Fad diets come and go and come again. The cabbage-soup diet, the low-carb diet, the glycemic-index diet, and others all cycle in and out of popularity. But stunt diets--crazy, funny, extreme food feats--are more rare. From the professor who ate nothing but junk food for a month to the guy still trying to live on nothing but potatoes, these diets have less to do with losing weight than with proving a point. Read on for the most memorable stunt diets.
Kansas State professor Mark Haub went on a diet of convenience-store staples and ended up losing 27 pounds, increasing his good HDL cholesterol, decreasing his bad HDL cholesterol, and lowering his triglycerides. (Though two-thirds of his calories were through junk food, he also took a multivitamin, drank a protein shake, and ate a can of vegetables a day.) This led Rush Limbaugh to declare that junk food was the way to go, and that doctors' advice should be ignored. Haub's not ready to go that far--but he hasn't given up the junk food, either.
To prove the danger of cheap, unhealthful food in the American diet, Morgan Spurlock turned to hyperbole. He ate nothing but McDonald's for a month. In the process, he gained 24 pounds, saw his cholesterol rise by more than 10 percent, lost his sex drive, and claimed to have developed addiction symptoms, such as headaches and moodiness, that were only relieved by another McDonald's meal.
Spurlock's grand experiment spurred a host of imitators, some of whom set out to prove his thesis wrong. One man in England ate only McDonald's "healthy meal" options for a month and ended up losing 15 pounds. Tom Naughton, a comedian and former health writer, made a documentary called Fat Head for which he ate nothing but fast food and still lost about 12 pounds, in part by cutting out the items higher in starch. (Naughton's argument is that it's not fast food per se that's dangerous, but starches, processed vegetable oils, sugars, and high-fructose corn syrup, ingredients that are hardly exclusive to fast food.)
Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, wanted to prove that potatoes are practically perfect foods. So he decided to eat nothing but potatoes for two months. Just 20 potatoes a day: no bacon bits, no sour cream, no cheese (though he does use spices, hot sauce, and, in once instance, pickle juice to add some flavor). After three weeks, he'd lost 12 pounds. After four weeks, he realized that a two-month goal was a little much. However, Voight is still going strong--the diet wraps up on Nov. 29, and until then he's blogging about the experience on 20potatoesaday.com.
In the 1930s two men subsisted on nothing but meat for a year to research the effects of an all-protein diet on the body. The men ate both the fat and the protein from the meat (at a ratio of about two parts fat to one part protein), and took in between 2,100 and 3,000 calories a day. The results, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that "the subjects were mentally alert, physically active, and showed no specific physical changes in any system of the body," though no significant weight loss was reported after the first week.
Jared Fogle rose to fame after Men's Health wrote about him in an article called "Stupid Diets ... That Work!" As a 425-pound student at Indiana University, Fogle had eaten nothing but six-inch Subway sandwiches (estimated calories: 280), Baked Lay's potato chips, and diet soda as part of a plan to shed weight. After a year of two Subway sandwiches a day and lots of walking, he lost 245 pounds and gained a job promoting the sandwich chain. Since then, Fogle has had continued struggles with his weight, but he still works as a Subway spokesman, and completed the 2010 New York City marathon.
Two high-school teachers wanted to better understand the effect poverty has on diet and nutrition. So they decided to spend a month surviving on only a dollar a day's worth of food, which translated into a lot of oatmeal, rice, beans, and handmade tortillas. The couple, Kerri Leonard and Christopher Greenslate, later wrote a book about their experience, On a Dollar a Day: One Couple's Unlikely Adventures in Eating in America. Leonard and Greenslate weren't the only people to try the dollar-a-day diet—another blogger tried it as an exercise in frugality.