Craziest diets you wouldn't believe people followed

By John Murphy
Published July 31, 2020

Key Takeaways

There are many, many unhealthy fad diets—the Grapefruit Diet, the Baby Food Diet, the Cigarette Diet, just to name a few. And most of them don’t provide long-term weight-loss results, if any. So, it’s not easy to come up with a list of the worst diets of all time.

Nevertheless, here are a few fad diets from recent years that gained more than a little credibility and notoriety—and are still around in one form or another.

The Feeding Tube Diet

Need to lose a quick 10 or 15 lbs, but you don’t have the willpower to diet? Just “eat” through a feeding tube. That’s the idea behind the Feeding Tube Diet, also called the KE Diet. The only nutrition you get for 8-10 days is a no-carb formula that provides just 800 calories daily through a nasogastric feeding tube.

The concept has been used in Europe for years, with research to back it up. But it wasn’t until 2012 that the feeding tube diet went viral in the United States. A New York Times article kicked off the fad, explaining how brides-to-be were using it as a quick fix to fit into their tight wedding dresses.

According to the website of Oliver Di Pietro, MD, the Florida-based physician credited with bringing the diet to the United States: “The KE Diet works because it provides your body only with proteins and fats, and not with carbohydrates or sugars, thus forcing your body into a state of ketosis, in which your body burns its own fat. This is the same principle as some other low-carb programs, except the KE Diet, through its unique delivery method, intensifies the process and achieves dramatic results in a short period of time.”

Scott Shikora, MD, director of the Center for Metabolic Health and Bariatric Surgery, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA, told The New York Times that the real reason the diet works is simply through calorie restriction.

“The novelty is, they shove a tube in your nose,” Dr. Shikora said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s through a tube, a straw, a meal plan. They all work, if someone goes from 3,000 calories a day to 800.”

The Carnivore Diet

One good thing you can say about the Carnivore Diet is that it lives up to its name. It includes only meat and animal products, nothing else. If you want a baked potato to go with your steak, you’ll have to go elsewhere.

The Carnivore Diet isn’t limited to beef, though. Besides “fatty cuts” of meat—including pork, lamb, and poultry—the diet also allows fish, eggs, cheese, and heavy cream. What can you wash those down with? Bone broth and stocks from scraps make “excellent hot drinks.” Yeah, excellent.

Proponents of the Carnivore Diet claim that it provides quick and easy weight loss, boosts energy, reduces inflammation, and improves digestion. But the disadvantages to an all-meat, no-fruit-or-vegetable diet are plainly evident: insufficient vitamins and nutrients, no fiber, and an increased risk for heart disease and colorectal cancer.

The Cabbage Soup Diet

Proponents of the Cabbage Soup Diet claim you can lose up to 10 lbs if you eat cabbage soup every day, several times a day, for 1 week. Fortunately, the diet also allows side dishes of fruits, vegetables, beef, chicken, and brown rice, depending on the day.

In addition to being boring and unappetizing, the Cabbage Soup Diet isn’t very effective in the long term because most of the pounds and ounces you lose are from water weight. Once you stop the diet, you’ll quickly regain the weight you’ve lost.

There are other disadvantages to the Cabbage Soup Diet as well. “Because you're not getting proper nutrition, you may feel weak or tired while on the diet,” wrote Katherine Zeratsky, RD, LD, at the Mayo Health Clinic in Rochester, MN. “Depending on the recipe for cabbage soup, the diet can be high in sodium. The large amounts of cabbage also can make you more prone to flatulence.”

The Cookie Diet

Can you lose weight by eating cookies? Seems counterintuitive, but soooo very tempting. 

Weight-loss physician Sanford Siegal, DO, introduced the Cookie Diet in 1975. On this diet, half of your daily calories come from eating nine of Dr. Siegal’s “hunger-controlling” cookies (equal to about 500 calories combined) plus one “generous dinner meal” of 500 to 700 calories, and only water to drink—for a total of 1,000 to 1,200 calories per day.

“On 1,000 to 1,200 calories, everyone loses weight,” proclaims the diet’s website. “There are no failures at that caloric level.”

Perhaps not, but can anyone voluntarily maintain that caloric level for long? Simply put, the Cookie Diet amounts to a calorie-restriction diet.

“There is no credible evidence that the Cookie Diet actually helps people lose and maintain weight loss over a long period of time or that there is any health benefit from doing this,” Louis Aronne, MD, director, Comprehensive Weight Control Program, Weill Cornell Medical Center, told ABC’s Good Morning America.”

The Tapeworm Diet

Want to lose weight the easy way? Swallow a tapeworm! This cockamamie Victorian-era weight loss idea has resurfaced several times over the years, particularly with a notorious 2013 report of an Iowa woman who presented to her doctor with a tapeworm infection. She reportedly bought the tapeworm on the internet as a way to lose weight.

People interested in this “diet” buy tapeworm eggs illegally and swallow them. The idea is that as the tapeworm grows inside the body, it will consume whatever you’re eating. So, you can eat as much as you want and still lose weight.

There’s only one problem: You’ve infected yourself with a live parasite.

“Ingesting tapeworms is extremely risky and can cause a wide range of undesirable side effects, including rare deaths,” wrote Patricia Quinlisk, MD, MPH, the medical director, Iowa Department of Public Health, in response to the 2013 tapeworm incident.

Besides the rare but “undesirable side effect” of death, other problems include diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, weakness, and fever—not to mention blockage or disruption of organ function and neurological problems, including seizures.

As an added bonus, a tapeworm can live for up to 30 years inside the host! That’s certainly one long-term diet plan that you won’t easily quit.  

Bottom line

It’s fun to read about these crazy diets. Following a serious diet is, frankly, much more boring. But it doesn’t have to be. In addition to the simple basic steps of eating right and getting exercise and adequate sleep, there are some finer points that can make following a healthy diet even more effective. 

Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter