Historical diet fads you probably don’t want to try for your New Year’s Resolution

We are just on the cusp of the New Year, which means lots of people will be deciding upon their resolutions. Probably most of them will involve some kind of change in diet. Here are a few we most definitely do not recommend.

Lord Byron’s Vinegar Diet


The “mad, bad and dangerous to know” Lord Byron was pretty much the most swoonworthy fella of the 19th century. All the ladies loved him, including possibly his own half-sister who may or may not have had his love child. He also served as the model for pretty much every dude you had a crush on in high school. For real. The archetype of the Byronic Hero has been described as “a man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection.” In other words, he’s a rebel and he’ll never, ever be any good.

Weirdly, he was also super insecure about being kind of chubby, and “invented” a diet to keep him looking all skinny and waifish like a proper poet. Said diet involved mostly tea and potatoes that were drenched in vinegar. And wearing super heavy clothes so he’d sweat off the pounds. He was also bulimic, and after long stretches of eating like this, he would gorge himself on foods that actually tasted good and then puke it up.

Given that Byron was such an icon, many young people adopted his weirdo diets, and their elders fretted that Byron was being a bad influence upon their eating habits and would cause them all to be frail and weak. The more things change!

The Tape Worm diet


You’ve probably heard of this one before. Probably in connection with Maria Callas, although I think that’s mostly just an urban legend. However, it is something people used to do, and in fact, something people still try to do, although it is actually illegal in the United States to sell tape worms for this purpose. Basically, the way it would work is that you would swallow a pill containing the head of a tape worm, and then the tape worm would grow (Up to 30 feet! Gah!) and it would eat all of your calories for you.

Although technically it will work, it will also deprive you of the nutrients you need to live and possibly kill you. Also, there will be a terrifying 30-foot worm in your intestine.



Horace “The Great Masticator” Fletcher was pretty much the main diet guru of the Victorian Era. Basically, this diet involved chewing your food. A lot. Like 32 times for each bite. Including liquids, somehow. Then, you spat it all out. He claimed that doing this resulted in you getting all of the nutrients from food without any of the naughty calories. It would be incredibly annoying at dinner parties, one would imagine. Practitioners of “Fletcherism,” as it was called, included the likes of Henry James, Franz Kafka and Upton Sinclair. He was also really into rhyme-y, but not especially catchy endorsements of his diet like  “Nature will castigate those who don’t masticate!”

It was so popular that at Victorian dinner parties everyone would time each to make sure they were chewing for long enough.

The weirdest thing Fletcher did though, was carry around some of his poop in a jar in order to show people how super great it was and demonstrate how it smelled like “warm biscuits.”

Would it work? Well, yes. Mostly because you wouldn’t really be eating anything.

The Art of Living Long (And Ostensibly Miserably)


Probably the first super popular diet book ever was written by a Venetian merchant  named Luigi Cornaro. After having gained lots of weight from having indulged too much, Cornaro figured out this system for weight loss and long life: literally eat nothing but one egg yolk a day. These days, we call that “having anorexia.”

But the book was very popular and apparently Cornaro lived until his nineties, just eating one raw egg yolk a day.

Would it work? The losing weight part, sure. I mean, it certainly “worked” for Karen Carpenter. Though I’m not sure about the living long part of it, you know, because literally starving yourself is not much of a good idea.

The Discarded Meat Byproducts Smoothie Diet


Back in the ’70s, a doctor named Richard Linn came up with what he called “The Last Chance Diet.” It involved drinking one 400 calorie “Prolinn” smoothie a day, which you could purchase at a health store. Said smoothie contained “pre-digested” ground animal horns, hooves, hides, offal, tendons, bones and other slaughterhouse byproducts that were treated with artificial flavors, colors and enzymes to break them down. The diet was pretty popular until followers started dying of heart attacks left and right. Then, less so.

Would it work? I don’t think we care.



The Victorians were super crazy about arsenic. They put arsenic into practically everything ever, but particularly in face creams and diet pills. Apparently it was supposed to speed up your metabolism?

Would it work? Who knows, because you would probably be dead before the results came in.