Living in a culture that treats thinness as it’s the golden ticket to all things happy and wonderful, it’s not hard to understand why millions of people flock to the latest diet trends. In our society, achieving a certain body can seem to become almost a matter of survival. And pursuing survival leads people to do all sorts of irrational things.
The tricky thing is that those irrational ideas don’t seem quite so crazy when we’re in the midst of them. In fact, they seem like the most rational and necessary behaviors in the world. Think about a relationship that you’ve had where you can now look back with the perspective that time and distance provides. There are undoubtedly things that you did, maybe at the beginning or end of said relationship, that you recognize now as ridiculous. Standing outside your lover’s window at late at night holding up a radio playing a Peter Gabriel song, for instance?
Likewise, the drive for thinness can leads us down paths that are silly and ineffective at best, and dangerous at worst. And, sadly, it’s often only the benefit of time that shines the needed light on how absurd these ideas are.
Take for example some of the craziest diets that have somehow made their way into public use:
Sunglasses Diet – A Japanese company recently started marketing blue-tinted sunglasses that reportedly make all food like unappealing. The idea is to curb your appetite by changing the color and appearance of the food you are considering eating. No mind that you could, say, take the sunglasses off. Or the fact that you look totally ridiculous wearing blue glasses at lunch in a dimly lit restaurant. At least you could curb you’re eating out — no one will want to be seen with you!
Tapeworm Diet — It’s still not clear whether this is an urban legend, but reportedly stars of the 1950s took capsules containing tapeworms that would then cause dramatic weight loss. Because, obviously, they are parasites! Call me crazy, but I try to avoid ingesting things that are known to cause disease and death.
Cotton Ball Diet — Another one of the more dangerous diets, the Cotton Ball Plan suggested ingesting cotton balls (low in calories apparently, and high in fiber) as an appetite suppressant. The fact that they can also clog your digestive system and serious malnutrition apparently was considered unimportant. (Note that if you find yourself eating non-food items, you should talk to a mental health professional.)
Swamp Diet — In a classic case of allowing a correlation to be confused with causation, one scientist found that people who lived near swamps tended to be heavier. His conclusion was that to maintain your figure, you need to simply move to a drier climate.
Miracle Soap — Many in China and Japan have sworn by the so-called miracle seaweed soap that they claim removes body fat in three out of four cases. Call me a skeptic, but my take? You might look cleaner and smell nicer with a good wash, but you’re not going to lose weight.
Drinking Man’s Diet – In a classic representation of the 1960′s, Robert Cameron began selling a pamphlet describing his “genius” diet solution: don’t eat, just drink. We would now call that alcoholism, but back then 2.4 million people bought the instruction guide and limited their intake to what Cameron called “man-type” food, items low in carbohydrates like steak and gin.
What’s significant is that each of these diets made a huge splash when it was introduced. People grasped on to soap and gin and cotton balls like they were the holy grail, only to be seriously disappointed when the results were absent, fleeting, or, in some cases, deadly. What’s also significant is that many of these diets were supported by trained medical doctors and backed by “research” (not the randomized controlled clinical trials we should expect, mind you). So while it would be easy to call the individuals who used them gullible or even stupid, they might not be so different from the rest of us.
I have a strong hunch that many of the diet trends that perpetuate our popular media today will be looked upon with eye rolls and smirks in years to come. Why are the Paleolithic Diet or HCG Diet or Wheat Belly Diet any different than those above? Just because the books these days are glossier and have their own Facebook pages? Because we see doctors-made-famous-by-reality-television promoting them? Because we feel more desperate than ever given the national push to address this so-called epidemic?
Personally, I don’t trust any way of eating that suggests cutting out dessert or leaving your body deprived of certain nutrients. I’ve seen enough of the comings and goings of certain fads to hop on any diet train. What I’ve learned is that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. And if a diet claims to be able to bring you happiness, popularity, or anything other than a possible reduction on a machine that you should probably throw away, you should toss it out with the blue-tinted sunglasses.