Jaw-dropping Diets of the Past

In this season where people are frantically trying to shed holiday pounds, I read a recent article in the Washington Post Health and Science section on weight-loss schemes from years past. It was in the category of—you can’t make this stuff up.

Let’s start with my favorite: The Tapeworm Diet. This was popular in Victorian England. The idea is that if you had a tapeworm in your intestines, it would suck up calories. Never mind that it might also kill you or make you very sick. And where did you get one, anyway?

Another suggestion is smoking instead of snacking, It probably started with a Lucky Strike slogan, “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” In 1930 the candy industry threatened to sue, and the tag line was changed to the much snappier, “We do not represent that smoking Lucky Strike Cigarettes will bring modern figures or cause the reduction of flesh. We do declare that when tempted to do yourself too well, if you will ‘Reach for a Lucky instead,’ you will thus avoid over-indulgence in things that cause excess weight and, by avoiding over-indulgence, maintain a modern, graceful form.” Obviously they needed some lessons in blurb writing.

Then there are amphetamines. These little pills were first used to keep troops awake for long periods on the battlefield in WWII. Are you old enough to remember the amphetamine craze? In the early sixties, a friend was using these little black pellets for weight loss and thought they were a miracle. She offered me one. I took it and very quickly felt like I was bouncing off the ceiling with every step I took. I lay awake at night with my nervous system “racing.” The effect lasted two days, and I vowed never to get near one again. My husband, Norman, also had a brush with amphetamines. He used them when he was writing his master’s thesis so he could stay up for hours and write long into the evening after work. I’ve never seen him thinner, but he later told me that he was depressed for months after going off them.

I vaguely remember ads for a diet candy, introduced in the 50’s, called—wait for it—Ayds. You ate them before meals to suppress your appetite. Apparently they contained phenylpropanolamine, a decongestant also used to treat urinary incontinence in dogs. Fun! When the aids epidemic hit, the name did them in.

Then there was the “Twinkie Diet” where you ate junk food all day. I’m not sure what that was about. The guy who promoted it did lose 27 pounds, but he gained back all but seven—as usually happens with diets.

Two more you might remember—the grapefruit diet and the vinegar diet. Obviously limiting yourself to grapefruit will limit your calories. One researcher suggested that there’s no evidence that “vinegar leads to weight loss, but it might cause a feeling of nausea that will make people eat less.”

I hope I haven’t taken away your appetite. And, of course, I’d rather stick with a diet that’s not a gimmick. For the past five years, I’ve had good results with the 2 Day a Week Diet, which is actually a lifestyle change.

What do you think of these diets from the past, and do you have any strategies that you’d like to share?

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About Rebecca York

NY Times & USA Today best-seller, Rebecca York, is the author of over 150 books. She has written paranormal romantic thrillers for Berkley and romantic thrillers for Harlequin Intrigue. Her romantic-suspense series, Decorah Security, is set at a detective agency where agents have paranormal powers or work paranormal cases. She also writes an Off-World series where each story is a science fiction romance taking place on a distant planet in the far future.  She also writes the Unbound series for Changeling Press.  View website

11 Replies to “Jaw-dropping Diets of the Past”

  1. Funny article! All the crazy stuff that doesn’t work. I agree that cutting back two days a week and then eating normally the other five days is the way to go because you can sustain it.

  2. Great post, Ruth – must confess to trying the grapefruit diet and the speed pills – that was a one time thing – I stayed up all night vacuuming and made lasagna, I was about 22 years old – the crash was terrible, went on my ‘I’m never doing that again’ list which is now HUGE. Will certainly check out your cook book, going there now. xo

  3. So many diets out there, both past and present, are simply dangerous, especially the ones that promise rapid results with extreme food choices. To me, the ideal diet is, as you say, one that provides a reasonable way of eating and enables a lifestyle change that allows you to maintain a healthy weight. From what I see, this diet allows for both those ideals.

  4. There’s a logic to it that makes it easy to tackle. Plus it’s a change of lifestyle that’s manageable. I’ve seen the results and say “Go for it! It works!!”

  5. I have heard of several of the diet ceases you mentioned, Ruth. The “cigarette” diet never worked for me: I’m match and lighter phobic, so I never had a way to light them. My doctor suggested “diet pills” which I presume werecanphetamines. They made me ravenous, so I stopped taking them. Heard of the Twinkie diet but never tried it. Regarding the Ayds diet – as soon as I started hearing about the Aids epidemic, I thought of the diet product and pitied the company that made them. And lastly, let’s mention the “Subway” diet. Eat turkey subs and those pounds will jus melt away. Oy. ‘Nuff said, I reckon. Fun post, Ruth.

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