The history of weight loss

The history of fad dieting goes back centuries. The Romans used to stuff themselves with so much food, only to purge soon after. This “dieting” technique, today known as binging and purging, does not make for a successful method of weight control.

Then there are reports in history of William the Conqueror and Henry VIII battling the bulge amongst other things. William attempted weight loss by trying bed rest and a liquid diet of only alcohol.

In the early 1800s, there are various accounts of dieting methods. The vinegar and water diet was popular in Europe. The inventor of the graham cracker preached the virtues of a bland diet which involved plenty of whole grains, graham crackers (of course) and no meat, coffee, tea, or alcohol. Both the vinegar diet and the graham cracker diet left people weak with extreme nutritional depletion.

Think the grapefruit diet is as old as your mother? It began in the 1920s and it still lingers today.  This diet began with lots of grapefruit and all the coffee you can stand. People still falsely believe that grapefruit has magical weight loss properties.

What can be worse than the Lucky Strike cigarette slogan of “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet?” Yes, cigarettes were once marketed as diet tools. 

Who can believe the Tapeworm Diet of the 1950s? You could take a special pill that contained a parasite to eat up your fat – really. 

To lose extra weight for a movie role, Beyonce tried the “Lemonade Diet” which is not a new cutting edge diet. This diet has been around for over 30 years. It is a liquid “colon cleansing” diet that causes diarrhea and dehydration. (Colon cleansing products equal colon assault. Your colon knows how to naturally cleanse itself, just get in plenty of fiber and water.)

Dr. Atkins wasn’t the first to advocate an excessively high protein diet. This diet came about from a casket maker in 1864 who published one of the first successful diet books promoting plenty of protein and green vegetables. Atkins emerged with his high protein, low carbohydrate diet in the 1970s. People liked the idea of eating as much protein as they wanted. This caused a low-carb revolution which is unfortunately still popular today despite the lack of nutrition and disease risk associated with this diet. There are many other variations of the low carbohydrate diet such as the South Beach Diet and the Three Day Diet to name just a few.

Group support for weight loss continues to flourish and research demonstrates that group membership can promote successful weight loss. The national TOPS program (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) was one of the first national group programs started in 1948 with over 10,000 chapters going strong in the U.S. and Canada today.  

In 1961, a woman from Queens, N.Y., frustrated with losing weight and her obsession with cookies, called a group of friends to her house for mutual weight loss support. She lost 70 pounds, thus beginning the popular weight management program Weight Watchers which continues to go strong 40-plus years later.

Many diets go in and out of fashion. We seem to be constantly searching for rules about food and eating. What works for one person will often not work for others. People remain frustrated just as they did a century ago. With all this history, what have we learned? Could it be, eat less and exercise more?