The Tales of the Greatest Fad Diets of all Time

-Dr. Shreyjit Kaur

Since the time immemorial, humans have an ever-evolving relationship with food. To say the least, food influences the minutest of the things and the grandest of events that happen in our life; be it birth, wedding, illness or funeral.  From the earliest civilization discovering fire to cook simplest of the meals, to the modern-day gastronomic techniques, food has had one heck of a journey. From the simple staple of lentils, meats, wheat, barley of the Indus Valley Civilization to the innumerable dietary regimens rising and falling with time, the food seems to have seen it all!

On the other hand, with the increasing peculiarities regarding the perception of one’s body image and the desire for quick weight loss intertwined with the novel parasite of ‘obesity’, many people today have developed a somewhat unhealthy relationship with food. Thus, giving rise to a myriad of fad diets. Some are stylish, and some are outrageously bizarre. Let’s take a walk down to the lane of history and curiosity of these fad diets.

1087: The Liquid Diet

Historians attribute the invention of the first ever fad diet to William the Conqueror. According to a legend, the English king gained too much weight that he was unable to ride his cherished horse; so, he went on an all-liquid diet! His preferred liquid? Alcohol. He succeeded in losing enough weight but sadly a riding accident led to his untimely demise.

1820: The Vinegar Diet

Lord Byron, a famous English poet, was known to regularly detoxify his body by drinking loads of vinegar and water. Not surprising enough, he felt lighter after this routine; well, the side effects include vomiting and diarrhoea. 

Many people nowadays use apple cider vinegar as a part of their weight loss regime. It is said to work if you take three of tablespoons of it 30 minutes before a meal, thus satiating those hunger pangs. But there is no scientific support to this claim.

1830: The Tapeworm Diet

Dating back to the Victorian era, it was common for dieters to consume parasitic tapeworm eggs as a means to lose weight. The parasite would hatch in your intestines, attach somewhere along your gut, and devour so much of your nutrients that you would lose weight. Not for the faint-hearted, I must say! The idea was that you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight because the tapeworm is consuming all your “extra” calories. It obviously had dangerous complications such as neuro-cysticercosis, blockage of the ducts of the pancreatico-biliary system, allergic reactions etc.

1863: The Banting Diet

William Banting, a notable English undertaker, followed and later popularised a no-carb diet. Essentially cutting off starch, sugar, dairy in all forms and relying on meat, greens, fruits and dry wine; he lost 50 pounds of weight! He wrote a booklet “Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public,” which addressed the particular plan for the diet he followed. Today “banting” is a synonym for dieting.

1920s: The Cigarette Diet

We all know that smoking is a major health hazard and is strongly linked to lung cancer and many other maladies, but 1920s carried a slightly ‘different’ opinion. Cigarette brands such as Lucky Strike started promoting a diet that basically stated: “smoke instead of eating”. 

Nicotine in cigarettes is an appetite suppressant. Even if you did reduce weight, your chance of lung cancer would skyrocket. Yes! Such a simple piece of information, but oblivious to minds of the public at that time.

1960s: The Sleeping Beauty Diet

Also referred to as ‘narcorexia’, this diet involves taking sleeping pills, with the goal of sleeping more through normal waking hours to avoid eating altogether. The King of Pop, Elvis Presley, infamously took heavy sedatives and even went so far as to hire a Las Vegas self-proclaimed “doctor” to put him into an artificially-induced coma. All this to lose those pounds! It is worth mentioning that sleep is linked with the slowest rate of metabolism.

1960s: The Calories-Don’t-Count Diet

This diet was invented by Dr Herman Taller in 1961. He claimed that there was no need to count calories as long as you avoided carbohydrates and only consumed foods high in fats and proteins. He further elaborated that you have to gulp it all down with three ounces of polyunsaturated safflower oil, delivered in a capsule he provided. His theory was that when consumed together, the oil and protein trigger fat loss, which according to him lead to his own weight loss of 65 pounds in eight months. Later, he got into trouble with the law when it seemed he had been using these claims to promote a specific brand of oil.

1970s: The Prolinn Diet or The Last Chance Diet

In the 70s, Dr Roger Linn campaigned for eating nothing but his “wonder” drink – Prolinn, which was prepared from crushed and pre-digested animal horns, hooves, hides, tendons, bones, and other slaughterhouse by-products. This drink delivered only 400 calories per day and no nutrients. As a result, it’s hardly surprising to note that at least 58 people who tried the diet had heart attacks. Whether it was the drink or the fasting that caused the trouble, one thing is certain: no one should even think of trying this disastrous regimen.

1990s: The Atkins Diet

This came out as a low-carbohydrate but heavy-protein diet plan, devised by Dr Robert Atkins and marketed as “a high calorie way to stay thin forever.” This diet presented carbs as a major villain in your dietary routine. Although invented in the 1970s, it popularised in the 90s with the likes of celebrities like Jennifer Aniston. As with most fad diets, this one works for short-term weight loss, but doesn’t help to keep a healthy lifestyle.

2000s: The Cotton Ball Diet

Ever had a craving for a Cotton Candy? Yes, of course. But craving for a natural and calorie-deficient cotton balls? Totally bizarre, right! The devotees of this peculiar diet had these in all forms, from eating them dry to soaking them in gelatin. Thus, filling up their stomachs and curbing their hunger from the fattening food.  While cotton balls are high in fibre, unfortunately it’s not the kind of fibre we need.

2000s: The Juice Diet

Whether they are labelled as the juice detoxes, the juice cleanses or the juice fasts; all the juice diets are based on drinking a variety of juiced fruits and vegetables and abstaining from eating any other type of solid foods. Following this sort of diet for longer than a few days can lead to nutritional deficiencies.

2010s: The Paleo Diet

This diet promotes the idea of only eating what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate during the Stone Age – whole vegetables,  lean meat, healthy fats and eliminating coffee, alcohol, processed oils and sugars. This sounds great, but here is the downside: it also recommends to consume large amounts of saturated fats and cut out fruits, grains, nuts and legumes. Ah, not that wholesome and healthy, I would say. 

2010s: Intermittent Fasting

Touted as ‘the next big weight loss fad’, it involves alternating between periods of eating and fasting during the week. Some of its advocates recommend fasting every day for up to 16 hours and consuming food only during a short “eating window period” of 8 hours. Others suggest going sans food once or twice a week for 24-hour periods — for example, having dinner one night and skipping breakfast, lunch and snacks the next day; then eating a normal dinner without gorging. It is worth to point out that convincing people to eat healthier is already challenging enough. But getting them to quit eating completely for up to 24 hours? Well, good luck for that. 

The list of weird and crazy fad diets is non-exhaustive, as there are still many more worthy of a mention such as – The Cabbage Diet, The Grapefruit Diet, The Baby Food Diet, The Lemonade Diet, The Blood Type Diet, The Keto Diet etc. 

The topsy-turvy world of fad diets is indeed intriguing but they offer nothing more than a temporary ‘fix’, allied with many hidden perils to health. They emphasize on a medley of crazy concoctions and restrictions rather than the big picture – a healthy lifestyle. The old school idea of “moderation is the key,” goes a long way. It is best to consume healthful foods, which includes whole grains, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats and lean proteins in appropriate portion sizes. There is no crime in grabbing that ‘luscious brownie’ or ‘succulent burger’ once in a while, as long as we stick to moderation and adopt a lifestyle balanced on a beam of healthy eating and appropriate work-out. 


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  1. Katherine Ellen Foley, “A short history of terrible diets”, Quartz (September 1, 2018)

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  1. Grant Stoddard,  “The ‘Sleeping Beauty Diet’ Doesn’t Make You Lose Weight”, Vice (January 31, 2018)

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  1. Amanda Green, “15 Most Bizarre Diets in History”, Woman’s Day (May 3, 2010)

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  1. “Atkins diet”, Wikipedia

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  1. Rachel MacPherson, “What Is a Juice Cleanse? A short-term diet that’s meant to detoxify, but can put health at risk”, Verywellfit (November 4, 2022)

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