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Would you eat tapeworms to stay thin?

Published Apr 2, 2012


Long before the world obsessed over the sudden weight loss of Demi Moore and Victoria Beckham, there was William the Conqueror, who, in 1087, devised his own crazy slimming method. Apparently so fat that he had trouble staying on his horse, he confined himself to his room and consumed nothing but alcohol. William subsequently died of abdominal injuries when he fell from his saddle at the Siege of Mantes.

In 1903 art dealer Horace Fletcher, known as “The Great Masticator”, advocated a diet technique that consisted of chewing a lot, but not swallowing. Fletcher claimed that he lost weight by chewing each bite of food exactly 32 times… and then spitting out the remains. Among his famous followers who wore their jaws out were novelist Henry James and oil baron John D Rockefeller.

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From the benefits of chewing to the positives of puffing, 1925 saw several cigarette companies hail the appetite-suppressing qualities of their products. In the age before tobacco advertising restrictions, one ad for Lucky Strikes urged smokers to “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet”.

For the non-smokers in the 1920s, lathering up with a bar of La-Mar Reducing Soap offered a “magic” solution to unwanted double chins and wobbly thighs.

Citrus took centre stage in the 1930s Hollywood 18-Day Diet. A daily starvation diet of 585 calories, with worship of grapefruit at its core, the plan was based on an unsupported claim that grapefruit contains a fat-burning enzyme.

This diet is still popular among stars such as Kylie Minogue and Brooke Shields.

Years before the diet secrets of Hollywood stars became a national obsession, rumours spread of a tapeworm diet. Supposedly, a pill existed that allowed the tapeworm to feed off the dieter’s innards, causing him or her to lose weight… but only temporarily. According to Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend, jockeys in the 1930s and 1940s would give themselves tapeworms to keep trim.

Urban legend has it that obese opera star Maria Callas lost 28kg 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. Robert Cameron’s book The Drinking Man’s Diet was a sensational read tailor-made for the swinging 1960s, saying that it was possible to have two martinis before lunch and a thick juicy steak generously spread with sauce Bearnaise and still manage to lose weight. The Harvard School of Public Health declared that this diet was unhealthy. A spin-off of the book was the outrageous The Martinis and Whipped Cream Diet.

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In another best-seller of the day, Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls, a drug-addled, overweight character, Neely O’Hara, resorts to the Sleeping Beauty Diet in the hope of getting showbiz-slim. The rationale was that after being sedated for several days, the dieter would “sleep off” the weight.

It is rumoured that Elvis Presley tried this out right around the time he had trouble fitting into his figure-hugging 1970s jumpsuits. Sadly, the King’s waistline failed to wane owing to his famed weakness for peanut butter and banana sandwiches deep-fried in butter.

The Lemonade Diet, also known as the Master Cleanse and Maple Syrup Diet, is still popular today. Created by US naturopath Stanley Burroughs in 1976, it consists of consuming nothing but fresh-squeezed lemon juice, water, maple syrup and cayenne pepper for at least 10 to14 days. No food is allowed and a salt-water flush every morning and laxative tea every night completes this spartan regime. After rapidly losing 9kg on this diet, singer Beyoncé said: “It was tough – everyone was eating and I was dying. After that I ate waffles, fried chicken, cheeseburgers, French fries” – and she regained 5kg.

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In 1988, Oprah Winfrey dragged a wagon piled with 30kg of fat before her audience, announcing that she had lost that much on the Optifast diet. One year later, she gained back all the weight and declared: “No more diets!”

The latest fad to hit body-crazed Hollywood is the Baby Food Diet – eating mashed and puréed foods. Created by celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson, the diet promises weight loss, curbed cravings and easy, mobile eating. Stars such as Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Lady Gaga have taken to this weaning formula.

While there is a general consensus that the calories you burn must exceed the calories you consume, how to achieve that goal is up for debate.

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“Fad diets are often very low in kilojoules and don’t always meet one’s total kilojoule requirements. This results in the body breaking down muscle weight to use it as a source of energy,” said Durban dietitian Karen Bishop, who warns against falling for fad diets. “Rather set your mind on a well-balanced eating plan and regular exercise. If you don’t know what you should be eating, seek the services of a dietitian.” - The Mercury

l For registered dieticians, go to

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