12 Horrifying Weight Loss Techniques People From History Actually Tried

Every day it seems like there are more weird weight loss trends or insane exercise regimens that claim to be failproof ways to get thin. But these modern schemes are nothing compared to the crazy historical weight loss techniques of yesteryear. From ingesting to parasites to only living off sunlight, people in the past had some truly disturbing weight loss techniques, many of them dangerous.

To be clear, these techniques aren't exactly the same as weird diets where you only eat certain foods, or strangely specific beauty products that claim to create instant glow. The worst of these weight loss regimens range from unusual exercise machines to starvation, and none of them are safely effective. It goes without saying: Don't try these at home. 

Some of these methods are pretty ancient, and others are more recent, but most of these WTF fitness schemes seem completely nuts to the average person. Read on to discover the weird and horrifying ways people have tried to slim down over the years.

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  • Victorians Ate Live Tapeworms

    Victorians Ate Live Tapeworms
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    When a tapeworm gets into your system, it can make it very difficult for you to gain weight or get the nutrients you need. In the Victorian era, people thought that this parasite provided the perfect way to help lose those extra pounds.

    The method was a terrifyingly simple one. First, you ingested a tapeworm cyst and waited for it to grow inside you. Once the tapeworm was big enough, you would begin to lose weight. But eventually, you'd need to eliminate that worm by taking anti-parasite pills or letting a doctor stick a metal instrument down your throat.

    This procedure was uncomfortable as well as dangerous. You could get rectal problems from passing the worms, you could develop epilepsy and dementia, and you would feel abdominal pains the entire time the worm was inside of you. Plus, tapeworms can grow to be 30 feet in length - not something you'd want stuck in your body.

  • Edwardians Received Daily Enemas

    Edwardians Received Daily Enemas
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    John Harvey Kellogg is perhaps best known for inventing corn flakes, but he also had quite a few ideas about health and weight loss. Around 1900, you could visit his sanitarium for a strict daily regimen focused on personal wellness. Treatments included hydrotherapy, electrocution, and a carefully monitored diet.

    His most eyebrow-raising treatment, though, was his espousal of daily yogurt enemas to encourage the development of flora in the intestines.

  • Ancient Hindus Lived On Only Sunlight And Air

    Ancient Hindus Lived On Only Sunlight And Air
    Photo: Unknown / Max Pixel / Public Domain

    Breatharianism is the belief that one can live without food. It stems from some Buddhist and Hindu beliefs, but in more recent centuries, it has been used as a means of losing weight. Instead of eating, this way of losing weight says that you can live on only sunlight and air.

    This spiritual method of dropping pounds is more than a little dangerous. If you don't take in nutrients, it's easy to become dehydrated, and your metabolism will be shot. No matter what names you attach to it, this method is deliberate starvation. People have even perished while trying this diet.

  • Victorians Poisoned Themselves With Arsenic

    Victorians Poisoned Themselves With Arsenic
    Photo: Unknown / Max Pixel / Public Domain

    Arsenic is a very deadly substance, but it doubled as a weight loss aid in the 19th century. Pills and other "medicines" that included arsenic were advertised as a means to raise your metabolism, so you would burn off the calories even faster than normal. Instead, you could wind up with pretty severe arsenic poisoning.

    Worse still, many of these products didn't mention arsenic was an ingredient.

  • Turn-Of-The-Century Dieters Would Chew And Spit Out Food

    Horace Fletcher was a dieting enthusiast around 1900, and he believed the best way to lose weight was chewing food a lot. This led to him being nicknamed "The Great Masticator."

    The basic concept of this technique is, instead of eating, you just chew your food, enjoy the taste, and then spit the food back out again. This means that you're not actually getting any food into your system, so you don't gain any weight. Of course, no food also means no nutrients, which means your various systems don't get what they need in order to run properly.

    This method has been around a long time, and it's still sometimes practiced today.

  • Flappers Smoked Lots Of Cigarettes

    In the 1920s, Lucky Strike and other cigarette companies began putting out ads that claimed smoking cigarettes would help you lose weight. They correctly thought that this could convince more women to smoke.

    Smoking cigarettes can curb the appetite, but the habit comes with an increased risk of cancer and other illnesses. Any weight loss while smoking may also be temporary - weight gain is a common side effect when someone quits cigarettes.