The internet is crawling with bad diet advice—this you already know. But terrible weight-loss tips were around way before the world wide web. Here, the worst offenders through the years. Read 'em and then stay far, far away.
Physician Lulu Hunt Peters introduced the world to counting calories in 1918. Her book was the first diet book to become a bestseller. Her recommendations didn't consider types of foods, but rather focused on staying under a calorie limit. So a diet of pie and ice cream would be just fine. (Sign us up!)
Stanford's School of Medicine has an entire website devoted to researching the impact of tobacco advertising, and "keeps you slim" has been a major tobacco company ad theme for the past century. With headlines like "Cigarettes are like women. The best ones are thin and rich," their messaging has not exactly been subtle.
This particular brand of fad diet nonsense dates back to the 1930s — though it didn't become popular until the 70s and somehow it's still hanging around today. The theory is that grapefruit contains certain enzymes that help burn fat ... but this has been disproven.
I guess they weren't fans of moderation in the thirties.
Opera singer Marie Callas allegedly lost 65 pounds by ingesting a pill full of tapeworms. And even though the use of tapeworms as a diet method is illegal in the U.S., every once in a while you hear a story about someone trying it. After one Iowa woman did so in 2012, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk of the Iowa Department of Public Health wrote this in an email: "It would develop into a 30-foot-long tapeworm in your body. The worm would get into your gut — it's got little hooks on the head — and it would grab onto your intestine and start growing." Jaw, meet ground.
Pray Your Weight Away by Revered Charlie Shed is a real book published in 1957 that was, depressingly enough, a bestseller. In it, Shedd writes, "If our bodies really are to be temples of the Holy Spirit, we had best get them down to the size God intended." Barf.
Even if you like the stuff, eating nothing else for seven days cannot be enjoyable. Or, you know, healthy. And it's certainly not an advisable or sustainable diet regimen. (This particular book was published in 1997.)
We couldn't find a good peek into the interior of a book that could be re-titled "Guide To Fat Shaming," but we did want to bring your attention to it. According to an Etsy listing of a copy, "This is a common sense book about losing weight and covers everything from Hypnosis to Diet Plans and a Q&A section."
... and take a shot of safflower oil before every meal. According to his book, Calories Don't Count, Dr. Taller lost 65 pounds in eight months while consuming 5,000 calories per day. Of course, then the FDA filed charges against him for unsubstantiated claims made in the book, and Dr. Taller's reputation was ruined.
Or at least this seems to be the premise behind Robert Cameron's 1964 pamphlet, The Drinking Man's Diet, which to this day is being sold on Amazon with the tagline: "The original low-carb diet." The best part is that it does the carb counting of its successor, Atkins, but counts all distilled spirits — gin, vodka, rum, brandy, whisky — as near-zero.
According to a savage 1976 Chicago Tribune review, The Sexy Pineapple Diet "almost guarantees 24-hour dismay," and does not contain much more than illustrations of pineapples, women next to pineapples, and in "a surprise finish — five hamburger patties in a fry pan." We're as confused as you are. And no, "erogetic" is not a word.
The 1960s and 1970s were a dangerous time for dieting. Some of the "miracle weight loss pills" left users vomiting and with serious abdominal pain, because — surprise! — all that undigested starch went straight to your colon. Then Dexatrim came out ... and was also pulled and forced to change its formula due to dangerous side effects and increased risk of stroke. In addition to being an appetite suppressant, Biphetamine (pictured) was also used to treat depression. Today, you might recognize the substance by the name Adderall. We'll pass on these.
This idea, sadly, has no shortage of sources over the years. But this particular quote is from The Beautiful People's Diet Book by Luciana Avedon and Jeanne Molli: "For heightened perception without drugs plus rapid weight loss, nothing beats the oldest known treatment for obesity: total starvation." We wish we could unsee that sentence.
In 1975, the Dairy Farmers of Washington wrote one of the funniest sentences ever, and it goes like this: "Your response to our no-fad, no-gimmick, '7 Day Milk Diet for Women' has been overwhelming." Producers of milk created a diet based around drinking milk ... and then went out of their way to point out that it's "no-fad, no-gimmick." The seventies were a beautiful time.
Developed in 1975 by physician Sanford Siegal, the Cookie Diet claims to stomp out hunger by having you eat one or two "specially formulated" cookies every two hours, plus a 500-700 calorie dinner. We love cookies as much as the next gal, but hi, can we get a vegetable up in here?
The Master Cleanser by Stanley Burroughs was originally published in 1976, bringing the idea of semi-starvation with lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup to the masses. Seriously, just don't do the Master Cleanse. Please don't. Never. Just no.
The 1977 diet book Help Lord! — The Devil Wants Me Fat is even more terrifying than it sounds. According to an old Etsy listing, C.S. Lovett's advice is as follows: 1. Be wary of the Devil at all times because he is trying to drop the "eat idea" into your mind. 2. Consume nothing but water for 10 days. Sounds healthy and easy enough!
This frighteningly popular diet required eating fewer than 1,000 calories a day, which is considered a starvation diet for most adult humans. Interesting fact: It jumped in popularity when Dr. Tarnower was murdered by his lover in 1980.
In between repeatedly calling her potential readers "fatties," author Karen Schoenthaler shares weight loss gems such as "Stop kidding yourself," and "decide to be thin." But this probably takes the cake: "Start by looking at your body in a full length mirror ... If there are bulges and bumps you don't want, you are too fat. If so, admit it, you are unhealthy." Never, ever heed the words of this crazy lady.
"Forget prayer, hypnotism, biofeedback, NAGGING," announces the description of How to Take 20 Pounds Off Your Man. "Here at last is the book which shows how, using stealth, subterfuge, trick and treat, you can painlessly save the man you love from unsightly and unhealthy pounds." Finally, you can stop spending all that money on "hypnotism" tools.
Although he first promoted his weight loss plan in 1965, Robert Atkins' low carb, high protein diet soared in popularity in the 1990s. The downside? Too much protein and not enough carbs raises the risk of cancer and heart disease. We'll stick to a balanced diet, thank you.
To be fair, following Levitical dietary restrictions is not necessarily unhealthy. But there's a difference between actual religious practices and co-opting those practices to sell diet books.
Indeed, just six years ago, the French magazine Grazia did an entire spread claiming the "Air Diet" as the new it weightloss method. But don't worry, on this diet you still make eating motions, and you can consume some hearty salt and water soup.