Lord Byron is alleged to have maintained his pale, lean look with some self-imposed strict dietary rules -- thin slice of bread, cup of tea, a few potatoes soaked in vinegar, some seltzer water -- and the Romantic poet is not the only celebrity to cause a weight loss craze in his days. Fast-forward to our own century, and it's pretty clear we, along with our celebrities, will try pretty much anything to drop a few pounds.
Ask Americans on any given week whether or not they're on a diet and about 20 percent will say yes; some dieters hoping for a quick fix try pills, laxatives and diuretics in an effort to lose weight fast [source: Hellmich]. And don't forget the fad dieting -- do we really truly think eating cookies as meal replacements is a good long-term solution to losing weight and keeping it off? Hint: It's not.
The Cookie Diet isn't the only absurd fad diet we've heard about. Here we have 10 more, and we'll begin with how your blood type doesn't determine what foods you should eat.
Some people believe your blood type -- A, B, AB, or O -- is a good predictor of what your personality traits are, including whether or not you'll be introverted or extroverted and even how well you'll do in the romance department. In fact, in 2011 Japanese politician Ryu Matsumoto blamed the offensive remarks he made after the devastating earthquake and tsunami on his blood type, which is cold and impulsive type B [source: Reuters].
In the mid-'90s, the Eat Right for Your Type diet encouraged Americans to be healthier by eating a menu determined by your blood type. For example, O blood types are an "old" blood line and should focus on ancient eating habits that include meats and fish; wheat, on the other hand, should be avoided because it makes O types sluggish and bloated. Type A? Try an A-for-agrarian (vegetarian) diet. We could go on, but there's no evidence that following such a diet is at all beneficial for good health and decreased risk of chronic illness [source: Cusack].
The hCG diet sounds tempting, doesn't it? Lose 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms) in a month -- and all you have to do for those results is be injected with the hormone hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), which is extracted from the urine of pregnant women. Oh, and in addition to that shot, you're only allowed to consume 500 calories -- and that's per day. Considering the average American adult male consumes more than 2,600 on an average day, that's going to hurt -- literally. You'll have stomach pains from near-starvation eating this way, and daily caloric intake this low qualifies as anorexia nervosa, which can cause damage to every organ system in your body.
The problem, though, aside from starvation, is that there is no evidence that injecting yourself with hCG is a viable long-term weight-loss solution -- and hCG is only approved as a way to treat infertility, not as a way to lose body fat. All hCG products are supposed to come with a warning that they aren't intended as a way to lose weight, as an appetite suppressant or as a way to melt hard-to-lose fat; but, frankly, whether the injection works or not, a diet with calories this restricted will cause weight loss regardless of the hCG.
Would you eat cotton balls to help curb your hunger? Some models do, it turns out, and since the cotton tastes, well, cottony, often things are flavored up with a quick dip in orange juice (of which an ounce adds 14 calories).
This isn't a diet; rather, it is a dangerous way to trick your body into feeling full without actually eating any food. (Of course, if you're not eating food you're going to, inevitably, lose weight.) Cotton balls weren't meant to be in your digestive system, and can cause all sorts of problems when you eat them, beginning with aspiration pneumonia from fibers and liquid that could make their way into your lungs all the way to twisted intestines, abdominal pain and bowel obstruction and necrosis.
When you think "fad diet," you probably think of things exactly like this: the cabbage soup diet, a menu plan that has you forgoing almost all foods except, of course, cabbage soup. There's no denying you'll lose weight -- dieters report losing as much as 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) in only a week -- but there are problems with this plan.
First, imagine eating cabbage soup for all your main meals for seven days; it's a tedious and uninspired menu. And second, it's not healthy weight loss. In the long run, eating nothing but cabbage soup (and maybe a little bouillon, black coffee, or a tomato) may give you good results for the week you follow the menu, but these are not the foods of a balanced diet. This diet is low calorie, low fat, low protein, and low on essential nutrients, so the weight you do lose is really nothing more than fluids -- water retention -- rather than fat. So? That means as soon as you return to eating real foods again, you'll still be trying to find ways to lose that belly fat.
Vinegar, specifically apple cider vinegar, is considered among some to be a healthy remedy for disease; some cancers, obesity and type 2 diabetes may be improved when apple cider vinegar is taken as a dietary supplement. Some studies suggest vinegar may have a beneficial effect on our glucose levels, and historically, white vinegar has been used as a way to feel satiated without overeating. But also, maybe not. Studies about the effect of vinegar as a dietary supplement are limited, at least in humans, but we do know there are risks: Vinegar is acidic and may cause esophageal damage (and damage to your tooth enamel, too). Too much vinegar could also lower your potassium levels, weaken your bones, and interact with certain medications.
Until we have more evidence, maybe save the vinegar for sprinkling on fish and chips or for cleaning the coffee maker.
Slow eaters eat fewer calories compared to people who eat quickly, and they also weigh less. Did you know it takes your body and brain a minimum of 20 minutes to realize that you're full? Quick eaters, on the other hand, take bigger bites of food and are more likely to swallow foods before properly chewing them [source: Hellmich]. Between 1895 and 1919, Horace Fletcher -- "The Great Masticator" -- evangelized the importance of chewing your food; it became a weight loss method known as "Fletcherizing". And while yes, it's important to slow down, chew and enjoy the foods you eat, Fletcher's fad diet advocated something a bit more extreme than taking slower bites: He believed we should chew every bite of food without swallowing any of it until the food liquefied.
Getting a good night's sleep, and getting it often, is an important part of losing or maintaining weight. The less sleep you get each night, the more likely you are to be overweight; for example, if you only get five hours of sleep each night, you're 50 percent more likely to be obese than a person who routinely gets more than you -- and the worse your sleep deprivation, the worse your weight problem may be [source: Pritchard].
So armed with that knowledge, you may think something like the sleeping beauty diet sounds like a viable weight-loss plan. Elvis is rumored to have tried it, and he was the King, so why not? The sleeping beauty diet involves, as you might guess, a lot of sleep -- while under heavy sedation, which you might not have guessed. It turns out, though, that sleeping for several days straight won't make you thinner; and neither will the potentially addicting pills.
If you want to diet like Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston allegedly do, start shopping in the baby food aisle. Yes, this fad diet (started by celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson) has adults chowing down on pureed fruits, vegetables and meats instead of foods that require, say, teeth to eat them.
The baby food diet uses jars of baby food as meal replacements; the idea is to substitute a jar of pureed food for each meal and snack, and the plan recommends eating 14 jars plus an optional adult-worthy dinner every day. (Yes, that's a lot of tiny meals and snacks throughout the day.) The problem, aside from flavor, is that baby food is for babies, not adults. Adults have different nutritional needs that can't be met with this quick-fix fad diet, and watch out -- baby food portions are very small, which can lead to overeating. And not all jarred baby food is low-calorie.
Beyonce, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher and Eddie Vedder have all tried it -- the "cleanse" -- as a way to detoxify and (or) cut some weight. The lemonade diet, also known as the master cleanse, is a liquid weight loss plan that's supposed to wash the "toxins" and waste out of your body. This weight loss plan is severely restrictive, allowing for six (or more) servings of water mixed with lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper each day -- and if you feel like straying from that menu, you're allowed a salt-water flush in the morning and an herbal laxative tea in the evening.
Yes, you will lose weight on this plan, but what you're really doing is losing water weight and your healthy lean muscle mass, not the fat you were hoping would get flushed out. Followers report side effects such as irritability, fatigue and nausea.
Ingesting a tapeworm is dangerous. Repeat after us.
Tapeworms are intestinal parasites, and when you consume one it will literally sink its hooks into you -- after you swallow it (and you can purchase them in capsule form), it latches its head into your intestinal wall and when you eat, your new parasitic friend absorbs some of the nutrients before your body does. Yes, you will lose weight, but you will gain a tapeworm that could grow as large as 30 feet (9 meters), which will cause pain and an upset stomach -- and may even kill you.
To rid yourself of the parasite you'll need to take prescribed anti-worm medication to paralyze and starve the worm, which is then passed in your stool.
Does apple cider vinegar help with weight loss? HowStuffWorks looks at the science of apple cider vinegar.
Author's Note: 10 Most Absurd Fad Diets
All I can say after researching and writing this is: 1. Cotton balls are not food. 2. Tapeworms are not food. 3. If you're serious about losing weight, you need to eat a balanced diet and get some exercise, and you'll do far better than any of these ridiculous weight loss ideas -- and you're far more likely to keep the weight off when you do it right, too.
More Great Links
- Alvarez, Manny. "Models eating cotton balls to lose weight is dangerous and irresponsible." Fox News. June 25, 2013. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/06/25/models-eating-cotton-balls-to-lose-weight-is-dangerous-and-irresponsible/
- Boudreau, Abbie; and Derick Yanehiro. "Bria Murphy Says Models Eat Cotton Balls With Orange Juice to Stay Thin." ABC News. June 11, 2013. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://gma.yahoo.com/blogs/abc-blogs/bria-murphy-says-models-eat-cotton-balls-orange-121555554.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Taeniasis FAQs." Jan. 10, 2013. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/taeniasis/gen_info/faqs.html
- Coleman, Erin. "The Average Calorie Intake by a Human Per Day Versus the Recommendation." SFGate. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/average-calorie-intake-human-per-day-versus-recommendation-1867.html
- Courage, Katherine Harmon. "Chew on This: More Mastication Cuts Calorie Intake by 12 Percent." Scientific American. Aug. 3, 2011. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2011/08/03/chew-on-this-more-mastication-cuts-calorie-intake-by-12-percent/
- Cracked. "The 5 Most Insane Crash Diets of All Time." Jan. 7, 2009. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.cracked.com/article_15780_the-6-most-insane-crash-diets-all-time.html
- Cusack, Leila; De Buck, Emmy; Compernolle, Veerle; and Philippe Vanderkerckhove. "Blood type diets lack supporting evidence: a systematic review." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. May 22, 2013. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2013/05/22/ajcn.113.058693.full.pdf+html
- Dahl, Melissa. "Iowa woman tries 'tapeworm diet', prompts doctor warning." TODAY. Aug. 16, 2013. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.today.com/health/iowa-woman-tries-tapeworm-diet-prompts-doctor-warning-6C10935746
- Foxcroft, Louise. "Lord Byron: The celebrity diet icon." BBC. Jan. 2, 2012. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16351761
- Haupt, Angela. "HCG Diet Dangers: Is Fast Weight Loss Worth the Risk?" U.S. News & World Report. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://health.usnews.com/health-news/diet-fitness/diet/articles/2011/03/14/hcg-diet-dangers-is-fast-weight-loss-worth-the-risk
- Hazell, Kyrsty. "The Blood Type Personality Test - What It Says About You." The Huffington Post. June 30, 2013. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/01/27/what-your-blood-type-says-about-your-personality_n_1236261.html
- Hebert, Emily. "Craziest Diets of All Time." Elle. May 13, 2009. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.elle.com/beauty/health-fitness/craziest-diets-of-all-time-322334
- Hellmich, Nanci. "Eating slowly may help you lose weight." USA Today. Oct. 5, 2011. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://yourlife.usatoday.com/fitness-food/diet-nutrition/story/2011-10-05/Eating-slowly-may-help-you-lose-weight/50671686/1
- Johnson, Kimball. "Apple Cider Vinegar." WebMD. Sept. 21, 2012. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.webmd.com/diet/apple-cider-vinegar
- Lies, Elaine. "Blame it on my blood, disgraced Japan politician says." Reuters. July 6, 2011. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/06/us-japan-politics-blood-idUSTRE7651QK20110706
- Lowder, J. Bryan. "Did Lord Byron Invent the Celebrity Weight-Loss Craze?" Slate. Jan. 3, 2012. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2012/01/03/did_lord_byron_invent_the_celebrity_weight_loss_craze_.html
- Nelson, Jennifer K. "Does the HCG diet work -- and is it safe?" Mayo Clinic. Dec. 21, 2011. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hcg-diet/an02091
- Pepsico. "Tropicana Pure Premium - Orange Juice - Some Pulp (Homestyle)." (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.pepsicobeveragefacts.com/infobyproduct.php?prod_type=1026&prod_size=59&brand_fam_id=1059&brand_id=1004&product=Tropicana+Pure+Premium+-+Orange+Juice+-+Some+Pulp+(Homestyle)
- Piccalo, Gina. "The Crazy Baby Food Diet." The Daily Beast. Sept. 22, 2010. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2010/09/22/gwyneth-paltrow-jennifer-aniston-lady-gaga-and-the-baby-food-diet.html
- Pritchard, Mary E. "Diet is a 4-Letter Word -- The psychology of eating: Sleeping Beauty." Psychology Today. Aug. 29, 2013. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/diet-is-4-letter-word/201308/sleeping-beauty
- U.S. News & World Report. "Master Cleanse (Lemonade Diet.)" (Sept. 29, 2013) http://health.usnews.com/best-diet/master-cleanse-lemonade-diet
- Weller, Chris. "Tapeworm Diet: Iowa Woman Ingests Parasite On The Internet, Prompts Doctor Letter To Public Health Workers." Medical Daily. Aug. 20, 2013. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.medicaldaily.com/tapeworm-diet-iowa-woman-ingests-parasite-bought-internet-prompts-doctor-letter-public-health-252607
- Zelman, Kathleen M. "The Baby Food Diet." WebMD. July 17, 2010. (Sept. 29, 2013)http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/baby-food-diet-review
- Zelman, Kathleen M. "The Cabbage Soup Diet." WebMD. July 18, 2011. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-cabbage-soup-diet
- Zelman, Kathleen M. "The Eat Right for Your Blood Type." WebMD. Feb. 1, 2012. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.webmd.com/diet/eat-right-for-your-type
- Zelman, Kathleen M. "The Lemonade Diet (Master Cleanse Diet)." WebMD. July 18, 2011. (Sept. 29, 2013)http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-lemonade-diet-master-cleanse-diet
- Zeratsky, Katherine. "Drinking apple cider vinegar for weight loss seems far-fetched. Does it work?" Mayo Clinic. April 21, 2012. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/apple-cider-vinegar-for-weight-loss/AN01816
- Zeratsky, Katherine. "What is the cabbage soup diet, and can it help me lose weight?" Mayo Clinic. Jan. 25, 2011. (Sept. 29, 2013) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cabbage-soup-diet/AN02134