Crazy Diet Fads From The Past That Totally Didn’t Work


Who among us hasn’t wished for a magic pill to take off the extra weight? Or failing that, a one week program that will get the job done quickly and painlessly? Sadly, though, over the years, all we’ve gotten is the false hope held out by one fad diet after another. Only eat grapefruit! Slurp cabbage soup for a week! Drink this shake and eat a healthy dinner! Take this diet pill and you’ll never be hungry again!

So many great – and sometimes terrifying – ideas but, as we all know, none of it has moved the needle on the national weight problem. To celebrate this eternal craziness, we’ve gathered together the wackiest fad diets that have swept the nation and pulled us along on a tide of optimism before disappearing with a whimper of crushing failure. Enjoy this trip down (diet) memory lane and then ask yourself: how could we have believed any of this would work?

Photo credit Vintage Everyday
Photo credit / Vintage Everyday

Stewardess Diet

Also known as the Cabbage Soup Diet, this awful sounding diet first appeared in the 1950s when TWA stewardesses were the pinnacle of the feminine ideal. The Stewardess Diet made the lofty promise of losing 10 to 15 pounds in a week by eating – you guessed it – cabbage soup. Every. Single. Day.

The diet called for eating all the cabbage soup you could stomach for seven days, plus each day you could add in some completely random “extra” food item … fruit one day, a potato the next… you get the picture. While women lost some weight on this very low-calorie diet, it lacks all kinds of nutrients and the weight comes right back with your appetite. This diet resurfaces from time to time but since cabbage soup isn’t that appetizing even on a good day, it quickly goes underground again.


Master Cleanse

Although this bizarre juice fast first hit the fad diet scene in the 1940s, it gained greater popularity after author Stanley Burroughs brought it to a hungry world when he published The Master Cleanser in 1976. The diet couldn’t be simpler: whenever you’re hungry, drink a concoction of water, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup. For 10 days. To keep things moving along, you also drink a laxative tea at night and a big, lukewarm glass of water with sea salt in the morning. The results of this combination, we hear, are immediate and dramatic.

Proponents say the detoxifying effects and fat loss are amazing and that hunger is not a problem. Detractors say it’s dangerously non-nutritive, muscle wasting and, generally, complete hokum.

+1 for the proponents: Beyonce is a fan, and credits the Master Cleanser with helping her lose weight for her role in Dreamgirls.

+1 for the detractors: Author Stanley Burroughs was convicted of manslaughter for practicing the healing methods described in his work, including the Master Cleanser.  Oops.