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5 Diet Fads that Remind You to be Skeptical of Diets

Last weekend, I went to a local attraction called the Desert of Maine. It’s not technically a desert (it gets too much rain for that), but it does have lots of sand. It also had a lot of informational signs that shared the site's history, which included the popularity of “miracle cures” in past years.

One thing that interested people historically was a spring of mineral water at the site, but the fad that caught my eye was the one advertised in this poster:

Yes, that really is promoting the Tapeworm Diet. Just writing it makes me feel squeamish, but apparently, some people still try this now, even though it has so many problems:

  • You may not lose weight, and in fact, you could even gain weight

  • You could end up with infections and/or neurological issues

  • The tapeworm could even cause death by damaging the function of important organs, such as your lungs

This got me thinking about some of the other ridiculous – and dangerous – fad diets that prey on people’s desire to be thin. To me, these seem like good cautionary tales about diets in general. Even if WW or Noom are safer than these options, having such an all-encompassing focus on weight loss can be problematic no matter your approach.

And if the Tapeworm Diet alone didn’t convince you, here are some others that show how far some people will go in an effort to be thin.

Cigarette Diet

Yes, there really was a cigarette diet in the 1920s. Like many women today, flappers back then wanted to be thin, but they didn’t find it easy. That’s why they turned to cigarettes to help them keep their figures since cigarettes were known to suppress someone’s appetite.

To capitalize on this, the cigarette company Lucky Strike created an ad campaign focused on encouraging women to smoke instead of eat. The tagline was “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet.”

The campaign was a success, and some people may still think that smoking will help keep them from snacking. But the negative side effects of smoking are much worse. Happily, most people realized this in the 1920s and the fad wore off for most.

Cotton Ball Diet

I have to wonder who came up with the idea to try eating cotton balls in the first place, but someone did around 2013 since that’s when it gained popularity. People would dip cotton balls in juice or some other liquid to make them easier to swallow, and then they’d eat a bunch of them.

The general idea is that if you have cotton balls in your stomach, you’ll feel full and won’t want to eat. But as with the Tapeworm Diet and Cigarette Diet, this has a lot of problems.

Cotton balls aren’t food and they’re not meant to be eaten, so it’s easy for people to choke on them or have them obstruct some other part of the gastrointestinal system. Plus, since cotton balls aren’t entirely made of cotton, and in some cases made of polyester instead of cotton, you’re at risk of getting toxins into your system.

So, just stay away from this one, and remember that cotton balls are for external use only.

Baby Food Diet

Another head-scratcher is the Baby Food Diet. If we have so much trouble getting babies to eat baby food, why would it be something adults want to eat?

And yet, some people try this. They don’t exclusively eat baby food, but they might eat it for a couple of meals a day and then have one regular meal.

This might help you reduce calorie intake if you stick with it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good plan. Here are a few reasons to avoid it:

  • A lot of the satisfaction that we get from eating comes from chewing, which you won’t get with baby food

  • The nutrition in baby food isn’t meant for adults, and you could lose out on key nutrients if you do this for very long

  • It can get fairly pricey since baby food isn’t cheap

  • As soon as you start eating regular food again, you’ll likely gain back any weight you’ve lost

So, let’s just leave the baby food for babies.

Cabbage Soup Diet

As a general rule, it’s good to be cautious of any diet that promotes eating a single food most of the time. It may sound appealing due to simplicity, but it will get boring pretty quickly, and as with the baby food diet, you may end up missing out on key nutrients.

This is true even of something as healthy sounding as the Cabbage Soup diet, although at least this one is only intended to last for a week. But then again, how much do you think you’ll gain – or in this case, lose – in a week? And is it worth it?

As far as I can tell, the answer is no. Since cabbage soup is low in fat, protein, carbohydrates, and calories, you could end up feeling weak or fatigued, get some headaches, and experience dizziness.

And as with other fad diets, you’ll gain weight back as soon as you start eating more normally again.

By all means, have cabbage soup once in a while, but not all the time.

Focus on how you feel, not what you weigh

These are by no means the only fad diets out there, but this gives you a good sample of how restrictive and dangerous they can be.

And as with all diets, they keep the focus on your weight. Advocates of these diets seem to think that achieving a certain weight is the most important thing, even if you feel terrible and even though it may do lasting damage. Plus, any diet can open the door to disordered eating, which can cause even more problems.

All this is why I prefer a more mindful approach to eating, which focuses on how you feel and listening to your body. You’ll feel better and will almost certainly be healthier, especially if you avoid eating things like tapeworms and cotton balls.


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