We’ve all been there: spending too much money for some gadget that promises to tone our thighs, shrink our bellies, or firm our arms. Many of us truly believe that those extra holiday pounds are going to be shed in time for the beach with the help of the newest diet featured in Shape magazine.
Clearly, America has an obsession with weight. There is a menagerie of weight loss pills, innovative exercise machines, different types of weight loss surgeries, and bizarre diets. The media is saturated with scary statistics on obesity, and it seems that you can’t pick up a magazine without there being at least one article on someone who has lost an astounding amount of weight with before and after pictures. Snuggled in-between these articles are advertisements featuring gaunt women who all have that same aloof expression.
It’s easy to assume that America’s love affair with diets and weight loss is a more recent phenomenon – but a relatively brief Internet search proved otherwise. Weight loss gimmicks and fad diets have been around since the beginning of the 20th century. Some of the products people used in the early 1900s to shave off those extra pounds included an Obesity Soap that was supposed to “wash away” excess fat (imagine what that would do to your shower drain), and Bile Beans that were nothing more than laxatives.
The Graybar Stimulator entered the scene in 1920 and would cost you $60. No small change for a machine where you strapped a leather belt around your hips and it jiggled the pounds away (which it didn’t). It appears most exercise machines at that time involved vibration because in 1930 the Battle Creek Health Builder was a popular choice. With this bizarre contraption, the victim sat in a saddle and the fat was “shaken” off (it wasn’t). Just as so many people today have a room in their house devoted to exercise equipment they rarely use, I am assuming back in the 1930s people had a room specifically for their Graybar Stimulator and Battle Creek Health Builder.
Radical diets are also not new to the weight loss scene. In fact, there have been so many rather alarming weight loss regimes that I was forced to shorten the list. Below are some of the fad diets that are downright weird.
In 1903, a diet called Fletcherizing, or “the chewing diet”, became quite popular. Fletcherizing involved chewing food 32 times – one chew for each tooth. While it created rather quiet dinner parties and tired jaws, Fletcherizing did not provide the weight loss so desired and the diet eventually lost its appeal.
The Cigarette Diet, endorsed by none other than Lucky Strike Cigarettes, became the rage in 1925. With this diet, people were told to reach for a cigarette instead of food when hungry. Not only was a cigarette a substitute for putting food in the mouth when you wanted to eat, the nicotine was also touted as being appetite suppressing. Thus, the Cigarette Diet killed two birds with one stone (while giving the dieter a surprise diagnosis of lung cancer later on in life).
Between the years 1930-1950 the Grapefruit Diet made its debut. With this citrus driven diet, people attempted to shed pounds – and keep them off – by consuming grapefruit with every meal. It was believed that grapefruit had a fat-burning property and by eating them with other foods, the grapefruit would cancel out the caloric intake of whatever else you ingested. Although this theory has been continually debunked, other variations of the Grapefruit Diet still exist today.
Swallowing a tapeworm was also experimented with as a way to control weight. The Tapeworm Diet was rumored as being a popular method in losing weight during the 1950s. For those who weren’t keen on the idea of swallowing a parasite and having it grow up to 25 feet long in their intestines, dieters could also try the Cabbage Soup Diet. Similar to the Grapefruit Diet, the Cabbage Soup Diet required dieters to eat Cabbage Soup with every meal.
Jumping ahead to the 1990s, quick weight loss schemes did not lessen in number or oddity. Who remembers the 1996 diet of eating food based on your blood type? Or the low carb craze of the Atkins Diet and South Beach Diet? Around 1998, juicing machines flew off the shelves in droves as people tried the Juice, Fasting and Detoxification Diet. When drinking meals lost its appeal, dieters then tried munching on uncooked foods with the Raw Food Diet of 2000. Dieters attempted liquid diets a second time with the more recently popular Master Cleanse (also known as the Lemonade Diet). With this extreme diet, people drink nothing more than a concoction consisting of hot water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper for 10 days.
It is easy to poke fun at the 13th century explorer, Ponce de Leon, who discovered Florida in his quest for the fountain of youth. A fountain that would keep you young! How ridiculous. Now, if you’ll just excuse me. I need to eat my allotted 17 pickles as part of the Pickle Diet. (Fooled you, didn’t I?)