Diets through history: The good, the bad and the scary

Published 7:32 AM EST, Fri February 8, 2013

Story highlights

The Grapefruit Diet -- a.k.a. the Hollywood Diet -- was born in the 1930s

Weight Watchers was founded by Jean Nidetch in 1963

Jane Fonda launched her first exercise video in 1982

Health.com —  

Fad diets come and go, but the idea of dieting itself has been around for centuries. From President Taft to Victoria Beckham, and the Grapefruit Diet to Slim-Fast, here’s a look at some of the most famous (and infamous) moments in dieting history.

1820: Lord Byron popularizes the Vinegar and Water Diet, which entails drinking water mixed with apple cider vinegar.

1903: President William Howard Taft pledges to slim down after getting stuck in the White House bathtub.

1925: The Lucky Strike cigarette brand launches the “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet” campaign, capitalizing on nicotine’s appetite-suppressing superpowers.

1930s: The Grapefruit Diet – a.k.a. the Hollywood Diet – is born. The popular low-cal plan calls for eating grapefruit with every meal.

1950s: The Cabbage Soup Diet promises you can lose 10 to 15 pounds in a week by eating a limited diet including cabbage soup every day.

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Mid-1950s: Urban legend has it that opera singer Maria Callas dropped 65 pounds on the Tapeworm Diet, allegedly by swallowing a parasite-packed pill.

1963: Weight Watchers is founded by Jean Nidetch, a self-described “overweight housewife obsessed with cookies.”

1970:The Sleeping Beauty Diet, which involves sedation, is rumored to have been tried by Elvis.

1975: A Florida doctor creates the Cookie Diet, a plan where you eat cookies made with a blend of amino acids. Hollywood eats it up.

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1977: Slim-Fast – a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, then a sensible dinner – becomes a diet staple.

1978: Dr. Herman Tarnower publishes “The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet.” Two years later he is shot by his girlfriend.

1979: Dexatrim, a diet drug containing phenylpropanolamine (PPA), appears on drugstore shelves. Its formula changes after PPA is linked to an increased risk of stroke in 2000.

1980s: A popular appetite-suppressing candy called Ayds is taken off the market after the AIDS crisis hits.

1982: The aerobics craze steps into high gear when Jane Fonda launches her first exercise video, “Workout: Starring Jane Fonda.” Her catch phrase: “No pain, no gain.”

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1983: Jazzercise, founded in 1969 by professional dancer Judi Sheppard Missett, hits all 50 states.

1985: Harvey and Marilyn Diamond publish “Fit for Life,” which prohibits complex carbs and protein from being eaten during the same meal.

1987: In her memoir-slash-self-help book, “Elizabeth Takes Off,” actress Elizabeth Taylor advises dieters to eat veggies and dip each day at 3 p.m.

1988: Wearing a pair of size 10 Calvin Klein jeans, Oprah walks onto the set of her show, pulling a wagon full of fat to represent the 67 pounds she lost on a liquid diet.

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1991: Americans go low-fat, eating foods like McDonald’s McLean Deluxe burger.

1992: Dr. Robert C. Atkins publishes “Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution,” a high-protein, low-carb plan.

1994: The Guide to Nutrition Labeling and Education Act requires food companies to include nutritional info on nearly all packaging.

1995: The Zone Diet, which calls for a specific ratio of carbs, fat, and protein at each meal, begins to attract celeb fans.

1999: Victoria Beckham starts the blink-and-it’s-gone baby weight trend following the birth of her first son, Brooklyn.

2000: Gwyneth Paltrow lends cred to the Macrobiotic Diet, a restrictive Japanese plan based on whole grains and veggies.

2001: Renée Zellweger packs on nearly 30 pounds to play Bridget Jones. She quickly (and controversially) sheds the weight only to gain it back for the 2004 sequel.

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2003: Miami’s Dr. Arthur Agatston adds fuel to the low-carb craze by publishing “The South Beach Diet,” seen as a more moderate version of Atkins.

2004: The FDA bans the sale of diet drugs and supplements containing ephedra after it’s linked to heart attacks.

2004: “The Biggest Loser” makes its TV debut, turning weight loss into a reality show.

2006: Beyonce admits to using the Master Cleanse, a concoction of hot water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper, to shed 20 pounds for “Dreamgirls.”

2007: Alli hits the market. The nonprescription drug is taken with meals to keep your body from absorbing some of the food you eat.

2010: Jennifer Hudson loses a jaw-dropping 80 pounds on Weight Watchers.

2011: The HCG Diet, which combines a fertility drug with a strict 500- to 800-calorie-a-day regimen, invites interest – and criticism.

2012: Jessica Simpson loses 60 pounds of baby weight on Weight Watchers.