Diet Fads – Some Smart, Some Scary

Dieting. Not many people like it, but lots of people have tried it. What some people don’t realize is that diets, some laughable and some scary, have existed long before the Atkins diet became popular.


Vinegar Diet – British poet Lord Byron claimed to have lost 60 pounds by soaking his food in vinegar before eating it, although some historians believe he had an eating disorder.

Graham’s Diet – Sylvester Graham, father of the ever-popular Graham Cracker was a Presbyterian minister who believed people should avoid coffee, alcohol, tea, spices, and meat. His followers, “Grahamites”, ate pure water, fresh vegetables and fruits, high fiber foods, and whole wheat.

Zander Rooms – If you’ve ever watched an old movie, chances are you’ve seen people attempting to lose weight by wrapping a vibrating strap around their body. Believe it or not, this was an actual fad started by Dr. Gustav Zander from Sweden.

Banting Diet – William Banting, an English casket maker who struggled with his weight, wrote “Letter on Corpulence,” which was the first the first popular diet book. Banting said he lost 50 pounds by eating a diet made up of dry toast, lean meats, unsweetened fruit, and green vegetables.


Fletcherizing – Horace Fletcher of San Francisco became known as “The Great Masticator” when he shared his unusual diet that encouraged people to chew their bites 32 times and then spit them out. Fletcher claimed he lost more than 40 pounds on this plan, devised after he was denied health insurance because of his weight. Fletcher said this diet allowed people to absorb nutrients, enjoy the taste of the food, and not gain weight. Famous followers include Henry James, John D. Rockefeller, and John Harvey Kellogg.

Calorie Counting – “Diet and Health, WIth Key to The Calories,” by Lulu Hunt Peters, sold more than 2 million copies. The book advocated the consumption of only 1,200 calories a day. Calorie counting is still a popular dieting technique, but the numbers and approaches have changed over time.

Cigarette Diet – It seems shocking today, but when the health risks of cigarettes were just beginning to be discovered, cigarette companies tried to advertise their brand with a healthy spin. Prime example: Lucky Strikes’ tagline was “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.”

The Inuit Meat-and-Fat Diet – Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson spent time living with the Inuit people and then wrote a book, “The Fat of the Land,” advocating their meat-and-blubber rich diet. Cardiologist Blake Donaldson continued to promote this diet, which he called “Strong Medicine” into the 1960s.

The Hay Diet – During the Depression era, Dr. William Hay advocated separating food and eating different kinds at different times because he believed the body can’t process proteins and starches at the same time. What started as a way for the doctor to deal with his high blood pressure caught on as a diet fad. The diet reappeared in another form in the 80s when Judy Mazel’s book “New Beverly Hills Diet” hit book stores everywhere.

Weight Loss Soap – Soaps with names like “Fatoff” and “La Mar Reducing Soap” claimed to help people loose weight just by taking a bubble bath.

Bananas and Skim Milk Diet – In one of the first known instances of a company creating a marketing campaign that attempted to sell a produce by encouraging people to eat healthy, the United Fruit Company endorsed Dr. George Harrop and his bananas and skim milk diet.

First Diet Pills – During World War I workers in a munitions factory seemed to be losing weight. It turns out that dinitrophenol, an ingredient used in dyes, explosives, and insecticides, raised people’s metabolism, causing them to burn calories more easily. The ingredient was made into a pill and about 100,000 people in the U.S. used to to lose weight. Three years later, the pill was no longer sold due to reports of blindness and even death caused by the drug.

The Tapeworm Diet – People who really wanted to lose weight without having to go through the hassle of exercising could take a pill, get the parasite, and then take another pill after the tapeworm had eaten away at their insides.

Cabbage Soup Diet – The cabbage soup diet professed to help people lose 10 pounds in a week.

Weight Watchers – When Jean Nidetch lost 72 pounds on her diet, she started Weight Watchers to help others meet their weight-loss goals. The diet has stood the test of time and remains a popular diet even today.

The Calories Don’t Count – Dr. Herman Taller, an obstetrician, believed people could eat as many high protein foods as they wanted, take his pill that contained three ounces of polyunsaturated vegetable oil, and lose weight. His book “Calories Don’t Count” sold more than 2 million copies. Taller was later convicted of mail fraud over issues relating to his diet program.

The Drinking Man’s Diet – Robert Cameron published a book in which he stated that men could eat steak and drink martinis freely and still lose weight. This diet, which The Harvard School of Public Health deemed unhealthy, is considered to be one of the first low-carbohydrate diets.

Atkins Diet – Dr. Robert Atkins overcame weight issues by sticking to a low-carbohydrate diet and then published the diet in a book so people every where could reap the benefits. This diet remains popular.

Scarsdale Diet – Dr. Herman Tarnower started this diet that promotes eating certain percentages of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The diet went for 14 days and suggested that followers consume only 1,000 per day.

Diet Pills – The diet pill Dexatrim, which reduces appetite, was sold in stores, then pulled from the market 2000 but was sold again later. Some people still question its safety.


The Zone – This diet focuses on eating certain percentages of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins at each meal. It also works to control insulin levels.

Vegetarian Diet – While there are several different types of vegetarian diets, one thing all vegetarians have in common is that they don’t eat animal based foods, except eggs, dairy products, and honey.

Vegan Diet – Similar to the vegetarians, vegans abstain from eating animal based foods, but they do not eat eggs, dairy products, or honey.

South Beach – This diet, started by Dr. Arthur Agatston, a cardiologist, and Marie Almon, a nutritionist, works to control insulin levels and unrefined slow carbohydrates.

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Srujan is an international development specialist and author of several publications on socio economic development. Srujan is a regular contributor to online article sites on the topics of on line education, underserved peoples, scholarship and educational excellence.

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