Belly Laughs at Early Fad Diets

Several miracle diets in the decades to come bore similarities to Hay's oft-debated theory of "harmonized food selection," including Judy Mazel's "New Beverly Hills Diet."

Hay advised patients to consume fruit, meat and dairy at separate meals, separate from bread and potatoes, and also recommended enemas several times a week, if not daily.

Early 1930s: Slimming Soap -- Just in case you thought late-night TV gave birth to the craziest diet products, slimming soaps were the rage in the 1930s, with products like "Fatoff" and "La Mar Reducing Soap" that were nothing more than hand soap laden with potassium chloride and other impurities.

The advertising for "Fat-O-NO" on display at Minnesota's Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, promises a tablet that "Helped over 100,000 women to their normal weight" and was purportedly "recommended by doctors and chemists everywhere" and required "no starvation diets or strenuous exercise."

1935: Early Diet Pills -- When doctors noted weight loss among workers at a munitions factory during World War I, heavy research into dinitrophenol -- one of the first heralded miracle diet drugs -- had begun. The chemical was used in the manufacture of dyes, insecticides and explosives. But doctors found that it raised the body's metabolism, making it easier to burn calories.

The Russian Army was experimenting with dinitrophenol as a way to keep soldiers warm. But in America, by 1935, an estimated 100,000 dieters had tried the pill for weight loss. Three years later, several cases of blindness -- and a few fatalities -- were linked to the drug, and it was taken off the market.

Dinitrophenol continued to be used as a weed killer and as an illegal performance-enhancing drug by athletes seeking rapid weight loss.

1954: The Tapeworm Diet -- Years before the diet secrets of Hollywood stars became a national obsession, rumors spread of a tapeworm diet. Supposedly, a pill existed that allowed a very rich person to ingest the same sort of parasite that a very poor person would suffer from by eating uncooked meat.

As the tapeworm fed off your innards, you'd lose weight, and you could apparently take another pill to keep you from dieting your way into an early grave.

According to urban legend, obese opera star Maria Callas lost 65 pounds with the help of the tapeworm diet. But historians say the stout soprano's fondness for raw steak and raw liver may have accounted for an unwelcome guest residing in her intestines.

A few years after Callas lost all that weight, she left her husband and began dating famed shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. Of course, he ultimately left her for former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, only proving that losing weight doesn't always bring happiness.

1961: The Calories Don't Count Diet -- Dr. Herman Taller, an obstetrician, claimed you could eat as much as you want of a high protein diet, provided that you washed it down with three ounces of polyunsaturated vegetable oil, delivered in a pill he provided. The doctor was eventually convicted of mail fraud for peddling safflower oil capsules, said to be essential to his diet but of questionable value. Still, his "Calories Don't Count" book sold more than 2 million copies.

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