14 Extremely Stupid Dieting Fads From History

There's no shortage of weird diet trends. Whether you want to eat like a caveman, only eat super foods, or cleanse yourself within an inch of godliness, there's some diet out there for you - along with, of course, some annoying friend who has nothing else to talk about besides their latest all-juice fast. But it's not just a modern problem. Although the most common fad diets you've heard about may have been Atkins and gluten-free, you may be surprised to hear what came before. These crazy diets aren't new - and neither is the idea of celebrity trend setters influencing what people eat. There have been plenty of weird diet fads for centuries, some so disgusting they make a maple syrup, lemon, and cayenne pepper drink look downright scrumptious. 

Don't get any ideas, because some of the crazy diets on this list are also downright dangerous. What these diets demonstrate is just how far (and how illogical) people will go in order to lose a few pounds. Most of these will make you grateful for Weight Watchers, because counting points is way better than poisoning yourself to speed up your metabolism. (Yup, that really happened.) The search for the miracle diet has been going on for centuries, and it continues. Until it's discovered, we'll all just have to keep suffering through brick-flavored gluten free bread. 


  • The Graham Cracker Diet That Helped People Get Rid Of Their (Sexual) Excess

    The idea of diets promoting virtue isn't just a product of our Instagram obsessions; the link between food and morality has a really long history. In fact, in the 1830s, Evangelical minister Sylvester Graham - of Graham Cracker fame - was fed up with the sexual appetites of Americans and felt like their carnal urges were encouraged by a fatty diet. His solution? Create and consume food that was as bland as possible. In Graham's low-sex diet, grains, fruits, and vegetables were encouraged, but spices and meats were not. Thousands of people followed this diet, becoming known as "Grahamites." Graham even developed his own incredibly bland wheat germ loaf, the predecessor of the Graham cracker, which was sold commercially after Graham's death at the turn of the twentieth century. But, as you can imagine, those early crackers have nothing on the delicious, cinnamon, S'more-makers we know today. 

  • The Sherry Diet That Kept Mrs Average Drunk

    The Sherry Diet That Kept Mrs Average Drunk
    Photo: alsis35 (now at ipernity) / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Nowadays, booze is purported to be a source of 'empty' calories, but it wasn't always considered a dieter's enemy. In fact, some diets actively recommended it. In a 1955 article in The Telegraph, a diet genius named Barbara Taylor wrote in that she was sure sure she had the perfect "diet for Mrs Average." How to stay slim? Drink a sherry at the end of every meal. Sweet or dry, that was Mrs Average's decision, just as long as she didn't forego her dribble of choice. 

  • The Inuit Diet That Helped You Prevent Scurvy With All-You-Can-Eat Whale Blubber

    Take all the misery of a low-carb diet and add a bunch of whale blubber, and you'll have the wonder that is the Inuit diet. The explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson was impressed with the diets he saw on Arctic explorations between 1908 and 1918 and decided to adopt them himself. The diet consisted almost solely of fish and meat, sometimes with nothing else for months at a time. For example, "stinkfish," a particular Inuit favorite, is made of "fish buried in seal bags or cans in the tundra and left to ferment." Amazed at the Inuits' ability to avoid scurvy without eating fruits and vegetables, Stefansson brought the diet back to the United States and demonstrated an American-ized version that involved eating lots of meat, poultry, fish, and organs like brain. Astoundingly, considering how unappetizing it sounds, the diet still has an occasional resurgence in the US

  • The 'Art of Living Long' Diet That Let You Have More Wine Than Food

    The 'Art of Living Long' Diet That Let You Have More Wine Than Food
    Photo: Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    One of the earliest dieting best-sellers - The Art of Living Long - dates all the way back to 1558. Luigi Cornaro began the diet by limiting his food intake to 400 grams a day. Later, he got even stricter, limiting himself to a single egg. There was a big plus to subscribing to Cornaro's regimen, however. He, rather dubiously, still allowed himself 500 grams of wine as part of the diet. But it may indeed help you live long, if Cornaro was anything to go by - he lived until the ripe age of 98.