In the six years since I founded Alevere Nutrition Limited I have listened to hundreds of patients explain which Fad diets they have tried. In this month’s column I thought it would be fun to list a few of the more bizarre ones.
Most people have heard of the uber restrictive, low carb, high protein Atkins diet, or the 5:2 diet, where you seriously limit your calorie intake for two days every week.
Turns out, there are a whole lot more fad diets around than I thought! While this trend of super fast weight loss through eccentric methods began in Greek and Roman times, it really took off in the 19th century.
From ‘miracle juices’ and bizarre food combinations, to intestinal parasites and employing the ‘Laws of Attraction’, there are some crazy ideas out there!
Here are 7 of the most odd and extreme fad diets.
1. The Grapefruit Juice Diet
Designed in 1930, this fad has stuck around a long time. This goal of the 12 day Grapefruit Juice Diet is simply weight loss, with claims participants could lose up to 10 lbs.
Dieters are not expected to survive on grapefruit juice alone, but they do have to reduce their food intake to under 1,000 calories a day. Meals are protein rich, and can include eggs, bacon, salad dressings, and even butter. Every meal needs to be accompanied by either half a grapefruit or 8 oz of fresh juice, hence the name.
While grapefruit itself is healthy and rich in vitamin C, these don’t sound like especially healthy meal plans to me. Strangely enough, the diet claims you should “eat until you are stuffed…the more you eat the more weight you will lose”!
How does the diet work you ask? Creators claim the grapefruit juice is the key to simply burning off the fat.
However, aside from one study (which, funnily enough, was funded by the Florida Department of Citrus), there is no evidence to prove that grapefruit juice actually does burn fat in this manner. It’s more likely that the limited calorie intake leads to weight loss.
Aside from its restrictive nature, the problem with this diet is that, once normal eating habits are resumed, the weight will most likely pile back on.
2. The Blood Type Diet
Developed by Dr. Peter D’Adamo, a naturopathic physician, The Blood Type Diet claims that your nutritional needs can be determined by your blood type.
Dr. D’Adamo believes his theory explains why some people lose weight, and others don’t, while following the same diet. Apparently a lot of other people believe it too, his incredibly popular book became a New York Times bestseller.
Within two weeks, followers of this program are said to experience an increase in energy, better digestive health, weight loss, and a reduction in the symptoms associated with asthma, headaches, and heartburn.
I really began to question the validity of this diet when the Dr. claimed that our immune and digestive systems still favour the types of foods our ancestors ate, and that these are the types of foods we have evolved to thrive on!
Apparently, Type O’s need animal protein, intense exercise, and should avoid dairy and grains, while Type A’s are suited to a fresh, organic and vegetarian diet. Type B’s have a robust digestive system so can seemingly tolerate a variety of foods, but they should engage in hiking, cycling, tennis, and swimming. Type AB should combine Type A and Type B recommendations.
Research backs up my hunch about this fad! In 2013, when researchers examined the data from 1,415 studies, they did not find a single study that showed the health benefits of a blood type diet.
3. The hCG Diet
This bizarre ‘diet’ involves being injected with the hormone hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), which the body naturally produces while pregnant.
While the shots themselves are technically legal if administered by a health care professional, followers of this diet are also encouraged to take hCG drops, pellets and sprays, all of which are illegal according to the FDA.
A ‘diet’ that involves pregnancy hormones and illegal substances? I think I’ll pass!
Given that you’re limited to 500 calories a day for eight weeks, it doesn’t take a genius to work out it’s not the hCG causing the weight loss.
Reported side effects have included fatigue, irritability, and depression. Oh yeah, and swelling of the breasts in boys and men!
Be warned that diets like this that severely limit calories can also cause blood clots, gallstones, and irregular heartbeat.
4. The Cabbage Soup Diet
If you like variety in your meals, then this 7-day meal plan probably isn’t for you. While you are allowed to add in various things to the diet – following a set schedule – you have to force down watery, limp cabbage soup every day.
Of course you’re going to lose weight, it’s a low calorie, low protein, and low fat plan. It’s also low on nutrients.
As with all these fads, the weight will go straight back on once you ditch the bland soup. Maybe that’s why they market it as a ‘catalyst’ for a long term weight loss solution, recommending you move onto a diet formulated by a major medical institution.
I say skip the cabbage soup and go straight to the healthy, maintainable weight loss plan.
5. The Baby Food Diet
Rumoured to be started by celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson, the Baby Food Diet recommends eating 14 jars of baby food a day, followed by a ‘grown-up’ meal. Although it has never been ‘officially’ published anywhere, it’s claimed Jennifer Aniston, Lady Gaga, and Reese Witherspoon have all dabbled in the diet.
Sorry, but no amount of potential weight loss could convince me to chow down on orange mush all day long.
As baby food is processed and strained, it’s lacking fiber, which is absolutely essential for a good digestive system. The very act of slowly chewing food also helps you feel full, something you’re missing out on when forcing down this bland puree.
The diet may not even promote weight loss or maintenance. After all, not all baby foods are low calorie, and the quality of the evening meal will also play a role in the outcome.
6. The Magnetic Diet
Magnetic Diet claims it can ‘invite great food into your life with the laws of attraction’ but it’s basically just guidelines for healthy living, wrapped up in some new-age verse.
The creator of the diet, Nick Smith, claims to understand which foods attract health and disease into the body. He advises dieters to only eat ‘invigorating magnetism foods’ such as fruits, whole grains, vegetables, lean meat, and antioxidant rich sources.
The ‘contaminating magnetism foods’, which should be avoided, include refined sugar, white flour, and foods high in cholesterol. He also advocates watching your calories, exercising, and meditating.
Hardly surprising these people lose weight, but not for the reasons this diet claims.
7. Cotton Ball Diet
One of the strangest ones I’ve come across in my research (and that’s saying something!) is the Cotton Ball Diet.
Believed to have been started in the modelling industry, this strange ritual involves dipping up to five cotton balls in orange juice before swallowing them in a desperate bid to curb hunger.
Obviously, if you’re not actually consuming food you will lose weight, but at what cost?
Well, ingesting non-food substances can be dangerous, with followers of this fad risking choking or obstructing their intestinal tract. The obstruction, known as a bezoar, many need to be surgically removed. Most cotton balls for sale now are actually a mass of bleached, synthetic fibres, which aren’t easily digested.
Aside from the dangerous medical problems it can cause, exclusively eating cotton balls will cause malnutrition as they are devoid of nutrients. Therefore your body is deprived of the fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals it needs to function efficiently.
Your skin and hair will suffer too and you’ll look a mess. Not very ‘model-like’ is it?
8. The Lemonade Diet
Said to have been followed by Beyonce, Demi Moore, and Jared Leto, The Lemonade Diet is a 10 day plan to remove toxins from the body and eliminate junk food and alcohol cravings.
Completely deprived of solid foods, dieters are allowed to drink just 6 to 10 glasses of lemonade (made from lemons, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper) a day, with a glass of salt water in the morning and a laxative at night.
Does anyone else wonder why you would need a laxative if you’re not eating solid foods?
While it claims to boost your energy and ‘nourish your body’, I can’t imagine feeling anything but exhausted and cranky sipping on lemons all day.
The Lemonade Diet was originally created by Stanley Burroughs, a wannabe alternative health practitioner in the 1950’s. Burroughs was convicted of practicing medicine without a license and charged with murder for attempting to heal a cancer patient with this special ‘lemonade’, coloured lights, and massages.
As much as you may want a Beyonce body, it would be best to disregard the ‘advice’ of this quack and convicted felon!
9. The Zen Diet
zen diet Believed to have been started by Buddhist monks, The Zen Diet eating plan follows a long list of strict guidelines.
Killing is forbidden, so forget about meat or fish. Meals must also be a balance of yin (passive, cold and dark) and yang ingredients (hot and active). Food must be prepared by balancing all five flavors with all five colors…and using all five ways of cooking.
Confused yet? So am I.
Proponents see it as a way of life as opposed to a fad diet, but it’s certainly as restrictive as some of the others already mentioned.
But because it focuses on simpler, less processed foods, and encourages organic, fresh and in season produce (followed by a cup of green tea) it’s certainly a healthier and more sustainable option than most fad diets.
10. The Hollywood 24 Hour Miracle Diet
Sustainably losing 5 lbs in 24 hours? Now that would be a miracle. But that’s exactly this Hollywood 24 Hour Miracle Diet claims to do, along with helping your body to ‘detox, cleanse, and rejuvenate’.
Basically, you just need to purchase some overpriced fruit juice and drink it four times in the 24 hours, along with some water.
As you’re only taking in around 400 calories, and no healthy fat or protein, you’re probably going to feel tired and may get headaches, shakes, dizziness, anxiety, and irritability.
For the more hard-core dieters, there is a 48 hour plan which claims double the weight loss.
11. The Sleeping Beauty Diet
If you aren’t awake you can’t eat, right? That’s the whole premise of this wacky Sleeping Beauty ‘diet’, made famous by Elvis Presley.
All participants need to do is find a doctor that will sedate them for several hours or days at a time, so they can’t binge on pizza and cookies.
Depriving your body of physical movement and good nutrition for days at a time, whilst simultaneously pumping yourself full of potentially addictive sleeping pills, just isn’t a wise choice on any level.
12. The ‘Feeding Tube’ Diet
Known as the K-E diet, this controversial weight loss plan sees doctors insert feeding tubes into otherwise healthy people to help them drop their excess weight.
Participants in this procedure need to wear a portable feeding tube for 10 days, which delivers an 800 calorie per day solution, made up of vitamins, minerals, protein, and oil.
To be considered for the program, applicants must have a BMI of 27 or higher and fork out £1,600 for the 10 day plan. Patients who want to repeat the cycle must take a 10 day break and then can have the tube inserted for an additional 10 days.
Aside from how ridiculous you would look carrying around a bag of your dinner connected to the tube in your nose, you’ve got to question the ethics of such a ‘treatment’.
13. The Tapeworm Diet
I admit it, I saved the best one for last.
Definitely not for the squeamish, The Tapeworm Diet involves swallowing a capsule filled with tapeworm eggs. As these intestinal parasites hatch and grow inside you, they actually absorb some of your food and nutrients before you do.
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of an intestinal parasitic infection include loss of appetite, nausea, weakness, diarrhoea, weight loss, and malnutrition. If these worms migrate out of your intestines they can cause fever, infections, and eventual organ and tissue damage. They’ll also happily live inside you for up to 30 years!
Although this alleged fad was first advertised in the early 1900s, there have been several media worthy cases in recent years. Notable ones include one woman in Iowa who completely stumped her doctor with her stupidity, prompting him to call the state health department; and the Florida teenager who was spiked with tapeworm eggs by her mother before a big pageant.
Both had to be treated with anti-parasitic medication to kill the intestinal invader.
As interesting as it was to research and write about the extreme, and sometimes illegal, lengths some will go to in the name of weight loss, I obviously don’t condone any one of these ‘diet’ plans.
Aside from some of the more serious medical issues mentioned, these types of diets can often lead to malnutrition and disordered eating habits.
Because you’re essentially starving yourself, you probably will lose weight on them, the muscle and water kind. Of course, once you begin eating normally again, those pounds will pile right back on.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends, before starting a new diet, you ask: ‘Can I picture myself eating this way forever?’
In summary, there is no substitute for a whole foods, balanced diet complemented by regular exercise.