5 Crazy Diets From History You Won’t Believe Ever Existed

Need to drop a few dress sizes? Snack on some parasites!


Human history is littered with broken diet resolutions. Even though people have been trying to lose (and gain) weight for centuries—the concept of the “fad diet” didn’t really take off until the 19th-century. Remember that terrible cayenne pepper cleanse you tried in college? Blame it on the Victorians. Here are 5 crazy vintage diets nobody’s going to miss.

1. The “Grahamite” Diet:

In the 1830s, a Presbyterian minister named Sylvester Graham decided to cure physical lust with…Graham flour (which was also used to make the original crackers). “Spices, stimulants and other overindulgences lead to indigestion, illness, sexual excess, and civil disorder,” Graham preached. His followers, known as “Grahamites,” subsisted off of bread made from coarse graham flour, vegetables, and water. The father of the Graham cracker believed his vegetarian diet would prevent masturbation—which he thought caused “blindness, disease, and death.” Weird fact: At one point, The miserly diet was imposed on Oberlin College’s entire student population.



2. The Chewing Diet:

In 1903, Horace Fletcher was an unknown San Francisco art dealer with a weight problem. His life changed forever when he was denied health insurance due to his weight. He dropped 40 pounds and became a diet-guru in the process. His secret? Take a bite, chew it 32 times, and then spit it out. Nicknamed “The Great Masticator,” the PR genius coined the phrase “Nature will castigate those who don’t masticate.” Known as Fletcherism, his bizarre chewing fad attracted plenty of famous followers. (Franz Kafka chewed his food excessively throughout the 1920s).


3. The Tapeworm Diet:

Need to drop a few dress sizes? Snack on some parasites! The “tapeworm diet” reportedly gained traction during the early 1900s. The eye-catching advertisement promised women that they could “EAT! EAT! EAT! & Always stay thin!” All you had to do was ingest pills that contained sanitized tapeworm larvae and let them live off of your digestive juices. The worms would then absorb your excess calories into their bodies and grow larger—until they had to be removed (we’d rather not think about how). Note: some historians believe the “tapeworm diet” is nothing more than a (gruesome) urban legend.


4. The Vinegar Diet:

Was Lord Byron the world’s first celebrity dieter? The fatphobic poet subsisted off of soda water and vinegar-soaked potatoes for most of the 1800s. Because of his massive cultural influence, Byron’s questionable dietary habits elicited a fair amount of concern within the medical community. The American physician George Miller Beard famously lamented that “young ladies lived all their growing girlhood in semi-starvation because of their fears of incurring the horror of disciples of Lord Byron.”


5. The Cigarette Diet:

In the late 1920s, Constance Talmadge became the poster child for the The Cigarette Diet. The silent movie star appeared in an endless string of advertisements promoting Lucky Strikes as a diet aid. Craving a hamburger? Go smoke five cigarettes! In the mood for ice cream? Take a couple long drags and you’ll be right as rain. Instead of reaching for sweets, women were advised to chain-smoke:

“Instead of eating between meals … instead of fattening sweets … beautiful women keep youthful slenderness these days by smoking Luckies. The smartest and loveliest women of the modern stage take this means of keeping slender … when others nibble fattening sweets, they light a Lucky!.”


via Beebo

Written by Julia Mason // History Buff // Feature image via 19th-century Bottle Diggers