Hopping back in time to see what mad fads our predecessors participated in…
So Marilyn Monroe was partial to (well, brave enough to endure) two eggs in warm milk for breakfast, followed by nothing for lunch, and broiled steak with four or five raw carrots for dinner, with the occasional hot fudge sundae in the evening. Greta Garbo would pour coffee on her cornflakes, Jackie Kennedy would survive on one baked potato a day, stuffed with caviar and sour cream, and for Elizabeth Taylor, it was all about steak and peanut butter sandwiches, or cottage cheese mixed with sour cream… Barf.
You’d think science would have afforded our stars easier and less extreme means of staying slim by now (a magic potion perhaps), but no. Beyonce bans food completely when she wants to lose a few pounds, opting instead for a diet of lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper in water. Kim Cattrall devotes herself to ‘the fish facelift’ – just three pieces of salmon a day – said to improve skin and energy and aid weight loss. Then there’s Reese Witherspoon, who simply eats baby food – you know you’re desperate when you try this one.
We’ve certainly had some strange ideas about weight loss in our time – everything from ice cube diets to cookie diets (mmm). Our obsession is nothing new, either. Back in 1727, some believed that heavier people tended to live near swamps (!) and recommended they move to drier places if they wished slim down. During the 1800s, loopy Lord Byron drank vinegar and water to cleanse the body (not advised), as well tea with raw egg mixed in. It was during this time that dieting became very fashionable, due to the Victorian ideal of purity, frailty and femininity, prevalent amongst the gentry at the time. By the 1920s, we’d still not fathomed it, advocating cigarettes as an appetite suppressor and bastion of good health (the very thought!), while in the thirties, the weight-conscious rushed to the shops to buy special ‘slimming soaps’ like ‘Fat-Off’ and ‘Fat-O-No’, to wash away their foodie indulgences. If only!
All of the aforementioned methods are pretty weird, but these are definitely the most intriguing as far as I’m concerned…
1950s – The Tapeworm Diet
The less said about this one the better. A pill containing….said diet-aid…would be swallowed, and weight loss would supposedly occur because food wasn’t being absorbed – not by the dieter anyway. Some unpleasant side effects would also occur. The dieter would take another pill, thought to kill the parasite, once the desired weight was required, and pray for no complications. Maria Callas was said to have tried it, though these claims were largely dismissed…
Miles less harmful but probably (dare I say) just as unsuccessful, was the Prayer Diet, which provoked a whole ‘Christian diet industry’, publishing books such as ‘The Devil Wants Me Fat’, ‘I Prayed Myself Slim’ and ‘What Would Jesus Eat?’. Ahem.
1960s – The Sleeping Beauty Diet
During the sixties, many celebs believed that sleep was the key to weight loss, based on the logic that if you’re asleep, you can’t eat. I have to say I quite like this one. Elvis would sedate himself for days. Only thing is, this can really mess with your hormones, and obviously doctors won’t prescribe sedatives for this reason! And another thing, it’s kind of important to wake up for other functional reasons too…
Revellers loved Robert Cameron’s Drinking Man Diet, which recommended unlimited alcohol at every meal. Unsurprisingly, Cameron sold more than two million copies of his advisory pamphlet in two years.
The free love of the sixties also extended to the introduction of support groups such as world-famous Weight Watchers – a big development in dieting culture.
1970s – The Ayds Diet
Like many other ‘easy-fix’ diet pills, Ayds Appetite Suppressant Candy seemed like the perfect solution for those who loved food too much to ignore their hunger pangs. Best of all, it came in a variety of flavours! Again, like many other diet pills, it was eventually taken off the market because its active ingredient was potentially life-threatening (phenylpropanolamine has been known to cause stroke in women). What’s more, once the AIDS epidemic hit in the 80s, the Ayds diet didn’t seem so appealing anymore.
1980s – The Breatharian Diet
Some once believed that if you were truly at one with the world, you would need neither food nor sleep. All you would need to sustain you would be prana – the vital life force of Hinduism. Of course, those with a modicum of sense discounted this diet pretty sharpish. It is simply starvation. It was said to be more of a lifestyle than a diet, which is odd, seeing as several people lost their life (and style) while following the diet.
Throughout the 90s and noughties, the madness has continued. The Vision Diet stipulated that the dieter wear blue glasses to suppress the appetite (and presumably stay away from the red and yellow of McDonald’s), while the bizarre procedure of ear stapling was also introduced. This was believed to work like acupuncture, but was not all that practical as it turns out, as the ear could become infected or disfigured. And there are still those who will attempt to eat things that are not actually foodstuffs in a desperate bid to purge their foodie sins – cotton balls soaked in gelatine for starters.
I say just eat the doughnut and have done with it.