The Worst Diet Fads in History

Cole Saladino/Thrillist

I didn't gain the freshman 15. In fact, I lost 15lb as the stresses of college life -- an exhaustive drinking regimen, all-night strip Clue tournaments -- meant I could only sleep whenever I had time to spare. I'd snooze through breakfast and lunch on weekends, and nap during meal breaks during the week. I felt awful, but I knew it was a great idea for a fad diet -- I would call it the "Tired Fulton," and it would make me my millions. 

This form of weight loss already existed, though (see number five on this list), and it's horrible for your health, like most fad diets. It got me thinking: what other weird-ass diets have existed throughout history... and how did people actually swallow this tripe? An all-tripe diet is fortunately not a thing, but these 12 incredibly bizarre fad diets are definitely real, and decidedly unspectacular.


The Avoiding Swamps Diet

If you happen live in close proximity to a swamp, your obesity might not be your fault. At least according to 17th-century writer Thomas Short who (inexplicably) observed in his amazingly titled treatise, The Causes and Effects of Corpulence, that fat people mostly live near swamps, and that moving away from said swamps would cause a decrease in body weight. Crazy? Probably. But it does explain Florida.

The Hallelujah Diet 

In the early 1990s, this diet -- concocted by US reverend George Malkmus -- involved only eating things that could be found in the Garden of Eden -- like, the one where Adam and Eve lived as described in the totally accurate historical text the book of Genesis (or as I call it, God Wars Episode One: The Phantom Malus.) "Lawd, if you are listening, smite mine cellulite!"

Wikimedia/Paolo Neo

The cigarette diet 

Would you trade a lung for a thigh gap? In the early 20th century, cigarette companies -- particularly Lucky Strike -- marketed themselves as appetite suppressors (which isn’t entirely untrue...), so many weight-conscious individuals picked up the habit. And guess what? They’re all dead now. I mean... they all were pretty old. But still. 

The Fletcherism diet

Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with Chevy Chase, and everything to do with chewing exhaustively. This fad diet, popularized in the 19th century, involved chewing your food at least several dozens of times, or until it turned into liquid. "Nature will castigate those who don't masticate," was the battle cry, and the designer of the diet, Horace Fletcher, was, no joke, known as "the Great Masticator." The only thing you'll lose with this diet is tooth enamel.


The Sleeping Beauty Diet

This diet is either unbelievably stupid or completely genius. It requires you to be sedated (chemically) for days at a time, which forces you to skip meals, and allegedly helps regulate your metabolism. In theory, yes, you will skip out on calories, but it is incredibly unhealthy and probably not that effective. I mean, Elvis was apparently a fan of this diet, and just look at him

The tapeworm diet

Step 1: Insert tape worm in mouth. Step 2: Swallow tapeworm. Step 3: Eat anything you want, because the tapeworm will eat it for you, inside you. Step 4: Try not to die.


The cotton ball diet 

This is an actual diet that people are actually partaking in right now. According to the diet's loose rules, you can either eat cotton balls plain, or dip them in orange juice, lemonade, or barbecue sauce to give them a kick. This is an excellent diet, if you don’t mind painful, potentially deadly bezoars littering your stomach.

The Graham diet

It should be called “the horribly painful, blue balls diet... featuring graham crackers” because it solely focused on abstaining from doing the sex, and eating lots of the aforementioned snack. Sylvester Graham a Presbyterian minister -- who coincidentally enough, invented the graham cracker -- formulated this regime in the early 19th century, which many of his followers quickly adopted. Nobody lost weight, but dry mouths (and dry humping) skyrocketed. 


The Drinking Man's Diet

Now here is a regimen I can actually stand behind: writer Robert Cameron hypothesized that drinking hard alcohol is totally cool, and definitely doesn't need to be cut out as part of a balanced diet. In fact, he encouraged having a drink with every meal. As one of the originators of the low-carb diet (years before Atkins!) he realized that drinking straight alcohol didn’t really affect weight, so he based his popular diet off that fact that you didn’t have to give up boozin’ to start losin’ (sorry).

The slimming soap diet

Apparently, people in the 1930s would blindly believe anything if it was presented in a magazine. A soap was marketed to housewives, that supposedly had the ability to remove fat and tighten skin with a simple rubdown. Here's the worst part: people (like Reese Witherspoon!) are apparently still using slimming soap. In reality, many of these soaps contain potassium chloride, which may tighten skin temporarily, but definitely won't contribute to meaningful, permanent weight loss. Sorry, Reese. 


The Prolinn Diet (Last Chance Diet)

This diet is kind of like SlimFast in that you substitute a specially formulated drink for your meals, but unlike SlimFast, which just tastes like it's made from slaughterhouse byproduct, the Prolinn drink actually contains animals bones, tendons, horns, and hooves. It was designed to be a miracle weight-loss solution, but because it contained few calories and zero nutrients, at least 50 people who fasted and only consumed the stuff in the 1970s suffered heart attacks.

The Breatharian diet

Breatharians believe the human body needs zero sustenance (even water, in some cases) and can rely solely on air alone -- with their existence supplemented by prana, the main life source in Hindu tradition. In a segment aired on 60 Minutes, a woman claiming to be a practicing Breatharian tried to prove its validity. After four days of living of prana alone, the test was called off because the woman showed severe red flags like slurred speech, dilated pupils, and severe dehydration... which surprised no one.

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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. He always avoid swamps, for reasons unrelated to weight. Follow him: @wilfulton.