Mind & Body

You Should Never, Ever Try These 11 Diet Fads From the Past (and Present)

People love the idea that they can reap huge benefits by exerting little to no effort. And guess what: Whatever it is you're trying to do probably doesn't work like that. At all. There's no better example than all those trendy diet fads. Want to lose weight? You'll have to do more than tapping that "Try This One Weird Trick To Zap Belly Fat Forever" clickbait ad. And it's not a modern problem, either. Bizarre diet fads have been around for centuries.

Alexandra Caspero, a nutritionist based in Sacramento, summed it up nicely for the Huffington Post: "Most fad diets go something like this: Take a few foods, give them 'magic' power, and set a plan to convince people that eating this way and only this way will promote weight loss." Here are 11 diet fads of the past and (unfortunately) present that will probably make you bang your head against a wall. (It should be said that Curiosity does not endorse any of the following diets. If you're trying to lose weight, talk to your doctor or dietician about how to trim pounds in a healthy way that will work for you.)

10 of the World's Dumbest Diets

(Mostly Alcohol) Liquid Diet

Fad diets can be traced as far back as the days of William the Conqueror, who was born in 1028. According to the Conversation, he became seriously overweight later in life, resorting to a liquid diet to slim down. The thing was, that liquid was mostly just alcohol. Sure, yeah, he lost weight. But he probably would've died of cirrhosis of the liver if he hadn't been killed earlier in a horseback riding accident.

Liquid diets have popped up in all shapes and colors since then, but an especially William-esque method hit the scene in the 1960s: the drinking man's diet. This included eating "manly" foods like steak and fish, washed down with as much alcohol as you wanted. Yeesh.


Stated plainly, "cleansing" or "detoxifying" your system is a myth. That's what your liver and kidneys are for, people. In 1941, alternative health enthusiast Stanley Burroughs created the Lemonade Diet, which supposedly kills off your cravings for junk food and drugs. It's simple: Just down a mixture of lemon or lime juice, maple syrup, water, and cayenne pepper six times a day for at least 10 days. Shame on Beyoncé for giving this diet some modern positive press in 2006. It certainly helps you lose weight — at least until you go back to eating normally and gain it back — but that's because it makes your body survive on a shockingly low number of calories.

Speaking of modern miracle diet beverages, we need to talk about juice cleanses. These regimes exclude solid food and might last up to a few weeks. As Slate so bluntly puts it, juice cleanses are not healthy or virtuous; they're just expensive. "We have cave-people bodies that are built for survival," Dr. Elizabeth Applegate, a senior lecturer in the nutrition department at the University of California–Davis, tells Slate. "We do a good job recouping our losses, but that doesn't make juice cleanses at all healthy. [...] On a cleanse diet, you shed water weight as your body breaks down its glycemic stores, but it comes back once you start eating adequately again."

Breatharian Diet

Now for a quick break to entertain the ludicrous: the breatharian diet. The "breatharians" claim to exist without food or water, but rather "prana," a Sanskrit word that translates to "life air" or "life force." In American English, we're pretty sure that translates to "totally made-up thing." Breatharians maintain that they live purely off light and air, although those who don't die from the practice are usually caught eating or drinking real food in secret.

Water Diet

Similar to the breatharian torture strategy, the water diet calls for eating nothing and drinking only water. For a healthy person, a few days of doing this "diet" won't hurt you too badly, but it sure isn't a weight loss strategy. "It's just another name for fasting," registered dietitian and co-founder of Appetite for Health, Julie Upton, tells Today. "You'll be so hungry and just revert back to your normal eating patterns after trying this and you'll gain any weight that you lost."

Sleeping Beauty Diet

Think about it: You can't get hungry if you're not awake, right?! Well ... okay. The Sleeping Beauty diet is rumored to have been followed by Elvis Presley, who would down a sleeping pill and sleep the hunger away. These sleeping bouts were believed to inhibit eating.

Werewolf Diet

Combine the water diet with juice cleansing, pepper in a little breatharianism, and give it a ridiculous name. Ta-da! You've got yourself the werewolf diet, which saw a little popularity in 2014. Also called the moon diet and lunar diet, this plan "takes advantage of the moon's power to help you cleanse your body and lose weight," according to the website Moon Connection. There are two versions of the diet. The basic version is a day of fasting, after which you only drink water and juice during the full moon or new moon. The extended version starts with fasting at the full moon, followed by specific eating plans for the various phases of the moon.

Blood-Type Diet

Naturopathic physician Peter D'Adamo created the blood type diet, which uses your blood type to dictate what exactly you should be eating to lose weight. He claims that following a diet designed for your blood type will help you digest food more efficiently, lose weight, have more energy, and help prevent disease. People have reported lost weight on this diet plan, which makes sense seeing as most of the plans exclude processed foods and simple carbs. Any weight loss on this diet has not been linked to your blood type.

Tapeworm Diet

You've probably heard the old horror stories that people in Victorian time purposely swallowed tapeworms to gobble up the food they themselves have eaten. Legend has it, these tapeworms came in the form of eggs tucked into swallowable capsules. However, it's probably just that: an old urban legend.

Cabbage Soup Diet

If you could only eat one thing forever, what would it be? Probably not cabbage. The cabbage soup diet requires you to eat large amounts of cabbage soup for seven days. You can also eat certain fruits and vegetables, beef, chicken, and brown rice during that week, according to a set schedule. This plan is dangerous because it drastically limits calories, and is low in complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Avoiding Swamps Diet

Maybe it's not what you eat, but where you ... live? In 1727, writer Thomas Short observed that overweight people lived near swamps. He put two and two together and came up with the avoiding swamps diet that recommends people move away from swamps to avoid becoming obese.

Cotton Ball Diet

Let's end this on a kicker. The cotton ball diet, which came about in 2013, literally involves eating cotton balls. Yes, that's right. The thought here is that cotton balls are low in calories and make you feel full. But it should go without saying that this diet is riddled with issues; eating cotton balls will royally mess up your digestive system and will deprive you of the nutrients you need. You know, the ones you can get from eating actual food.

Want more? Check out the book "Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us" by Matt Fitzgerald. The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto December 14, 2017

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