4 Old-Timey Diet Fads That Were Pure Insanity
Every day, it seems like new health crazes that promise to help you lose weight fast. Whether it's shady teas sold by influencers, diet books from celebrities who should know better, or companies who double-pinky swear that their new burger is so healthy, it's technically a vegetable.
The thing is, though, while it might seem like open season for the grifters today, this is nothing compared to what health-conscious consumers had to endure in the past ...
"Eat the air!"
To the uninitiated, breatharianism is the belief that through mediation and the like, you can train your body to survive on nothing but air. That's no food, no drink, no nothing. It's been around in various forms since the '70s, but it really came to prominence in the 90's thanks to some high-profile influencers like Jasmuheen, aka Ellen Greve, who was the movement's biggest figure thanks to her popular book "Living on Light" -- which is a reference to how breatharians 'feed' on nutrients in the air, a practice known as 'pranic nourishment.'
Her fame really topped out in 1999 when, after years of talking about how she didn't require food, 60 Minutes arranged for her to sit on-camera in a guarded room and demonstrate her beliefs to the world. She lasted four days before the experiment had to be halted due to medical reasons, i.e., that between the dehydration, high blood pressure, and kidney failure, she was slowly dying while, presumably, waiting for the camera to run out of video.
Oddly, between this and the interview where she admits eating food, her profile wasn't harmed among her followers.
The same could not be said for an earlier high-profile breatharian, Wiley Brooks. Brooks was caught in 1983, either ordering a chicken pot pie in a hotel restaurant or buying Twinkies from a 7-Eleven (depending on who you ask). It was enough to cause people to walk out of his breatharian organization, which considering how many calories these people consume, must've been a sight to behold.
Despite the insanity and the numerous, numerous deaths associated with people attempting this 'diet,' breatharianism still occasionally makes a reappearance in the news -- but thankfully, it's not taken very seriously ... For now.
Abusing amphetamines is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea. One that can cause hyperthermia, psychosis, and, at worst, can kill you mega-dead. We don't want to sound like your parents here, but hot take: unless prescribed (it's used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy) leave them alone ... unless you're interested in losing weight.
That might read as a joke nowadays, but back in the 1950s, the above was legit medical advice doled out by doctors -- who promised anxious housewives that the only thing that stood between them and a "pleasingly uniform reduction in weight" was a handful of amphetamines.
The weird thing, though? This wasn't a lie. During the war, massive quantities of the drug were handed out to the armed forces (on both sides). Not just because it gave soldiers the oomph to march across entire continents, but because it allowed them to do so on an empty stomach -- thanks to how amphetamines are an extremely effective appetite suppressant. So those doctors weren't technically lying about its efficacy, it's just that taking them to lose weight is like chopping off a limb to lose weight -- you're technically doing it, but goddamn, there's got to be a healthier way.
So how did doctors sell their patients on speed? Well, first, it's important to note that amphetamines weren't the big, scary monster that they are today; they were just another drug with zero name recognition or baggage. This brings us to the second part: psychology. All the pharma companies that got into the speed game produced what were called "rainbow diet pills" -- brightly-colored pills prescribed to patients who were told they were an individually-crafted way to suit their specific dieting needs ... yet, in reality, were a mix of amphetamines and stimulants, colored in such a way to avoid the appearance of factory-line pharmaceuticals, and bundled seemingly together at random.
As a result of the candy-like way they were treated, overdoses and medical complications were common among 'rainbow pill' patients. They were often unknowingly swallowing untested combinations of amphetamines and stimulants (which were included to dampen the amphetamines' side-effects). It took nearly 20 years for the FDA to act on the pharma companies peddling this junk to the people, but it was arguably too late. By 1970, over 3.2 million people were addicted to speed, with several deaths due to accidental overdoses.
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"Drink Yourself Thin!"
On the surface, drinking alcohol to lose weight is the worst idea imaginable. After all, there's a reason (beyond hating his boss) why your dad is sporting a beer gut, not a beer six-pack. Back in the 1960s, however, this idea was taken deadly seriously by the people thanks to the work of one man, Robert Cameron. In 1962, Cameron published The Drinking Man's Diet, which in lieu of confirmation from Nick Offerman, is what we presume a dieting book written by Ron Swanson would read like.
As Cameron once wrote:
"Did you ever hear of a diet which was fun to follow? A diet that would let you have two martinis before lunch, and a thick steak generously spread with Sauce Bearnaise, so that you could make your sale in a relaxed atmosphere and go back to the office without worrying about having gained so much as an ounce?"
This, as you can probably guess, was not a diet meant for the ladies. This was intended for high-drinking, high-balling, red meat-eating advertising executives who were starting to feel the effects of their lifestyle. To natch, TDMD was a tiny book of only 50 pages and designed to fit into a man's jacket pocket so that it could be easily consulted while in a restaurant.
Although Cameron ran the book past a nutritionist and a lawyer before publishing, the media called the book dangerous garbage. One magazine unleashed both barrels and blasted the diet as a form of "mass murder." Funny thing, while the diet is garbage, its central idea -- that dieters should focus on minimizing the number of carbs they consumed -- would later get repurposed in the Atkins diet, which claimed to be the first diet to do so. Cameron told Atkins to consume his shit.
If breatharianism took the "eat less" thing to the most dangerous conclusion possible, then Fletcherism, a dieting fad that became popular in the 1910s, took it to its stupidest.
This philosophy was coined by Horace Fletcher, a legit millionaire, playboy, philanthropist who believed that the only proper way to eat food was to chew until the food "swallowed itself." This technique Fletcher believed, "Precluded overeating, led to better systemic and dental health, helped to reduce food intake, and consequently, conserved money." There were other tenets too, such as how people shouldn't eat when they were angry or worried, and to really think about whether they were hungry before eating -- which as dieting advice goes, we'd call "pretty solid" if it wasn't for the part where, y'know, you don't actually eat anything solid.
Despite its, um, visceral nature, Fletcherism found some surprising adherents in people like Thomas Edison, J.C. Penny, and John D. Rockefeller -- proving that while Elon Musk might act like he's the first wacky billionaire, he ain't shit. After this, the fad soon spread across the U.S. and U.K. in a big way. So-called "munching clubs" would get together to practice Fletcherism together in a dining hall, before presumably taking half-an-hour to burn whoever swallowed their food -- accidentally or intentionally, it didn't matter -- in a wicker man.
After Fletcher died in 1919, however, the practice died out. But maybe it wasn't total bullshit. In 1928, a doctor from Chicago decided to undertake an experiment whereby he'd practice Fletcherism for 18 months to test its efficacy. The results? He lost 30lb, a good deal of muscle mass, and his average calorie intake went from 3,200 per day to 2,800 -- although as one journalist noted, that was probably because he couldn't eat as much food because in their words, "So much munching made his mouth tired."