It seems that since the beginning of time, millions of people have tried countless diet fads and followed the advice of so-called weight-loss gurus. "I grew up watching my mother lay on an 'exercise' machine that jiggled her butt and thighs back and forth, yet there was no diet required," says Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist and author of The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook. "Oh, if it were only this easy! And no, it never worked—but my mother kept up this evening ritual anyway."
The desire to slip into a pair of skinny jeans can drive us to follow some questionable eating patterns. Here are some outdated—and in some cases outlandish—weight loss myths. Don't forget to sign up for our newsletter to get the latest weight loss news delivered straight to your inbox.
Slurp cabbage soup
The infamous Cabbage Soup Diet allows dieters to eat cabbage soup throughout the day for one week, while a few low-calorie foods (like skim milk and vegetables) can be incorporated on certain days. Users can drop up to ten pounds over seven days, thanks to an eating plan that consists of water (maybe broth, depending on the recipe) and a leafy green veggie. The Mayo Clinic points out the cons, such as experiencing fatigue from lack of nutrition, loss of muscle mass, and flatulence. Hard pass. Instead, try one of these 29+ Healthy Metabolism-Boosting Recipes for Weight Loss.
Mix grapefruit with everything
No matter what type of food is on your plate, adding a side of grapefruit (or grapefruit juice) with every meal has been promoted as one of the most popular weight-loss strategies for decades. Back in 2004, a 12-week pilot study concluded that 100 obese volunteers who began each meal by either eating half a grapefruit or drinking one serving of the juice from this citrus fruit lost between 3.3 and 3.6 pounds—that's about one pound a month per 90 servings. Sounds like the ideal plan for those who think grapefruit complements every dish. If you'd like to give it a shot, try these 20 Grapefruit Recipes For Weight Loss.
The first lemonade Beyoncé made famous, this diet plan involves gulping a concoction of water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper—and living on it for at least 10 days. The official Master Cleanse site offers followers the 12 most common pitfalls. Here's one—trying yet another ultra-quick weight loss "detox" regime! Sorry, Bey.
Sleep the pounds away
"The premise of the so-called 'Sleeping Beauty Diet' from the 1960s was that you'd take sleeping pills in order to sleep the weight off," Newgent says. "It was offbeat and potentially harmful. Plus, your metabolism slows down when you're inactive."
Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., "The Sleep Doctor," a clinical psychologist, and a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, agrees that this diet fad, narcorexia, is worrisome. "Using sedatives to trigger weight loss—essentially by sleeping through parts of the day when one might otherwise be eating meals—is unhealthful and downright dangerous," he says. "There's virtually no part of mental or physical health—from mood to cognition to immunity to cardiovascular health—that isn't put at risk by these practices." However, Newgent adds that adequate and restful shut-eye—without pills—is essential for weight loss and overall well-being. Here are 40 Ways to Make Your Weight Loss Efforts Twice as Effective.
Swallow cotton balls
The Cotton Ball Diet—which involves ingesting five cotton balls soaked in juice—became all the rage among teens (and was a rumored trend among models) earlier in the decade because it provides a feeling of fullness, as reported by ABC News. Needless to say, this strategy can lead to serious problems, from choking to developing an eating disorder. Here are 15 Celeb Diet Trends Nutritionists Hate.
Nibble on cookies all day
Yes, numerous eat-cookies-all-day weight loss plans have been on the market since the 1970s. It's simple—replace meals with prepackaged cookies that usually consist of fiber and/or protein (and possibly a few odd ingredients, like beef protein hydrolysate). Yet the not-so-sweet side to this diet is the fact that there's no evidence to back up its claims.
Become a vegan
Banning all animal products, including eggs and dairy, is not a surefire way to achieve your weight-loss goals. "Many people on a vegan diet develop insulin resistance and pre-diabetes—and end up storing fat more easily as a result of carb-heavy meal choices," says Jessica Marcus, MS, RD, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in the San Francisco Bay area in California. "Think rice bowls, grains, legumes, bread, pasta—and let's not forget Doritos and soda are vegan, too."
Marcus adds that vegans and non-vegans can drop unwanted pounds by eating nutrient-dense meals that balance blood sugar, promote satiety, and cut calories. To Go Vegan or Not to Go Vegan? A Complete Beginner's Guide to the Plant-Based Diet.
Eat a tapeworm
In 2013, a woman from Iowa swallowed a tapeworm with the hope that this parasite would eat her excess calories, according to a report on Today. However, tapeworm diets are nothing new—for more than 100 years, people have turned to parasites for weight loss, yet these worms (which can grow up to 30 feet inside the digestive tract) can leave the dieter with anemia and a nasty infection. Oh, and the female worms lay eggs inside your system.
Sew your tongue
Some dieters opt for a hard mesh object to be surgically attached to their tongue, a weight loss procedure known as The Tongue Patch. "This 'diet' is pretty much a form of self-torture where a painful patch is placed on the tongue making it impossible to eat solid foods," says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat Diet For Dummies. Participants resort to consuming an 800-calorie liquid eating plan.
"Not only can a severe calorie deficit increase the likelihood of nutrient deficiencies and promote rapid loss of muscle—which can slow metabolism—but it is unrealistic to maintain," she says. And you're likely to pack on the pounds again once the patch is surgically removed. "This procedure is not FDA-approved, is ultimately dangerous, and it is definitely not something I would ever recommend!"
Load up on fruit
In the early 1980s, the Beverly Hills Diet (both a plan and a book) instructed dieters to eat only fruit for 10 days. For the next nine days, small amounts of other foods could be added, yet specific order and food combining was imperative. According to the author's obituary published in the New York Times, The Journal of the American Medical Association slammed the diet for its harmful inaccuracies.
Still curious? Check out our report, The Fruit Diet: These Are the Alarming Health Risks to Know About.
Stop eating fruit
And then there's the anti–Beverly Hills Diet that has you avoiding fruit at all costs. "This tip still gets recirculated today, yet it's been around for ages," says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, author of the upcoming Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen. Yes, fruits contain sugar—naturally occurring sugar, not added sugar.
"Added sugars [found in syrup, honey, and processed foods and go by the names sucrose or dextrose, among others] are the ones we're supposed to cut back on for health," she says. "Fruit provides natural energy, plus disease-fighting antioxidants and fiber, making it a smart choice to include in any diet."
Down celery juice
The Internet is inundated with celery juice cleanse diets—sipping this bright green beverage for three/seven/ten days has been a trendy detox remedy. "If you've swapped celery juice for a sugary beverage, then there's no question it's a better choice," Marcus says. After all, celery (like other veggies) are rich in nutrients. But even though these crunchy stalks contain potassium, vitamins A, C, K, and antioxidants, there is no evidence that celery juice itself promotes weight loss.
"Juicing removes the fiber, and because fiber and bulk add satiety, you're better off eating the whole stalk," Marcus says. "On a side note: If you're prone to kidney stones, you might want to avoid juicing it because of the high oxalate content."
Follow a gluten-free lifestyle
If you're consuming the standard American diet and decide to substitute your "typical" bread, cereal, and baked goods for gluten-free versions, don't expect to go down a pants size. "Most everyone would benefit from cutting out many of the processed nutrient-poor foods that happen to contain gluten, like cookies, cakes, and crackers," Marcus says. "But simply replacing these items with gluten-free look-a-likes is not an effective weight-loss strategy. In fact, many gluten-free processed foods contain more sugar and additives than the regular versions. At the end of the day, a gluten-free cookie is still a cookie."
Go hungry after working out
"This tip circulated in the '90s, and the notion was that eating post-exercise was a big mistake—what a crock!" Largeman-Roth says. "Today, we know it's important to refuel your body with a mix of protein, carbs, and healthy fats." She further explains that carbohydrates replenish muscle glycogen stores used during exercise, protein helps repair small tears in muscles, and fat increases satiety, along with adding flavor and boosting nutrient absorption.
"A super-convenient way to refuel after a tough workout is to grab a protein bar, like Clif Builders with 20 grams of complete plant protein," she says.
Indulge with ice cream
A now-closed organic ice cream shop in Venice, California touted a four-day ice cream cleanse designed to prime the body for weight loss. "Before you get too excited, the creators of this diet use raw vegan ice cream made from coconut and honey," Palinski-Wade says.
And cleanses tend to backfire. "The dieter is likely to binge eat at the end due to deprivation," she says. "Eating only one food, regardless of what it is, does not equate to a balanced diet—it actually increases the risk for nutrient deficiencies, hunger, cravings, and disordered eating."
Eat less, move more
On the surface, consuming smaller portions and working out more often generally adds up to a net deficit in calories, Marcus explains. "But we know that being chronically hungry and nutrient-depleted changes our metabolism and biochemistry, causing us to hold on to fat and breakdown muscle tissue," she says. "And no amount of willpower is strong enough to overcome the hormonal signals (like ghrelin) that our bodies send out to get us to find and eat food." A nutrition professional can develop a meal plan that's tailored to your health condition, genetics, taste preferences, and lifestyle, Marcus adds. Try one of our nutritious 20 Post-Workout Recovery Recipes.
Suck on a special candy
Newgent recalls her high school days when a friend suggested she chew on a sweet treat to shed a few pounds—Ayds Reducing Plan Candy, an appetite suppressant that was available in five flavors: chocolate, chocolate mint, butterscotch, caramel, and peanut butter. It's believed that one of the magical ingredients was benzocaine, an anesthetic and topical pain reliever that was meant to numb the taste buds.
"I actually tried the (unfortunately named) chocolate version a few times—mind you, this was well before I became a dietitian," she says. "I don't remember it suppressing my appetite—I still wanted to indulge in extra-cheesy pizza. Taking any ingredient for this purpose is not the point of healthy, lifelong weight management."
Meat, meat, and more meat
The Carnivore Diet is exactly what it sounds like: a meal plan that only includes animal meat (hello, ribeye and burgers) without a plant food in sight. Weight loss is possible due to a lack of carbs, dairy, and processed foods. A review written by a biological scientist at McGill University highlights a handful of concerns, such as vitamin deficiency, protein and uric acid overload, increased cancer risk, and high cholesterol. He summed up the plan in one sentence: "This is the keto diet on testosterone."
Here's exactly How Much Protein You Need on Your Weight Loss Diet Plan.
Flush your colon out with coffee
Some dieters turn to colon cleansing to eliminate extra bodily waste as a way to shed pounds. Using a long tube that's placed into the rectum, water enters the colon to flush it out. Coffee may be added to this solution (just ask Goop; the site sells a $135 coffee enema). Yet colonic irrigation can result in dehydration, infection, cramping, diarrhea, vomiting, and/or a tear in the area—and a coffee enema could even lead to death, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Get a feeding tube
The KE Diet is a 10-day plan that involves placing a feeding tube into your nose that delivers a "very low-calorie, protein, and fat-rich solution." You're also expected to carry the small pump and solution around in a shoulder pack. "Feeding tubes are reserved for patients who cannot physically consume solid food for a variety of reasons, such as a medical procedure or illness," Palinski-Wade says. "Not only can placing a feeding tube come with significant health risks, such as aspiration and lung infections, but the very low-calorie diet is not sustainable." She adds that this "plan" may lead to nutrient deficiencies and slowing of metabolism. "And it will most likely result in regaining all of the weight lost as soon as the tube is removed and normal eating resumes."
Try a fertility medication
Lack of food + hormones = a seriously bad "diet." HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin) is referred to as the pregnancy hormone because it's formed by cells within the placenta, states the American Pregnancy Association. This hormone (which is available via prescription to treat infertility) has been added to some non-FDA approved over-the-counter weight loss products, according to the Mayo Clinic. The diet entails a daily caloric intake of a maximum of 800 calories, and the reported side effects include electrolyte imbalance, irregular heartburn, and vitamin and mineral deficiency, along with a risk of developing blood clots. But here are the 4 Best Weight Loss Pills and Diet Supplements of 2020: Reviewed by the Experts.
Burn calories with ice
At least this strategy isn't dangerous or expensive. A gastroenterologist in New Jersey wrote a free e-book entitled The Ice Diet, which promotes the theory that eating ice (a zero-calorie "food") encourages the body to burn additional calories during digestion as the ice is heated to body temperature, Palinski-Wade explains.
"The creator of this diet recommends consuming 1-liter of ice per day for adults (not more), which is similar in size to a frozen Slurpee drink," she says. "While it is doable and the concept has been found to be a valid way to increase metabolism, the calories burned will most likely result in just a few additional pounds per year." Her suggestion: Nibble on shaved ice. "Don't chew on an ice cube since it can crack teeth and lead to dental problems."
Eat fat-free everything
When beloved comfort foods—cookies, chips, cheese, coffee creamer—turned into fat-free delights in the 1990s, dieters and conscious eaters believed their prayers had been answered. "There was 'only' one problem—those fat-free products had to boost their sugar and sodium content to be tasty, so this craze didn't help Americans slim down," Largeman-Roth says. "The truth is, we need fat in our diets to feel satisfied after a meal. Also, fat is essential for absorbing critical nutrients, including vitamins A, D, E, and K."
Now here's the really good news: Fat doesn't make you fat. "Eating patterns that include healthy (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) fats—walnuts, avocados, fatty fish, and olive oil—may help people achieve a healthy weight by providing greater satisfaction than a fat-free meal."
Stuff yourself at breakfast/skip it altogether
Believe it or not, research indicates that both of these strategies can result in weight loss. A 2020 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism showed that those who consumed a hearty breakfast burned more than twice the amount of calories compared to the people who ate a bigger dinner. On the other hand, Harvard Medical School reported on two groups of research—one set of seven studies found that breakfast eaters gained 1.2 pounds as opposed to those who skipped a morning meal while a set of ten studies discovered that adults who ate a morning meal consumed 260 calories more than those who went without breakfast.
For more, check out these 108 most popular sodas ranked by how toxic they are.