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Darwin Awards: The 7 Dumbest Weight Loss Gimmicks in History (& Other Quick Fixes)

Dumbest weight loss fads

We’re a culture obsessed with quick fixes.

In fact, I recently had a conversation with a friend in the health space, and we both agreed that if you wanted to make a quick buck (or million bucks) by scamming people, the best way to do it would be to create a “lose weight fast” gimmick.

It’s simple: people want it, people will pay for it, and people don’t want to do the work.

Unfortunately, silver bullets (despite being tempting) almost never work.

Here are a few silver bullets throughout history, and a reminder: tiny habits, done daily, over time is the secret sauce (and not some freaking ab belt).

Why the Darwin awards?

Well, people eventually realized that most of these were complete garbage, and some of the others that are currently around people will soon realize the same.

As a result, they come and go – eventually, they all die off.

(If you’re interest in the Tiny Habits approach to losing weight and feeling awesome, my book Master The Day goes into this).

Darwin Award #1: The Ab Belt


Does this belt make me look fat?

Ah, the ab belt. The first one came out a couple decades ago, featuring fit and ripped models awkwardly standing still, flexing with an ab belt on.

To be honest, as much as I like feeling vibrations tickling my belly button, I was confused how it’s actually supposed to work, so here’s what the supplier said:

“The Flex Belt is the first Ab Belt cleared by the FDA for toning, firming, and strengthening the stomach muscles. With The Flex Belt, you can train your abs even if you’re too busy or too tired for a traditional workout. Just slip on the comfortable toning ab belt and the clinically demonstrated, patented medical-grade technology stimulates the nerves that make your muscles contract and relax. As a result, you get an effective abdominal workout that targets all the muscles in your abdomen – all in just 30 minutes a day.”

Lolz. You can get an effective abdominal workout, WHILE you eat your icecream watching American Idol. SWEET! I’ve always hoped for that.

Here’s what the FDA says:

Q. These electrical muscle stimulators are advertised not only to tone, firm, and strengthen abdominal muscles, but also to provide weight loss, girth reduction, and “rock hard” abs. Do they really work?

A. While an EMS device may be able to temporarily strengthen, tone or firm a muscle, no EMS devices have been cleared at this time for weight loss, girth reduction, or for obtaining “rock hard” abs.

Q. Is FDA concerned about the unregulated marketing of these devices?

A. Yes. FDA has received reports of shocks, burns, bruising, skin irritation, and pain associated with the use of some of these devices. There have been a few recent reports of interference with implanted devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators. Some injuries required hospital treatment.

Q. If I use an electrical muscle stimulator that has met FDA regulatory requirements, will it give me the same kind of effect that lots of sit-ups, stomach crunches and other abdominal exercises will?

A. Using these devices alone will not give you “six-pack” abs. Applying electrical current to muscles may cause muscles to contract. Stimulating muscles repeatedly with electricity may eventually result in muscles that are strengthened and toned to some extent but will not, based on currently available data, create a major change in your appearance without the addition of diet and regular exercise.

Tada! Surprisingly, not doing any work and wearing a vibrating belt does not help tone abs.

Unfortunately, work is involved.

Next up? Smoking cigs.

Darwin Award #2: The Cigarette Diet


Having known many smokers, I often hear the following:

- I love cigarettes because they help me relax (and poop)

- I love cigarettes, because when I try quitting, I gain weight

Interestingly, cigarette smoking for appetite suppresion has been known likely for a couple thousand years, particularly among the pre-colombian people:

Tobacco use was associated with appetite suppression among pre-Columbian indigenous Americans and old world Europeans. For decades, tobacco companies have employed these connections between slimness and smoking in their advertisements, mainly in brands and advertisements targeting women.

Later on, marketing specifically targeted the insecurities of women to get them to smoke, which is where the idea of “reaching for a lucky” came from:

The President of the American Tobacco Company, Percival Hill, was one of the first tobacco executives to seek out the women’s market. Noting the 1920s penchant for bobbed hair cuts, short skirts and slender figures, Mr. Hill saw the potential in selling cigarettes as an appetite suppressant so that women could achieve the decade’s enviably small waistlines.

Created by Albert Lasker for Mr. Hill and Lucky Strike, the “Reach for a Lucky” campaign is one of the most successful, albeit controversial advertising campaigns in the history of modern advertising.

Borrowing from the 19th century slogan of Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, “Reach for a Vegetable,” that was marketed towards women for the alleviation of menstrual discomfort, Lasker and Lucky Strike launched the “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet” campaign in 1925, followed by “For a Slender Figure—Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet” in 1928. The print advertisement was disseminated by Edward Bernays throughout the fashion industry in numerous fashion magazines and daily newspapers featuring slender Parisian models and proclaiming the dangers of sugar consumption. Famously, Amelia Earhart would also serve as a spokeswoman for the “Reach for a Lucky” campaign.

Damn you, Amelia Earhart.

Darwin Award #3: The Shake Weight


The shake weight is a weight, well, that you shake.

Basically, you try to resist the motion of the machine shaking up and down, and it works out your biceps, triceps, abs, and basically whatever else you want it to work out.

To me, what’s so funny about this is the fact that it looks ridiculous seeing people use one of these, but they actually sell:

Shake weight

Now, Dana, who knows if you’re a real person or not, you use an awful lot of exclamation points, you know? Unfortunately, if shaking my way to a six pack or toned body were simple… yeah, well, I’d just do that and not go to the gym four times a week.

Darwin Award #4: Tapeworm Diet


Honey, it’s totally normal – just let them suck on your insides and you can eat whatever you want! Don’t mind the stomach ache.

Last year sometime, there was a story where a woman’s daughter was rushed to the emergency room because she had excruciating stomach pains.

They ran all the typical diagnostic tests as they were trying to figure out what was going on, and finally figured it out: tapeworms. Loads of ‘em.

After administering a drug to kill the little buggers, a few hours later the girl ran to the bathroom, relieved herself, and found the toilet bowl loaded with worms crawling around trying to get out.

And after giving a shrill scream, the nurse asked where she could have possibly gotten them, and the mother sheepishly spoke up:

“Yeah, erm, uhh, I knew you had a beauty pageant coming up in a few weeks, and I wanted to help accelerate the weight loss – so I fed you them in a pill.” (Heavily paraphrased).

No big deal, honey!

Historically, tapeworm diets were in vogue in the 19th and 20th century, where people would swallow beef tapeworms which would then grow inside the person’s body.

Once they had lost some of the weight they’d wanted, they’d take a pill to kill the tapeworm, and then poop it out.

Here’s a vintage poster:

Tapeworm Diet

Also, before you think this is a good idea, tapeworms cause a lot more damage than just helping you lose weight.

They also can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and in very rare cases, can migrate to the brain leading to seizures and neurological problems.

Darwin Award #5: The Maple Syrup Diet


The maple syrup diet, which often goes along with the name “Master Cleanse” is a diet where you consume a very low calorie diet in addition to a liquid drink multiple times per day.

Usually, it involves:

  • Several quarts of water
  • A cup of lemon juice
  • Maple syrup
  • Cayenne pepper
  • … And lots of diarrhea

The theory behind this is to ‘detox’ yourself and clear things out, and that will help with more energy, bloating, etc.  Unfortunately, this is still trendy, as is consuming very low calorie juice diets (500 calories a day, or less).

Darwin Award #6: The Ab Rocket | Ab Wheel | All Associated Wheely/Rockety Devices

Ab Rocket

The ab rocket and the ab wheel are all built on the same faulty assumptions: that you can crunch your way to a flat stomach. Unfortunately, this A. Not only doesn’t work, but B. Still doesn’t work.

We know three things about getting a flatter stomach:

A. You can’t do crunches and keep the same diet to lose belly fat (it’s almost entirely about the food)

B. Toning is a myth – we need more muscle mass and less overall body fat to look toned (more on the toning myth here)

C. Any and all ab exercises suck in the first place (here’s how to get fit when you hate the gym)

Long story short, there is no ab wheel or ab chair or ab-stimulator that will help get there, and give you dramatic results.

Darwin Award #7 – The Rapid “Choose Your Own” Weight Loss Method

This method is truly ingenius, and is by far the most rapid, sustianable weight loss method I’ve seen.

It’s probably also the most legitmate one on this list. Here’s how it goes:

Step #1: Get a hacksaw


Step #2: Decide which limb you don’t need the most (or, depending on how much weight you want to lose).


Hmm.. an arm is maybe 10 pounds. But I really want to lose the 20-30 pound range, so maybe I should take off the right leg, and maybe the left leg below the ankle? Yeah that should be perfect.

Step #3: Saw off the limb.

Voila! Rapid, sustainable weight loss. No pills involved.

Don’t Be Fooled (Unless You Want To Be)

Ultimately, I guess these gimmicks perpetuate only because we want them to – in other words, we keep buying them. I’ve talked here ad nauseum about the non-stop silver bullet and quick fix fad that is plaguing people.

Trying to say ‘fads are bad!’ is about as laughable as telling kids that smoking is bad for them.

So here’s how I would think about it – is there a silver bullet for a bad relationship?

Seriously, can you buy a toy, a gadget, a gimmick, or a pill that will fix a bad marriage and turn it into a good one? No. How could it?

So why do we approach weight loss with the same flawed mindset?

Thoughts on this?


P.S. The only “real quick fix” is habits – and you can learn all about the tiny habits approach to losing weight and feeling awesome here in my book Master The Day.


Have You Read My New Book Yet?

  Read more about this in my book Master The Day. You’ll learn the nine daily success habits I learned interviewing people that lost 100+ pounds and kept it off in a healthy way – by changing their habits. Plus, you’ll get a free $100 bonus video course if you show me your receipt. You can get the audiobook here too.

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