The 7 Craziest Diets From History: Do They Work?

Crazy vintage diets: I’ve done a few in my time! People have always been obsessed with keeping trim and looking fantastic, and over the centuries people have resorted to lots of strange things to keep their waistlines in check. Here are some of the most bizarre methods of weight loss I have come across from yesteryear.

1. Craziest Diets: Cabbage soup

The 7 Craziest Diets From History Do They Work-cabbage soup

Ever heard of the cabbage soup diet? I have tried it and I can assure you it doesn’t work and it’s awful. This diet seems to have been around since the 1930s and the general idea is that you make up a giant pot of this cabbage soup, which you can have unlimited quantities of. The rest of the time, you pretty much just eat fruit and vegetables, with a couple of baked potatoes thrown in at dinner times.

What happens?

The first day is easy – you like the soup, and you wonder why you haven’t eaten cabbage more in your life – it’s actually quite delicious – you think. Day two is a little harder and you start to crave something solid – like a crusty piece of bread. By day three the diet is really starting to irk you – you realise that there are four days to go and you doubt that you’ll make it. By the afternoon of day three, you decide that a teeny tiny piece of bread won’t do you any harm – then you end up eating the whole loaf.

Should you try it?

Why not? Particularly if you’re into a bit of self-masochism like I am. There are certainly worse diets out there and at least with this one you’re getting some good nutrients. I doubt it will do you any harm – but I did find an article on the web about a woman who attributed her blood clots to this diet – so take that into account!

2. Grapefruit

The 7 Craziest Diets From History Do They Work-grapefruit

The first time I remember hearing about grapefruit as a diet food was back on the TV show The Flinstones. Fred Flinstone went on a diet and I think Wilma served him grapefruit to make him lose weight. That may not sound very poignant – but think of the implications dieting and weight loss has on our society. I would have been maybe only five or six years old, but these ‘dieting’ messages stay with you forever.

What happens?

There was a theory that grapefruits contained a particular enzyme that aided weight loss. People on this diet were told to eat a grapefruit at every meal. I think the diet worked for people because the rest of the meal plan was fairly restrictive, so whether the grapefruits were actually to credit is doubtful. However, recent studies have shown a link between grapefruit and insulin: “The researchers speculate that the chemical properties of grapefruit reduce insulin levels and encourage weight loss. The importance of this link lies with the hormone’s weight management function. While not its primary function, insulin assists with the regulation of fat metabolism.”

Should you try it?

Well, if grapefruits are in season, why not? The problem with this diet is attempting to do it at a time when grapefruits are scare – then you’ll be paying a couple of bucks each for them at the supermarket. According to my research – they are in season from winter to early spring – so if you’re in Australia – it’s gearing up to be peak grapefruit diet season time soon.

3. Craziest Diets: Eating cotton wool

The 7 Craziest Diets From History Do They Work-cotton balls

I am thankful to say I have never (and would never) try this! Back in the ol’ days, people resorted to all sorts of crazy things to lose weight, including eating inorganic material such as tissues or cotton wool so that their stomachs felt full. The idea is that you won’t feel as hungry and the tissues or cotton wool will pass harmlessly through your system. Yuck.

What happens?

There have been a couple of stories in the media about this recently – I have noticed this to my horror! There was one awful story in one of my fave publications the UK Daily Mail where the mother of top American model Sessilee Lopez spoke about her daughter in a book called Making A Supermodel: A Parent’s Guide. Janice Celeste talks about a young model ate cotton wool balls dipped in orange juice to feel full. “I personally know of one model who dipped cotton balls in orange juice and consumed it to feel full. Later it came out that she had anorexia.”

Should you try it?

No – don’t be silly.

4. Wearing tight clothes

The 7 Craziest Diets From History Do They Work-tight clothes

This may sound ridiculous – but it’s a technique that women (and maybe some men!) have employed for centuries. Don’t believe me? Have you thought about corsets? Women wore these for centuries and I swear that it would have restricted their eating quite a lot.

How does it work?

By tightly constricting the body’s trunk, you are essentially giving your stomach less room to expand, so there is not as much room for food. There is a group online that has even started the corset diet, to see if this would help them lose weight. It’s an interesting read – if somewhat slightly sick. Here’s what one of the ladies had to say: “Day 3 Tie it up tighter this morning but feel the corset is too big, I can have it completely laced up and take it off at the front easily. If I breathe in, it is definitely loose. Most of the time it feel pleasant to wear, such a pity it restricts me too much to attempt to vacuum! Worn 8 hours.”

Should you try it?


There was an article I sourced that claimed that Jessica Alba wore a corset to lose weight: “Jessica Alba admitted to Net-a-Porter that she used a corset to get her pre-baby body back after her two pregnancies, including her last one in 2011.” I personally think this is a pretty crappy idea – and I don’t think it would help in the long term.

5. Eating celery

The 7 Craziest Diets From History Do They Work-celery

We’ve all heard the claims that celery has negative calories, meaning that your body expends more calories in digesting the celery than is contained in the nutritional value of the vegetable. Celery is the ultimate, original, vintage diet food and Catherine Zeta Jones said she ate it liberally when she was training for her part in Chicago. “I never heard of anyone gaining weight by eating celery,” she said.

How does it work?

Basically – you just eat a lot of celery! But does this miracle veggie have negative calories as purported? Wikipedia says no: “While this concept is popular in dieting guides, there is no scientific evidence that any of the foods claimed as negative calorie foods are such.” However says maybe celery does have negative calories, but maybe it doesn’t: “The real truth is that celery both does and does not have negative calories. As a plant, celery stores its calories throughout its body, just as every other plant does. There are plenty of food calories in celery; the difference is that humans cannot adequately process those calories.” And Yahoo answers – seems to say YES! Have a look at this link to see people debate the issue.

Should you try it?

May as well – again, there’s no harm in eating celery. If you want to give this diet a go – then go for it. Celery tastes particularly great when slathered in peanut butter or vegan baba ghanoush… but wait… what do you mean that defeats the purpose?

6. The Mars Bar diet

mars bar diet

Want to try it? Read my post Mars Bar Diet: Health Benefits & Weight Loss for the Lazy. This is a great Aussie classic! What is a Mars Bar? Is an Aussie chocolate bar made of nougat, caramel and slathered in milk chocolate. Apparently it’s similar to the US Milky Way Bar. International readers – if you want to make them yourself – here is a recipe!

How does it work?

A Mars Bar has 280 calories – making it about the same as a diet frozen meal, or a diet shake. The diet asked people to eat a Mars Bar for breakfast, lunch and dinner – and that’s it/ Some versions of the diet let you have unlimited salad as well, meaning that a typical day would give you fewer than 1000 calories – so I guess you would lose weight.

Should you try it?

No! Diets like this never work and you’ll be back to square one in no time. Don’t do the Mars Bar diet – it simply will not work long term! However, if you are really keen on the Mars Bar diet, read my diet plan here: Mars Bar Diet: Health Benefits & Weight Loss for the Lazy.

7. Craziest Diets: Valley of the Dolls

The 7 Craziest Diets From History Do They Work-pills

Valley of the Dolls was a fictional book written by US novelist Jacqueline Susann in 1966. “Dolls” are a euphemism for sleeping tablets or ‘downers’ – originally short for dolophine, a type of barbiturate. It was a classic 60s book that was then made into a movie. I like this quote from the wiki entry: “Much of the narrative is drawn from the author’s experiences and observations as a struggling actress in the Hollywood of the early forties. Helen Lawson, the aging stage actress who befriends and uses Anne, is based closely on Ethel Merman, whom Susann had known personally and reportedly had been sexually involved with.” I might have to get this one out from the library!

How does it work?

You take a bunch of pills and go to sleep for 2 days and wake up thinner – simple! It’s a creepy, awful thought – and not one that I recommend looking in to. However, there have been lots of recent studies into the effect of sleep on weight loss. “One of the more interesting ideas that has been smoldering and is now gaining momentum is the appreciation of the fact that sleep and sleep disruption do remarkable things to the body — including possibly influencing our weight,” says David Rapoport, MD, from the Sleep Medicine Program at New York University.

Should I try it?

Yes – get some sleep, but, NO – don’t take sleeping pills! Those things freak me out and anyone who has read the spate of Stilnox issues in the Australian media. These sleeping pills seem to make people say and do crazy things,

Crazy Vintage Diets

People have always tried to lose weight, form the Vomitoriums of Ancient Rome to the paleo diets and gluten-free fads of today. Really, there is only one way to lose weight – you need to eat less.

Have you ever tried any crazy diets? Did they work for you?

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