Orson Welles once observed, “Gluttony is not a secret vice.” Indeed, many people who find themselves on the road to Wellesian-worthy proportions of corpulence eagerly seek quickie solutions to shed the excess poundage they acquired.
Over the years, diets ranging from the ineffective to the fatal have assaulted an XL-sized population willing to try anything. For the sake of brevity and as a word of warning, here is our selection for the 10 weirdest diets of all time.
The Blue Vision Diet: This weight loss strategy first appeared in Japan around 2015, and it did not restrict the individual to specific foods or portions. Instead, it had the dieter wear blue sunglasses while eating – the concept was that the food would look less appetizing if it was tinted blue, thus less food would be consumed.
Of course, the diet didn’t take into account the food’s aroma – playing games with vision doesn’t shut off the olfactory senses. And, obviously, this doesn’t work when enjoying a slice of blueberry pie or a bowl of Boo Berry. Sadly, a blue hue didn’t disrupt anyone’s love of food.
The Book of Daniel Diet: In the Old Testament, Daniel and three of his friends declined the rich foods and wines of King Nebuchadnezzar’s kitchen in favor of a diet of only legumes and water. “At the end of the ten days,” the scriptural passage declared, “they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.”
However, lifting Daniel’s example out of context may create more problems than solutions –no serious nutritionist would advocate complete existence on legumes and water. Biblical scholars point out that Daniels’ actions were meant to be shown as a form of political and spiritual resistance – as a Jewish captive in Babylon, passing on his captors’ culinary culture was a symbol that he was not going to surrender his heritage. Also, the Book of Daniel stressed miraculous events rather than dietary wellness, most notably with Daniel’s visit to the lion’s den.
The Cigarette Diet: During the 1920s, the Lucky Strikes brand of cigarettes positioned itself as a tool to help lose weight. With the marketing slogan “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet,” the brand happily advocated smoking as an alternative to unhealthy eating.
Today, of course, we know cigarettes bring anything but good health to those who fall victim to their addiction. While we can laugh in hindsight at the blatant hucksterism of that Jazz Age advertising nonsense, it is difficult not to feel sorry for the naïve folks who may have believed they were smoking their way to wellness.
The Cotton Ball Diet: This fad percolated in 2013 under the belief that one could lose weight if cotton balls dipped in juice were consumed. The reasoning: the cotton balls would fill up within the digestive tract and the individual would not feel hungry.
The reality: packaged cotton balls sold in stores are not pure cotton, but made from chemical-laced polyester that can obstruct the intestinal tract and lead to internal organ damage. But that’s assuming the faux-cotton balls make their way into the digestive tract – since these balls cannot be broken down, they can easily cause choking that can lead to death.
The Drinking Man’s Diet: This unlikely approach first appeared as a one-dollar pamphlet published in 1964 by San Francisco writer Robert Cameron, who advocated for a low-carbohydrate and high-protein diet. In addition to such low-carb staples as well-marbled steaks, pâté de foie gras and veal cutlets, Cameron also cheered on other low-carb gems as brandy, gin, rum, vodka and other popular drinks.
Cameron’s book sold more than a million copies, and he was briefly a media sensation – even funnyman Allan Sherman wrote a song about the diet. While Cameron’s pamphlet would be denounced as unhealthy by Dr. Frederick Stare, founder of Harvard's School of Public Health, the publication has never gone out of print.
The Graham Diet: Nineteenth century Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham conceived this diet for reasons that had little to do with weigh loss – he believed that an unhealthy diet fueled immoral sexual urges and depraved behavior. As a result, the well-meaning if somewhat humorless theologian insisted that people focus on a mostly-vegan diet and abstain from alcohol; milk, eggs and cheese could only be consumed very occasionally.
Graham also believed white bread contributed to naughty thoughts and deeds – though he never really defined the connection. As a result, he created a whole grain alternative to sliced bread, and that creation is all that remains today of this unlikely diet: the Graham cracker.
The Morning Banana Diet: Japanese pharmacist Sumiko Watanabe created this diet for her husband, who wrote a book on how this meal regimen helped him lose 37 pounds. The diet involves the consumption of an unlimited number of bananas for breakfast along with a serving of room temperature water or milk. Lunch and dinner can be anything the individual wants, but there are no desserts and nothing is to be consumed after 8:00 p.m. Bananas are the only acceptable snacks between meals.
Critics of the diet pointed out that the unregulated lunch and dinner servings threw the diet out of whack, while overindulging on bananas was not the healthiest way to start the morning. As with most fad diets, this effort disappeared almost as quickly as it emerged. And, besides, what's a banana without peanut butter and jelly?
The Twinkie Diet: Few dietitians would credit this celebrated junk-food staple as being the key to good health, but in 2010 Mark Haub, a professor of nutrition at Kansas State University, showed that he could lose 27 pounds in 10 weeks with a regimen of high-sugar, high-fat, low calorie items such as Twinkies, Little Debbie snacks and packaged pastries and junk foods.
How did Haub achieve his results? By limiting his intake to 1,800 calories per day, which was roughly 800 calories less than required for a man of his size to maintain a proper body weight. Thus, the quantity of calories and not their source was the key to this weird diet’s success.
The Tapeworm Diet: During Victorian-era England, a popular diet strategy was to ingest a tapeworm egg. The egg would hatch and the tapeworm would grow within the body, eating whatever the individual consumed. Because tapeworms are hermaphroditic, they can reproduce on their own and hatch more tapeworms within the body.
Sounds like a good idea, right? Actually, no – the parasitic tapeworm can grow up to 55 feet in length and travel out of the digestive tract to infect internal organs. Along with the aforementioned Cotton Ball Diet, this is among the most dangerous of the weird diets – and, perhaps not surprisingly, it is still being followed today.
The Vinegar Diet: The 18th century English poet and philosopher Lord Byron was a genius with the written word and an idiot when it came to dietary health. One of his manias was keeping a thin physique, and he subscribed to a fad of his era that insisted drinking glassfuls of vinegar could help keep off the excess weight.
While Byron maintained a svelte physique, his thinness came with a terrible price: consuming vinegar as a liquid staple created severe stomach pains that created acute diarrhea and malnutrition. He died at 36 from a fever contracted in India – had his vinegar diet not weakened him so greatly, it is possible he could have easily survived the fever and lived to a healthy old age.