The Worst Pieces of Diet Advice In History

Before there was Dr. Atkins, there was William Banting. He invented the low-carb diet of 1863. Even then, Americans were trying out advice that urged fish, mutton or “any meat except pork” for breakfast, lunch and dinner — hold the potatoes, please. It turns out that our obsession with weight and how to lose it dates back at least 150 years. While now we say “overweight” instead of “corpulent” — obesity has become epidemic. Although it seems everybody has some kind of diet to share with those who will listen, it’s likely you haven’t heard of some of these ridiculous pieces of advice concerning how to lose weight. 


FLETCHERISM: In 1913, Horace Fletcher had a simple idea: simply chew your food into pulp before swallowing. That would allow you to slow down and encourage you to eat less, resulting in lost weight. 


BANTING’S DIET: In the 1860s, William Banting recommended avoiding starches and sugars. It might sound easy now, but back then it sounded bizarre. Banting recommended that breakfast consist of 4-5 ounces of beef, mutton, kidneys, broiled fish, bacon, or cold meat (except pork), a large cup of tea without sugar or milk, and a little biscuit or one ounce of dry toast. 


COSMOPOLITAN: In 1962, the best-selling magazine famously recommended eating only eggs, steak and wine to chase away 6 pounds in 2 days. Breakfast was one egg any style (no butter) and one glass of wine. Lunch was a repeat with double the portions, while dinner consisted of steak and the rest of the bottle of wine. 


CHEYNE’S FLATULENCE: In the early 18th century, George Cheyne started a craze with the “milk and seed” diet. He championed a mostly vegetable diet, claiming that drinking milk and eating vegetables would cause you to fart easier and that would promote weight loss. 


THE FILM STAR’S DIET: The 1920s film star Nita Naldi promoted a diet that consisted of lamb, pineapple and black coffee. After she reportedly lost 20 pounds, everybody wanted to try the diet. While the calorie-restricted diet did help shed the pounds, many people reported fainting from hunger. 


SMOKE YOURSELF SKINNY: Ad executive Albert Lasker coined the catchphrase that reportedly helped Lucky Strike become America’s best-selling cigarette by 1930: “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” 


FILL UP ON REGULAR COKE: Coca-Cola began touting its regular brand as a calorie-conscious pick-me-up as early as 1961. “There’s no waistline worry with Coke, you know,” says the spokesperson of one ad. “It keeps me from eating something else that might really add those pounds.” Of course, today we know that drinking a bottle of regular Coke is the same thing as eating 6 donuts.