Today’s post comes from Rebecca Christensen. Rebecca is a PhD Student in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Epidemiology program at the University of Toronto. She is also one of the current Chapter Representative on the OC-SNP National Executive.
With the new year upon us, many people are starting off the new year with some resolutions. One common New Year resolution is often weight loss(1). The cornerstone of weight loss treatments is behavioural interventions(2), which involve incorporating changes in diet and increasing physical activity. While there are countless dietary options and strategies out there, it is important to recognize not all of them are healthy and some may even be harmful. As such, this blog post will briefly review three of the more questionable fad diets.
- The Tapeworm Diet
This diet is thought to have started in the early 1900s, in which there were advertisements for sanitized tapeworms(3). Tapeworms are parasites that can invade human, and other animal hosts. Once they have established themselves, they survive by living off of the nutrients consumed by their host. While once again in theory this could result in weight loss, there is also the chance for considerable harm. This is because tapeworms can take hold in various parts of the body and also grow large in size, resulting in blockage in organs and potentially even death(4).
- The Sleeping Beauty Diet
As the name suggests, the diet focuses on increasing the number of hours you sleep in order to decrease the number of calories you will consume. At the surface this diet does not seem harmful, indeed short sleep duration has been found to be associated with an increased odds of having obesity(5). However, the methods that have been suggested to get more sleep is where the true harm may lie. As in the novel in which it is thought this diet was first popularized, the Valley of the Dolls, it is through the use of sedatives that individuals are meant to sleep longer, and abstain from eating(6). While this diet has been famously used in the past by the likes of Elvis Presley(6), this should in no way support the notion that this is a safe, or healthy method to lose some weight.
- The Cotton Ball Diet
The Cotton Ball Diet is the most recent fad diet examined in this blog post. This diet first came to popularity in the 2000s(7). This diet advocates for individuals consuming cotton balls, sometimes that have or have not been dipped in something to add flavour. This is in an effort to feel full while consuming little to no calories. Individuals may be consuming these cotton balls in addition, or as an alternative to eating food. Similar to the tapeworm diet, potential complications of this fad diet include nutritional deficiencies and intestinal blockage.
While the examples of fad diets presented here may seem extreme, that does not mean they are more harmful then other prevalent fad diets, or are even long gone. Indeed, recent reports from media outlets in the past few years suggest that the Sleeping Beauty and Tapeworm diets are still advertised, and undertaken by some(8,9). What is important to remember when embarking on any dietary changes in this upcoming year is to choose those that are healthy and sustainable, and therefore it is best to avoid fad diets such as those discussed here and others you may see popping up this new year.
- ComRes. New Year’s Resolutions [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2018 Sep 26]. Available from: https://www.comresglobal.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/BUPA_NY-Resolution_Public-Polling_Nov-15_UPDATED-TABLES.pdf
- Lau DCW, Douketis JD, Morrison KM, Hramiak IM, Sharma AM, Ur E, et al. 2006 Canadian clinical practice guidelines on the management and prevention of obesity in adults and children [summary]. CMAJ. 2007 Apr;176(8):S1-13.
- Bloomgarden Z. American diabetes association annual meeting, 1999: Diabetes and obesity. Diabetes Care. 2000.
- Irizarry L, Guishard KA. Tapeworm Infestation Follow-up [Internet]. Medscape. 2018. Available from: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/786292-followup
- Cappuccio FP, Taggart FM, Kandala NB, Currie A, Peile E, Stranges S, et al. Meta-analysis of short sleep duration and obesity in children and adults. Sleep. 2008;
- Taylor S. The Women Sleeping Their Lives Away to Lose Weight. Vice [Internet]. 2017; Available from: https://www.vice.com/en_asia/article/d3zy9k/the-women-sleeping-their-lives-away-to-lose-weight-id
- Neporent L. Dangerous Diet Trend: The Cotton Ball Diet. ABC News [Internet]. 2013 Nov 21; Available from: https://abcnews.go.com/Health/dangerous-diet-trend-cotton-ball-diet/story?id=20942888
- Dahl M. Iowa woman tries “tapeworm diet”, prompts doctor warning. Today [Internet]. 2016 Oct 14; Available from: https://www.today.com/health/iowa-woman-tries-tapeworm-diet-prompts-doctor-warning-6C10935746
- Blair O. “Sleeping Beauty” diet: The worrying fad some women are embracing. Cosmopolitan [Internet]. 2017 Jun; Available from: https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/body/health/a10009506/sleeping-beauty-diet-sedatives/