There have been hundreds of diets, going back a very long way, as overweight or obese people searched desperately for something that would work for them. Most of these diets, some of which are weight loss methods rather than diets, were (and are) logically irrational, and therefore “bizarre”. It´s often hard not to be amazed that their originators and followers thought they were reasonable, though with the modern ones there is a strong suspicion of commercial motives. It´s not only in the past that people sometimes followed odd diets. There are people now who think a grapefruit diet or a cabbage soup diet are reasonable, rather than potentially dangerous. Sometimes, they will accompany their diet with weekly greasy hamburgers and potatoes fried in cheap vegetable oils, as a rest from the diet. They might lose some weight, but they will certainly have indigestion.
Hippocrates – the “Father of Medicine”
The man often referred to as the “Father of Medicine”, who came up with various suggestions on diet, Hippocrates, was a Greek, born about 460 BC.. His recommendations for how to lose weight do not generally sound too bizarre, even if they might not help much in achieving their object. He recommends hot dry foods, to be eaten, preferably, after exercise while still panting, with no more refreshments before meals other than dilute cold wine. Further suggestions included eating only once a day, taking no baths, sleeping on a hard surface and walking about naked as much as possible. Eating only once a day certainly could help in losing weight, as might walking about naked, at least in winter. Hippocrates also advised athletes with sore muscles to “get drunk once or twice” as a cure and further advice for those wanting to lose weight was to eat more meat and proteins, which would lead to the dieter having reduced food cravings. (Ancient Greece was the true originator of low-carb diets – and they also invented vegetarianism.)
This page has Hippocrates at the start not to consider his dietary ideas as “bizarre”, but as an expression of admiration for his achievements, which included some of his idea on how to lose weight.
10 Bizarre diets
Weird diets seem to have proliferated more and more with the passing of time. Here are some examples:
1558 – Almost a starvation diet – but including wine
An Italian businessman apparently had become so obese that his doctors gave up. He then created his own diet, which consisted of 12 ounces of food and 14 ounces of wine a day. A typical loaf of bread, say, is about a pound in weight and would produce around 17 medium-cut slices, though I don´t know whether the Italian´s diet included any bread. His wine ration is equivalent to about 3 glasses, so was quite generous. The diet apparently worked and his diet became popular.
1727 – The “stay away from swamps weight loss method”
Thomas Short, an English physician, published “A Discourse Concerning the Causes and Effects of Corpulency“. He believed that the overweight tend to live near swamps, so he suggested that if they wish to lose weight they should move to drier places. I don´t know of any records as to the results of his advice.
Early 1800s – The Vinegar and Water Diet
Lord Byron (1788-1824) popularised this diet, which involved drinking water mixed with apple cider vinegar and eating potatoes soaked in vinegar, which would supposedly cleanse and purge his body. He also took his tea with a raw egg mixed in and sometimes varied things a bit by sticking to a diet of biscuits and soda water. He loathed “butcher´s meat”. As well as being both anorexic and bulimic, he was quite likely a bit of a hypochondriac too, since he considered that he had a “morbid propensity to fatten” and consequently weighed himself frequently. At least the diet seems to have worked, since he dropped from 194 pounds (88 kg) in 1806 to under 126 pounds (57 kg) by 1811, though he suffered other health consequences. Perhaps it´s not surprising, as his diet´s side-effects often included vomiting and diarrhea.
Byron was the world´s first celebrity dieter. He had the thin and pale look, which was fashionable at the time, and caused many romantics to imitate his diet, to try and acquire the same look. A critic at the time complained that “Our young ladies live all their growing girlhood in semi-starvation”.
1830 Graham´s “Cracker” Diet
Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham was one of the USA´s first known vegetarians and also a strong believer in a healthy lifestyle, to control lust. Gluttony also got a strong thumbs-down as he considered that it made you sexually promiscuous and morally corrupt. He urged people to abandon coffee, tea, tobacco and alcohol but to take enthusiastically to daily cold baths, chastity, exercise and hard mattresses. To help people achieve all this, he invented a coarsely-ground wheat-flour cracker for them to enjoy.
The results of his suggestions do not seem to be recorded anywhere.
1903 The Chew and Spit Diet – aka Fletcherism
At the beginning of the 20th century, an American art dealer, Horace Fletcher in San Francisco, produced a new diet which led to him being known ever-after as “The Great Masticator”. The diet was the result of his having lost 40 pounds, which he attributed to chewing his food, but not swallowing it. To follow the diet, one had to chew food for a prescribed number of times, until all the goodness had supposedly been extracted, then to spit out what was left. This meant that one could enjoy all the flavours of the food without gaining weight.
It seems likely that the method would have led to weight loss, but the lack of fiber in the diet, as a result of it all being spat out, probably also caused constipation. Foods had to be chewed as much as a hundred times or more and this may have become a bit tedious once the initial enthusiasm had worn off.The suggestion that Fletcher would not have received many dinner invitations, is, in fact, probably wrong. He became a well-known author and his diet hugely popular. Famous followers included Henry James, Franz Kafka and John D. Rockefeller.
Early 1900s (and also 1950s) – The Tapeworm Weight Loss Method
This is one of the more unpleasant-seeming methods of losing weight. It consisted in taking pills containing beef tapeworm cysts, which would then “grow up” inside your body and eat a large chunk of the food you consumed. This would certainly cause weight loss, together with diarrhoea and vomiting – and it could also potentially cause many unpleasant medical issues, including headaches, eye problems, meningitis, epilepsy and dementia. They could also reproduce inside of you. All of these discouraging possibilities were, presumably, unknown to those who tried this route to losing weight, who probably also did not know that a tapeworm could grow up to 30 feet (9 meters) in length. When you had reached the weight you wanted, you took another pill which would get rid of the tapeworm and which seems a bit ungrateful.
Maria Callas was rumoured to have used the tapeworm method for a 65 pound weight loss, but she got upset with this suggestion
1925 – The Cigarette Weight Loss Method
Lucky Strike is particularly associated with the “cigarette diet”, due to an advertising slogan they had which said: “Light a Lucky and you´ll never miss sweets which make you fat”. Cigarettes, before Health Authorities everywhere started getting awkward, were credited with suppressing appetites and hence being (almost) healthy. Cigarettes ads sometimes said that even if you´re not fat at the moment, you soon will be if you don´t smoke. Until recently smoking was also thought of as glamorous, a bit rakish, something that went with a Monte Carlo life-style. It was seen as something that mysterious or exciting people did. James Bond, say, was a smoker in the novels, as was his creator. On top of all that it helped you lose weight!
There are still a lot of people who continue to smoke because they think that if they stop they will get fat. As a matter of fact, they may well put on some weight if they stop smoking – though it´s not inevitable and, anyway, smoking is so bad that a few pounds more weight would be a price well worth paying.
1950s – The Cabbage Soup Diet – aka the Sacred Heart diet, military cabbage soup diet and the Russian peasant diet
This diet consists mainly of cabbage soup, which is low-calorie, for 7 days, with some other fruit and vegetables and some small amounts of meat. It promises a 10-pound (4,5 kilos) weight loss in the week (without mentioning that most of that weight loss would be water) each day of which has a different emphasis. Day 4, say, consists of 8 bananas and all the skimmed milk you want, while Day 5 contains 10 to 20 ounces of beef and as many as 6 tomatoes. The last day, number 7, by way of celebration, has brown rice, vegetables and fruit juices. Needless to say, cabbage soup features every day.
You can have as much cabbage soup as you want, though your home is likely to smell terrible long before the end of the 7 days!
1970s – The Last Chance Diet – aka The Prolinn Diet
Dr Roger Linn, an osteopath, invented this diet and publicised it in a book in 1976 (“The Last Chance Diet”). In this diet, which was basically a starvation diet, you ate nothing at all, but took only Dr Linn´s “miracle liquid”, called Prolinn. You took one shot of this drink, containing 400 calories, per day – and nothing else at all. It contained ground animal horns, hooves, hides, tendons. bones and other things from abattoirs. This concoction was further treated with artificial flavours and colours, to make it more palatable, as well as enzymes to break the ingredients down. The liquid contained nothing other than protein, so it forced the body to start consuming muscle and was dangerous if continued for long.
Not surprisingly, people did lose weight on this diet, but many died and the FDA stepped in and banned it. Between 2 and 4 million people are thought to have tried it.
2000s – The Cotton Ball Diet
This is another of those diets that make you wonder: “Yeh, yeh! Very good, but did anyone really do this?” It seems they did (and, maybe, do). This diet involves substituting cotton balls for food, the cotton balls being, of course, very low calorie, though some did soak them in gelatin to make them a little more palatable. Sometimes, the cotton balls might be ingested before a meal, so as to feel quite full before even starting.This diet is specially associated with models and dancers, as it helped them feel fuller and supposedly the cotton dissolves harmlessly.
It seems pretty obvious that this diet is, at the very least, unhealthy, as the body needs real nutrients to function. Cotton balls do contain a small amount of calories, but they can also clog up the digestive system.