9 Unbelievably Weird and Sadistic Weight-Loss Schemes

People are willing to take drastic measures to drop extra pounds.

In January, a company called Obalon announced the launch of its new wonder weight-loss product, a pill turned gastric balloon, in the UK. The 10-minute procedure requires the patient to consume a capsule the size of a horse pill containing the balloon, which inflates upon reaching the stomach. Once the balloon expands, patients are supposed to feel sated, and will supposedly eat less. The patient can follow up with a second balloon the next month, and a third balloon after that. It’s a party in your stomach!

Despite steadfast evidence that weight loss is achieved by creating a responsible, sustainable calorie deficit, humans endeavor to find an easier path around the hard science in order to achieve the least arduous, most grandiose change in the shortest period of time. Some go to great lengths, making themselves vulnerable to sickness and irreparable damage in order to lose weight quickly, but this is hardly new behavior. In the 19th century, doctors diagnosed anorexia as a condition of hysteria. Lord Byron was an anorexic who used laxatives and subsisted on vinegar and potatoes.

Here are nine strange contemporary fads for weight loss.

1) The Vision Diet:You will never wander into a TGI Fridays or stand in line at a fast-food counter and find yourself enveloped in the color blue. While red and yellow (a la McDonald's) are appetite stimulants, the color blue is considered to be an appetite suppressant. The idea is that the hue represses hunger because it is not found in many natural food sources (blueberries being an obvious exception).

One Japanese company, Yumetai, is cashing in on this color psychology by manufacturing blue-tinted glasses. While donning the shades, aside from living every moment in Picasso’s blue period, the weight-conscious individual is supposed to find blue food unappetizing. It is reported that “the color blue acts to calm the brain’s appetite center.” Some weight-loss gurus have suggested looking at the color blue before eating, or dining off of blue dishes. One user of Yumetai’s spectacles recalled feeling more relaxed when she wore the shades, and she ate less. Perhaps instead of spending $19 on these cobalt specs, take up meditation or yoga.

2) Drunkorexia:“Drunkorexia” is the practice of saving one’s caloric intake for booze. It’s the bastard offspring of an eating disorder and binge drinking. Long before modern dysmorphic girls starved themselves for rum wine coolers, it is rumored that William the Conqueror went on a booze-only diet after becoming too heavy for his steed. Drunkorexics maydrink themselves to the point of purging, or refrain from eating the day before or after a big night of partying.

The predilection for this liquid diet goes beyond sorority gals, and affects women even in their 40s. Studies demonstrate that 30 percent of women between 18 and 23 have foregone food to save calories for alcohol, while 16 percent practice this regularly. The perilous side effects are many: malnutrition, dehydration, a compromised immune system, trouble thinking and making decisions, risk of liver disease and diabetes, and of course the potential for alcohol poisoning, not to mention the non-medical hazards of binge-drinking.

3) Fletcherizing: Once upon a time, one gnashing enthusiast and excreta hobbyist by the name of Horace Fletcher (later nicknamed the "Great Masticator”) lost 40 pounds, which he attributed to thoroughly chewing his food, grinding each bite so finely that the mouthful became liquefied. Fletcher prosthelytized that by chewing your food 32 times per tooth, one could absorb more vitamins and nutrients than when by swallowing food in pieces. Aside from the dining experience transforming into a laborious time suck, Mary Roach notes that meals attended by Fletcher were excruciatingly quiet and boring, since no one would be so impolite as to speak while incessantly chewing.

Roach interviewed model stomach developer Richard Faulks, who dismissed the junk science of Fletcherism. Not only is there no proof that nutrients can be taken in more effectively by grinding meals like cud, but by prolonging chewing for so long the stomach may actually have enough time to empty out after feeling sated, making the individual feel hungry again by the meal’s end.

Henry James and Franz Kafka were famous subscribers of Fletcherism. Coprophobes may embrace Fletcherism because they only have one bowel movement every week or so.

4) Tapeworms:Tapeworms seem like the stuff of Internet weight-loss urban myth, but last year an Iowa woman showed up at her doctor’s office to remove the live tapeworm she purchased over the Internet, for the purpose of depositing in her intestines to digest her food. The physician deferred to the Iowa Department of Public Health for assistance. IDPH’s medical director, Patricia Quinlisk, instructed him to prescribe an anti-worm medication and then felt inspired to illuminate the state’s public-health workers via email. "Ingesting tapeworms is extremely risky and can cause a wide range of undesirable side effects, including rare deaths,” she wrote. “Those desiring to lose weight are advised to stick with proven weight loss methods; consuming fewer calories and increasing physical activity."

Some of the parasitic side effects are anemia, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and malnutrition. Also, in case you need some nightmare fodder, remember that tapeworms can grow up to 30 feet long in your intestines, possible blocking them. These cestoda are hermaphrodites, so they can fertilize their own eggs, which can then be passed in bowel movements or infect other parts of the body.

Tapeworms have been advertised since the 19th century as an effective weight-loss aid for women, but there is little evidence those pills contained an actual worm, but rather the “cyst part of the tapeworm's lifecycle.” In Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand asserted that jockeys used to give themselves tapeworms to stay slight. Tapeworms are an inefficient way to drop pounds, and also WHY?!!! THIS IS DISGUSTING!!!!!

5) Ear Stapling: Ear stapling may sound like a masochistic prank from the TV show Jackass, but it’s actually an auricular acupuncture-inspired dieting fad. If the ear is a “microcosm for the body,” stapling the inner ear cartilage is believed to manipulate the pressure point which suppresses one’s appetite. However, where acupuncture keeps the needle in the ear for a week, ear stapling requires six weeks to three months in the cartilage. After that, the staple has to be repositioned in the ear for effectiveness.

There is no data which distinguishes ear stapling from a placebo effectas an effective weight-loss accessory. While the purported potential benefits vary, the possible gross side effects remain consistent—infections. The practice isn’t “well regulated” and in 2006, 35 Southern staplers were shut down by the Mississippi Board of Medical Licensure because of reported infections.

6) Cotton Ball Diet: In contention for one of the saddest bizarro fads on the list, we come to the cotton ball “diet.” The absurdity of this practice is barely eclipsed by its bleakness. The adherents of the culinary affliction are young women who eat cotton balls to evade hunger. Some dress their cotton balls in juice or gelatin, while purists eat them as is. All count on them filling them up. Lynn Grefe, the president and CEO of the National Eating Disorder Association has spoken out about models subscribing to the cotton ball diet, and Eddie Murphy’s daughter, Bria Murphy, herself a model, claimed to have heard about other girls eating cottons balls instead of food.

Most “cotton” balls are “bleached, polyester fibers” soaked in chemicals. Drowning them in orange juice will not make them any healthier. Ovidio Bermudez, the chief medical officer of the Eating Recovery Center in Denver, notes some of the risks of chowing down on cotton as choking and malnutrition, and also intestinal obstructions, bezoars, which can be "life-threatening."

Clearly, subsisting on cotton balls is not a diet, but a disorder. Karmyn Eddy, co-director of the eating disorders clinical and research program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, believes the diet is an eating disorder revolving around pica, a malady which drives one to eat items which are inedible.

7) Tongue Patch:The tongue patch is another torturous device designed for quick weight loss for the healthy-dieting-and-exercising-averse. Plastic surgeon Nikolas Chugay brought the procedure to Beverly Hills after witnessing it in Latin America. A medieval bit of plastic mesh is sewn to the patient’s tongue to make eating such an incredibly painful experience that they stop doing it. The surgeon equates this dining experience with scraping sharp fishing line across the roof of one’s mouth. Patients must drink their nutrition to avoid the torture.

One of the most unsettling elements of this self-imposed (and not inexpensive) sadism is that its intended effect is to achieve impossibly short-term, dramatic weight-loss. Losing 20 pounds in 30 days is alarming. Rob Huizenga, the long-term weight-loss expert from “The Biggest Loser” describes the patch as “barbaric” and reminds people that extreme dieters typically regain all their weight back, plus more.

‘“This is so primitive an approach,” he said. “You could hire somebody to hold a gun to your head and threaten to shoot you every time you eat. The idea that you put this patch in and every time you even take one morsel of solid food you get this stabbing pain, who the heck knows what the long-term consequences of that are.”’

Plastic surgeon Brian Evans told Time that "Adding a foreign substance to the body comes with the risk of infection or rejection, which means swelling, pain and discomfort," and cosmetic surgeon Robert Rey reiterated that "No matter how creative we get with these insane mechanical barriers, nothing replaces discipline."

8) Tube Feeding: For that “fresh on death’s doorstep” look, one can employ a feeding tube, the same variety used on coma patients and psych ward patients who object to eating, to dispense low-calorie nutrients and lose weight. Conceived by human parasite Oliver di Pietro, the feeding tube diet known as Ketogenic Enteral Nutrition diet (or the K-E diet) deposits liquid through a nasogastric tube inserted in the nose and lowered into the stomach. The solution is supposed to contain 800 calories a day of water, fat and protein, and can yield a weight loss of up to 20 pounds in 10 days. No solid food is allowed, and women have to carry their bags of liquid meals everywhere they go.

Most of the ardent supporters of the K-E diet are imminent brides, trying to drop a lot of weight for the big day to squeeze into their wedding dress and not look sickly and miserable. By subsisting only on non-carbohydrate liquids, the body goes into ketosis, burning fat and even muscle. Aside from the acetone-y breath, ketosis can result in fatigue and constipation, and can tax one’s kidneys and liver. As previously mentioned, this sudden, shocking weight loss guarantees the individual will pack it back on, and probably more, when they start eating solid food again.

David L. Katz, director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center described this “diet” to Forbes as "appalling," and reminds the reader that the truly nefarious side effect of di Pietro’s service is that “it opens up a whole new world of shockingly bad ideas.” If the feeding tube diet is condoned, that means any dangerous lose-weight-quick scheme could be available, at the expense of one’s wallet and health.

"Why not medically controlled anaphylaxis for weight loss?" Katz asked. "Why not a medically induced coma/anesthesia for weight loss? There is truly no limit to our weight-loss idiocy, and the willingness of the unscrupulous to capitalize on it."

9) The hCG diet: Speaking of exploiting others’ self-loathing for profit, we’ve arrived at the hCG diet. Conceived in the 1950s by British doc Albert T.W. Simeons, the “diet” centers around injections of hCG hormones. These are the hormones released in pregnant women after conception. Women without a bun in the oven inject the hormone to trick their bodies into thinking they’re pregnant, which would allegedly burn up their fat to feed the party of of two.

Unrelated, of course, is the fact that women taking hCG must suffer a 500-calorie-a-day diet. Practitioners shed pounds because their bodies have gone into starvation mode, not because their brains have been rewired by snakeoil. How does one extract this hormone, you may be asking? It’s derived from the urine of pregnant women. These women are injecting urine in tandem with their starvation diets to lose weight.

Simeons' “results” could not be reproduced by others, and he was forced to amend advertisements with a disclaimer that announced weight loss was due to calorie restriction and not hCG hormones. Convicted fraudsterKevin Trudeau reintroduced this “diet” with his bestselling book, The Weight Loss Cure "They" Don't Want You to Know About. Trudeau possibly became a billionaire by making fraudulent, unsubstantiated claims with his non-medically trained brain about this not-FDA-approved weight-loss scheme, which has been refuted many times as an effective means for weight-loss.

April De Costa is a freelance writer living in Austin.