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. 

  • Lord Byron's All Vinegar Diet That Nearly Killed A Generation Of Artists

    Lord Byron's All Vinegar Diet That Nearly Killed A Generation Of Artists
    Photo: Joseph Denis Odevaere / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Here's a shocker - Lord Byron was someone Carly Simon might call "vain." He had a big fear of gaining weight, and he went to great lengths to keep that from happening. At Cambridge, he limited himself to biscuits and soda water or simply potatoes soaked in vinegar. He kept up punishing and restrictive diets throughout his life and maintained a special taste for water with vinegar. To supplement this (lack of intake), he also wore lots of wooly layers to sweat off those extra pounds throughout the day. Not only were these aspects of his diet dangerous - to deal with the hunger pains - he also smoked cigars, a lose-lose for his health. 

    But it wasn't just him. Because Byron was so influential, others followed his vinegar-drenched ways, and there was widespread concern about the "impressionable Romantics were restricting themselves to vinegar and rice to get the fashionably thin and pale look." 

  • The Eat-All-You-Want-With-A-Tiny-Touch-Of-Arsenic Diet

    The Eat-All-You-Want-With-A-Tiny-Touch-Of-Arsenic Diet
    Photo: Boston Public Library / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    The idea of eating everything you want and still losing weight has always been a tempting proposition. Just like today, dealing in diet pills and tonics was a lucrative industry in the 19th century. But, back in the day, diet pills contained dangerous ingredients like arsenic and strychnine. These were promoted as "speeding up the metabolism, much like amphetamines do," according to Louise Foxcroft, a historian and author. Though the pills only contained small amounts, they were still dangerous - even more so considering that women would take more than the recommended dose in an attempt to slim down. 

  • The Great Masticator's Diet That Nearly Destroyed Everyone's Jaws

    The Great Masticator's Diet That Nearly Destroyed Everyone's Jaws
    Photo: Paul Fornier / Library of Congress

    How much do you chew your food? Well, Horace Fletcher, AKA the Great Masticator, started suggesting in 1895 that everyone should chew more. A lot more. His belief was that “the most important part of nutrition is the right preparation of food in the mouth for future digestion." This basically meant chewing food up to 100 times a minute, until it was a liquid so gross you no longer actually wanted to swallow it. The practice earned the moniker "Fletcherism," and under this diet regime you could eat anything you wanted as long as you chewed it until it turned fluid. Fletcherism became so popular, in fact, that people would time each other at dinner parties in order to make sure everyone at the gathering was getting enough chews in. Sounds like a lot of tired jaws. 

  • The "I Am Banting" Diet That Was The Original Low-Carb Trend

    An English carpenter named William Banting had trouble with his weight: a lot of trouble. After trying all sorts of exercise and regimes, he finally found a diet that worked for him. Limited to one ounce of toast, lots of protein, and being allowed "the fruit of any pudding" (but not the pastry), it was basically an early, low-carb diet. He published a booklet describing the diet and his success.

    The weird part? It was so successful that his name became a verb synonymous with the diet, with people refusing carbohydrates by saying "No thanks, I'm banting." In fact, "bant" is still used to describe dieting in Sweden. Talk about making a name for yourself. 

  • 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.