet of many supermodels in the 1970s.


1960s: The Sleeping-Beauty Diet
You can’t eat while you’re sleeping, right? That’s the thinking behind this fad diet, which involved popping a sleeping pill and passing out before supper. Elvis was allegedly a fan of this one, and we all know how successful that was for him.


1960s: The Calories-Don’t-Count Diet
No need to apply your counting skills when you’re on this diet. In 1961, Herman Taller, a Brooklyn-based doctor, invented the CDC diet after losing 65 pounds in eight months. His theory was that if you avoid carbs and sugar, there’s no need to count calories. He advocated eating three meat-heavy meals a day, along with a safflower oil capsule. The FDA eventually ruled this method unsafe.


1975: The Cookie Diet
We’d like to think that Cookie Monster, who made his debut on Sesame Street’s very first episode in 1969, was the creator for this diet. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t involve an unlimited supply of chocolate chip cookies, so we don’t think he would approve. Sanford Siegal, a south Florida doctor, created cookies made from a mixture of amino acids. He had his patients eat six a day, followed by a 300-calorie dinner. The diet became a success and spawned a number of weight-loss clinics throughout the country.


1980s: The Cabbage-Soup Diet 
This one’s still kicking around: Dieters eat as much cabbage soup as they want, along with a few select foods on specific days during this seven-day plan. For example, you can eat fruit the first day, and raw vegetables on the second. Cabbage reportedly contains very little calories, and people have lost up to 17 pounds by the end of the first week. Fun fact: This diet has also been called the “Dolly Parton diet.” So that’s how the country queen keeps her waist so trim.


1990s: Atkins/South Beach Diet
Carbs were a major part of everyone’s diet in the 1980s — fast food restaurants even started selling baked potatoes. But, in the ’90s, carbs became public enemy number one. People, including celebs such as Jennifer Aniston, turned to diet plans such as Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, which cut the carbs and focused on a protein-heavy diet. Like most fad diets, this one works for short-term weight loss, but doesn’t keep the weight off in the long run.


2000’s: The Cotton-Ball Diet
“I’m totally craving some cotton balls right now,” said no one, ever. Yet, some people have taken to eating the material as a way to lose weight. The tasteless, natural cotton balls are low in calories, contain a high amount of fiber, and take up a lot of space in your stomach. But, the fiber found in cotton balls is not the healthy kind; it contains no vitamins or minerals. Because, you know, cotton balls aren’t food.


2000’s: Juice Cleanses 
Though cleanses are often labeled as fad diets, they’re actually a a step in the right direction. Juice cleanses can last three to seven days (you can do your own juicing or rely on companies such as BluePrint or Juice Rx). They help rid your body of toxins while you lose some water weight at the same time. But, that weight can return when you go back to solid food. Instead of juicing as a weight-loss method, juicing should just be part of a healthy lifestyle. And, going on a juice fast (i.e. no solid foods for a period in excess of five days) is a majorly unhealthy no-no. Better to eat healthy and add in a green juice to help you get your recommended daily dose of leafy greens.

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