The 7 Most Ridiculous Fad Diets of the 20th Century
With the release of Tim Ferris’ new bestseller, The 4-hour body, a book that recommends eating Brazil nuts to increase male sexual prowess, forgoing fruit and beer (whiskey and wine OK) in order to lose weight, and jumping into a bathtub of icewater in order to burn calories, we thought it would be an opportune moment to reflect upon the other fad diets that have come, gone and have sometimes resurfaced in (new and improved!) forms.
Some of the most ridiculous fad diets of the 20th century include:
1. Horace Fletcher’s “Fletcherizing” Diet (1902) – Horace Fletcher, or “The Great Masticator” as some have called him, advocated that food must be chewed 100 times a minute. Fletcher even went so far as to say that liquids should be “chewed” as well so that it would be properly mixed with one’s saliva.
Although 100 times a minute seems a little silly, Fletcher was on to something. Chewing food slowly allows for saliva enzymes to break down sugars, fats and carbohydrates in food which can help prevent indigestion. Chewing food slowly can also keep you from overeating as you become satiated quicker.
2. The Lucky Strike Cigarette Diet (1925) – As you can see in this 1920’s advertisement, Lucky Strike calls for young ladies to “Reach for a Cigarette instead of a Sweet”. Although there were few studies out there to prove it at the time, there had been plenty of anecdotal evidence out there that cigarettes suppress one’s appetite.
The one small side effect of this was lung cancer of course, but no one knew that at the time.
3. The Inuit Meat and Fat Diet (1928) – Atkins, Shmatkins. If you like protein, why not go full carnivore with the Inuit diet? This diet was championed by Arctic Explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who noticed that the Inuits consumed meat and seafood most of the year and had few health problems. Stefansson himself tried adopting this diet while doctors monitored him, and was pronounced completely healthy after undertaking this diet as well.
Before you go off and fill your shopping cart with slabs of steak and salmon, however, it might be a good idea to remember that as an Arctic explorer Stefansson probably got his fair share of exercise. He also made it a point to eat entrails and organs along with flesh meat. It’s very possible that the former had nutrients the latter didn’t have. Good luck finding entrails at your nearest Safeway.
4. The “Calories Don’t Count” Diet (1961) – Dr. Herman Taller, a Rumanian born physician, wrote a best selling book called “Calories Don’t Count.” In the book he made the claim that all you had to do to lose weight was to avoid carbohydrates and eat more fats and oils, particularly unsaturated fats. Taller went so far as to recommend ingesting six capsules a day of safflower oil, capsules that he was more than happy to sell to the folks that bought his book. Not only was the reasoning behind his new diet dubious, but Taller eventually got into a bit of legal trouble after it was found that he was using the book to promote a particular manufacturer of safflower oil. Oops.
5. The Drinking Man’s Diet (1964) – Drinking has not often been associated with good health, and certainly not dieting. So you can imagine the welcome response Robert Cameron got when he published his book, “The Drinking Man’s Diet.” The essence of Cameron’s diet was simple: low carbs, high protein. Avoid beer, but have as much Whiskey, Vodka, Gin and other distilled liquors as you like. Sound like fun? Here’s a sample menu.
Nutritionists have been critical of the drinking man’s diet for several reasons: first of all, the daily allowed amount of carbohydrates is too low and the amount of alcohol that you’re to consume is a bit ludicrous. Furthermore, this diet would probably lead to liver disease just as it does a thin waistline. Cheers!
6. The Sleeping Beauty Diet (1970) – Of all the diets on the list (with the possible exception of the cigarette diet) this has got to be the worst of the bunch. Essentially what you do is pop a few sleeping pills so that you can sleep several days without eating much of anything. Elvis Presley reportedly used this diet before he had to squeeze into one of his trademark white jumpsuits before a show. Although there were other factors that led to the King’s death, I’m sure that this diet didn’t help.
7. The Beverly Hills Fruit Diet (1981) – With the endorsement of several celebrities like Englebert Humperdinck, Jack Nicholson and Maria Shriver, the Beverly Hills diet may have had one of the most successful marketing campaigns of all the fad diets. After all, who DIDN’T want to look as slim and healthy looking as the movie stars who lived in Beverly Hills?
Followers of the Beverly Hills diet had to abide by a set of ridiculously complex and draconian rules, like eating only fruit for the first ten days (you can eat carbs after that). You also have to follow rules like never eating fruit and protein together because it, to use the books pseudoscientific terms “confuses the enzymes” and you gain weight. Not only is this diet ridiculously difficult, but it also subjects you to a grueling 45 days of low-calorie, low nutrient foods. Not recommended.
Like the ones mentioned above, most fad diets require a radical change in eating behavior and claim that making these changes will help us lose weight, gain energy, and feel healthy. They claim to have unlocked “hidden secrets” to weight loss and good health that are new and revolutionary. Also, there’s usually a charismatic salesperson behind it all, the “mascot” of the fad diet if you will.
You could write a book with health tips like: “Eat Less, Exercise More.” “Eat more fruits and vegetables.” “ Avoid salt, sugar, and bleached flour,” and so on, but no one would buy it because these tips, as effective as they might be, aren’t exciting or new. It’s our insatiable appetite for a new and easy way out that keeps the fad diet gurus in business. Think about that the next time someone tells you to make a radical change in your diet to lose weight and feel healthy.