Fad Diet Plans from History

The quest for flat bellies has plagued us for decades.  Look at fad diet plans from history - from tapeworms to Chew Chew to Sleeping Beauty...dieting enthusiasts have tried it all!

fad diet plans through history

It's so easy to be lured into the promise of getting something for little effort:

  • get rich quick
  • lose your fat in 3 days
  • get out of debt fast
  • instant millionaire
  • radical weight loss


The truth is, you can't get what you want without substantial work.  That goes for everything in life, including weight loss.  Good grief, it even takes work to gain weight, although it seems easier than losing it at times!

Even though we have a lot more science backing us up today, we are fatter than ever.  More people are obese and I think a lot of it has to do with moving away from eating real food and more folks sitting around most of the day.

Eat more junk = junk in the trunk.  And there have always been crazy fad diet plans going around.  Let's start a few hundred years ago at the opposite end of the spectrum, when most people believed that vegetables were decidedly unhealthy for you. 

The Terrible Tudor Diet

Nobody could accuse King Henry VIII of having a healthy body mass index in his older years.  His 13 course meals every day were mostly meat in a variety of concoctions.  This is the Atkins Diet to the extreme!

Pork, lamb, rabbit, peacock and swan were all on his dinner plate.  Lots of ale washed it all down, about 70 pints, because water was a no-no.  No matter.  There was always wine laced with sugar. 

White bread sopped up everything (along with plugging up Henry's innards). Perhaps it helped to soak up the 20 grams of salt.  There were few vitamins and fiber so he likely suffered from diabetes, a fatty liver and poor circulation.

And this was a supposedly healthy diet for his majesty.  And of course there was little exercise involved - the royals were far too busy lopping off heads and racking prisoners in the tower to walk off their dinners.





The Tapeworm Diet

This is a disgusting extreme weight loss diet plan.  However, it is still marketed today and history shows its origins may come from over a century ago, melded with some urban legends and has ended up in some Mexican clinics.

Back in the early 1900s there were some diet pills that were marketed as having tapeworms in them (snake oil salesmen, most likely). Women in the flapper era were increasingly desperate to lose weight and the marketing of diet pills was becoming quite the rage. 

tapeworm fad diet plans


Enter the opera singer Maria Callas.  She was infected with a tapeworm (not by choice - it was through liver tartare) and lost a tremendous amount of weight. 

The rumor mill began and her enemies said she did it on purpose and could no longer hit the high notes because of it. 

(Click on the image and see if you can find the elusive little tapeworm hiding in the steak tartare!)

She was also in the middle of an affair with Aristotle Onassis at the time so that was likely the reason the rumors began.  When your body changes though it can effect your voice, so that may have been true.

These types of fad diet plans are still being sold to unsuspecting (or dumb) consumers in many third world countries.  You actually can go to some places and be purposefully infected with tapeworms and other organisms to lose the weight.

At any rate, using tapeworms for weightloss is illegal in most countries because it can kill you.  It didn't kill our skinny opera singer (it is rumored her assistant did), but either way she still ended up singing with the worms at an early age.



The Chew Chew Diet

Back in the Edwardian Era, a fat bellied art dealer from San Francisco lost over 40 pounds by chewing his food 32 times before tipping his head back and letting some of it slide down his throat.  What didn't manage to slither down he spit out. 

In one sense, it was almost like a liquid diet plan, not unlike what bariatric patients go through today.

With that success under his much slimmer belt, Horace Fletcher (nicknamed the Great Mastigator) went on to promote Fletcherism, otherwise known as the Chew Chew Diet. 

Now I suppose this might actually work for a number of reasons.  First, the longer you chew your food the more likely you are to feel full.  And saliva is the first step in digestion and helps decompose starches while protecting the esophagus.

You will also certainly eat less if you stick to it because it will take so long to get through a meal.

fad diet plans and the chew chew diet


However, it sounds revolting - more like the Wild West with a spittoon around every corner!

I would have loved to see The Great Mastigator in a spitting contest with Clint Eastwood myself!

Sleeping Beauty Diet

It's a fact - the more tired you are the fatter you are.  This is all thanks to a couple of fun little hormones called leptin and ghrelin. 

I know when I am exhausted I can almost hear the refrigerator talking to me.  My stomach grumbles and it's as if I have lost all control.  Sound familiar?

Ghrelin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract and stimulates appetite.  Leptin comes from your fat cells and sends signals to your brain when you are full.

But when you're tired, leptin levels drop which causes you to feel less satisfied after eating. It also causes ghrelin to rise and stimulate your appetite, so you actually crave more food.

So how to sleep more (when going to bed and closing your eyes like a normal person isn't an option)?  Rock and roll baby.


Aging rock stars were already sleeping a lot in the 1960s due to knocking themselves out with recreational drugs, so they were skinny but high all the time.

Somehow a twisted trend caught on between sleep, getting skinny and not eating.   Suddenly a new "diet"  was born:  the Sleeping Beauty.

And who better to pick up on it than the King of Rock and Roll himself? 

The Sleeping Beauty diet required that a person be sedated with a drug cocktail for a few days in order to "sleep off the weight."  Voila!  You would wake up thinner! 

That is, as long as you actually managed to wake up.  This probably isn't one of the fad diet plans that flat belly seekers ought to try.  Your call, er, swan song.


“The second day of a diet is always easier than the first.  By the second day, you're off it.”
~ Jackie Gleason





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