People going to extremes to lose a few pounds isn’t a new phenomenon, but some diets push the boundaries and enter a whole new realm of weight-loss insanity. From injecting pregnancy hormones to foregoing food for sunlight, we picked the top 10 wacky fad diets that you wouldn’t want to try.
Amy Tuttle, a registered dietician and licensed clinical social worker, offers commentary on the dangers associated with these diets. Director of Philadelphia’s Valley Green Counseling and co-founder of Feast Upon Life, a mindfulness-based, no-diet program, she suggests cutting out the fads all together and focusing on what your mind and body need.
“Diets take us away from our natural ability to regulate our food and weight,” she says. “All these diets will work until they don’t work—they’ll fail you.”
Plus, Tuttle says, all diets result in one thing: deprivation-driven eating. By limiting and restricting food, you’ll be affected both physically and psychologically. And all of this can lead to binge-eating, ticking the scale right back up to the weight you were before you started dieting in the first place.
So before getting caught up in a diet fad, check out the nasty, sometimes shocking, side effects that accompany these get-slim-quick schemes.
1. HCG Diet
The Claim: By taking injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (hcg), a pregnancy hormone obtained from the urine of pregnant women, you too can burn your body’s fat reserves as fuel. And since HCG is the same hormone that causes morning sickness, be prepared to spend lots of time with your head in the toilet. Oh and while you’re at it, restrict yourself to 500 calories day. How’s that for a recipe for hormonal hell?
From the Expert: Instead of introducing something to your body that may be harmful, Tuttle suggests listening to what your body needs. “You’re body’s not asking for those hormones, so why put it there?” she says. And while the limited calorie intake will ultimately make you lose weight, she says the restriction could also eventually lead to the breakdown of organ tissue. Side note: the FDA hasn’t even approved drug for weight loss.
2. Chewing Diet
The Claim: Conjured up by Horace Fletcher, a health-food nut from Victorian-era America, the diet says you must chew your food 32 to 80 times until it is totally liquified, then spit out what remains. Less calories = a slimmer waste line. At least you get to enjoy your food for a little, right?
From the Expert: By giving up swallowing, Tuttle says you will miss out on all the nutrients your body needs to be healthy, especially fiber. But more importantly, she says you’ll miss out on “all the elements of what satisfaction and joy is.” The experience of fullness, swallowing and feeling the food are essential components of eating.
3. Tapeworm Diet
The Claim: By ingesting a parasite, you can eat as much as you please and still shed the pounds, as your little friend gobbles up your food to fuel his own growth. But consider this: tapeworms can grow up to 35 feet long. Yum.
From the Expert: Considering the multiple side affects that come along with ingesting a tapeworm, such as malnutrition, muscle wasting and diarrhea, Tuttle suggests avoiding this trend all together. By sharing your body’s food with something else, she says you could end up with nutrition depletion and vitamin deficiencies.
4. Sleeping Beauty Diet
The Claim: Sleep your love handles away. If you’re sleeping instead of eating, it’s simple to lose weight. And even if you aren’t particularly tired, just throw back some sedatives to avoid your cravings. Apparently Elvis Presley was an devotee of this diet.
From the Expert: Tuttle says if your body is starved, it will wake you up to search for food. Instead of choosing sleep over food, she suggests listening to your body to figure out the balance of how much rest you need and how much you need to eat. Plus, taking sedatives can be dangerous.
5. Vision Diet
The Claim: By sporting blue-tinted glasses, that burger on your plate suddenly looks disgusting. And so does everything else you were planning on eating. Watch the pounds slip away in your tinted world. But it may be hard to find blue glasses that don’t clash with your winter wardrobe.
From the Expert: Tuttle says this diet has no chance of creating a long-lasting weight loss. Since the body is smart enough to tell when you’re messing with its senses, she says it will start adapting your other senses to help you meet your basic need to eat. So while you may be hindering your vision, the smell and touch of food, along with the hunger signals in your body, will keep those cravings strong.
6. Baby Food Diet
The Claim: We can thank Hollywood starlets such as Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon for this craze. Simply substitute two to three adult meals a day for baby food to control cravings and calories. Just look at all the options: jars of sweet potatoes, mushy bananas, smashed up apples. You won’t even have to waste time chewing.
From the Expert: Without the wonderful crunch and flavor found in adult foods, Tuttle says this fad will leave you feeling deprived. Plus, you’ll miss out on an abundance of nutrients. And while she says you could possibly consume enough jars of baby food to meet your basic needs, the diet has a slim chance of lasting.
7. Cotton Ball Diet
The Claim: Yup, it’s just what it sounds like. Throw back a cotton ball or two—dry or soaked in gelatin depending on your personal preference—and drop a few pounds. Low in calories and high in fiber, cotton’s the perfect food … um, right?
From the Expert: When considering a new diet, Tuttle says its important to ask yourself one thing: “Is it work the risk?” When debating whether or not to ingest cotton, the answer is no. For one thing, obstruction may occur if enough cotton is consumed. And by sticking to an all-cotton diet, you’ll miss out on essential nutrients.
8. Lemonade Diet, a.k.a. “The Master Cleanse”
The Claim: No food involved here. Fill up on a lemonade drink consisting of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water to cleanse yourself of both toxins and excess weight. Laxative herbal teas in the morning and evening are optional. If Beyonce did it, why wouldn’t you?
From the Expert: By foregoing food for a liquid diet, you can end up malnourished and deprived, Tuttle says. Laxatives can mess with your bowels, which could lead to long-term problems. And in this detox diet, she points out the risk of electrolyte imbalances such as sodium and potassium as well as the threat of dehydration.
9. Caveman Diet
The Claim: Follow in the footsteps of your human ancestors from the Paleolithic era and return to a diet of wild plants and animals. Pasture-raised meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts are the essential staples. Say goodbye to grains, dairy, legumes, refined sugar and salt. Compared to the rest of these fads, taking up the caveman lifestyle almost seems normal.
From the Expert: “What about ice cream?” Tuttle asks. By cutting out two food groups, she says, the body will be missing out on complex carbs, starches and dairy. And eventually, she says this diet can result in overeating, since your body will “tell you” to go get what it’s missing.
The Claim: Take a deep breath in, and exhale. Now repeat. And again. Look up at the sun—the energy’s your diet now. No food or water necessary. (Not suprisngly, there are reports of deaths linked to the craze.)
From the Expert: Although Tuttle acknowledges the benefit of the sun in terms of vitamin D and bone health, she says relying on the sun to meet our nutrient needs won’t work. “Obviously, we need all the other food groups,” she says.