We now know that weight loss is not a one size fits all fad, its needs to be tailored to the individuals needs: these may include metabolism, what medications people are taking, financial and social conditions. When I start my Weight Loss Programme with my clients I often find there are other issues as well to be dealt with at the same time. Calorie counting and low fat diets only seem to work for a short space of time, and we now know low fat diets are not good for long term health. Calorie counting as well is to me not a justified way to lose weight long term – if I had to stick within 1,500 a day I’d save it all up and eat éclairs, wouldn’t you? What calorie counting fails to do is to educate people in a way that they can eat great food for the rest of their lives. We think of dieting as a modern phenomenon but in actual fact we can go way back to the ancient Greeks and find a generation of people fascinated by food and diet. Throughout the centuries there have been some extraordinary, weird and wacky ways of keeping the pounds off. So let’s travel back a bit in time and look at what was happening to our ancestors.
Interesting facts and quotes
“”He that dieteth himself, prolongeth his life” – Ecclesiastes
“It is very injurious to health to take in more food than the constitution will bear, when at the same time, one uses no exercise to carry off this excess” – Hippocrates (I have to say this man was ahead of his time – over and over I quote him in my writings!)
Plutarch, in 1AD, recognised the link between weight and health: “thin people are generally the most healthy; we should not therefore indulge our appetites with delicacies or high living, for fear of growing corpulent”.
Twenty years on from the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror grew too large to ride his horse, and decided to lose weight by consuming nothing but alcohol!.
Other historic diets include: Cheyne’s lettuce diet. Medical doctor George Cheyne, little known today, was among the most quoted men in eighteenth-century Britain. A 450-pound obese man known for his Falstaffian appetites, he nevertheless advocated moderation to his neurotic clientele. This inventor of the all-lettuce diet was also, a fellow sufferer who struggled with obesity and depression (so perhaps the lack of protein might have been a issue!)
William Banting lost almost a quarter of his weight in a few weeks by adopting a diet “low in farinaceous food” – a precursor of the modern low-carbohydrate diet. His 1863 diet book was a top-seller. Banting (1797 – 1878), was a formerly obese English undertaker who was the first to popularise a weight loss diet based on limiting intake of refined and easily digestible carbohydrates. In 1863, Banting wrote a booklet called Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public which contained the particular plan for the diet he followed. It was written in the form of an open letter. Banting accounted all of his unsuccessful fasts, diets, spa and exercise regimes in his past, then described the dietary change which finally had worked for him, following the advice of a physician. His own diet was four meals per day, consisting of meat, greens, fruits, and dry wine. The emphasis was on avoiding sugar, saccharine matter, starch, beer, milk and butter. Banting’s pamphlet was popular for years to come, and would be used as a model for modern diets
The fruit and vegetable diet – around 500 BC
The Ancient Greek Mathematician Pythagoras and his followers practised one of the first recorded diets, known as vegetarianism. Although Ancient Greeks did have a penchant for the athletic look, Pythagoras’ abstinence from the heartier foods in life had little to do with becoming a perfect size ten. Vegetarianism was, in fact, the only way to ensure you were not eating your grandmother or another relative, whose soul could have transmigrated to your neighbour’s pig (remember, reincarnation was a popular belief in the Ancient world). The great mathematician was so passionate about his diet that he is said to have met his death defending a bean field.
Vomitorium vulgaris – around 45 BC
Romans in the time of Caesar had special rooms in which to expel their feasts, but this was for the sake of gluttony rather than wanting to be thin. They would purge between courses to make room for every dish on offer.
1 AD-2000 AD: The Jesus Diet
One of the oldest diets in history – if you believe the Jesus diet website (www.jesusdiet.com). The proponents of this eating regime claim that almost all diseases and pains can be healed by prayer and fasting. You are only allowed to eat raw food (excluding meat) and, even then, dine only twice a day at the most. These two meals have to be restricted to one or two pounds (there seems to be no biblical justification for this restriction, however). To top it off, fasting completely for at least one day a week is recommended. The rationale being that if you have the energy to feel anything at all (including pain) after eating like this, then you must truly be touched by the Lord.
Bulimia or ox-hunger in the middle ages
Some say bulimia, curiously called ox-hunger long ago, first began in the Middle Ages. People at celebrations gorged on food and then induced purging through vomiting. Like the Romans, this early form of bulimia was not motivated by a desire to be slim for fashion’s sake. Instead, eating a lot is believed to have been a sign of wealth and status.
Feverless consumption or hysteria – 1800’s
This was thought to be a Victorian form of anorexia, ‘hysteria’ sweeping through the middle classes and the Aristocracy of Western Europe and North America during the second half of the nineteenth century. Literally starving oneself was believed to be the fastest way to embody the Victorian fad of frailty, which was associated with spiritual purity and femininity. I noticed this while watching the recent excellent BBC2 production of the crimson petal and white. At that time, the aristocracy romanticised people who had tuberculosis, or consumption.
The Mega-Bite Diet – 1910
Horace Fletcher, an american art dealer, earned his title, ‘The Great Masticator’ – a reference to animals that ‘chew the cud’ – through his publication of a best-selling diet book. In it, he recommended chewing each mouthful at least 32 times until it became a thin, liquid paste, and that any food that couldn’t be broken down to a gruel consistency had to be spat out. Fletcher claimed to lose 65 of his 217 pounds through his remarkable method.
1920’s-2000s: The Hollywood, 18-day Diet or Grapefruit Diet
The 1920s saw the emergence of glamorous flappers as the feminine ideal. In an effort to achieve this slim, hipless, flat-chested look, women tried the Hollywood, 18-day, or Grapefruit diet (which is still around today). The premise is to consume only 800 calories a day through eating barrels of ‘fat-burning’ grapefruits so as to kick-start your metabolism. The only plus: you can have as much black coffee as you like. And please please do not try this – it’s very unhealthy.
The Tapeworm Diet – 1920’s to date
Advertisements for tapeworm pills first emerged in the 1920s. Since then, a number of famous women are alleged to have tried this revolting eating plan. The tiny parasite lives in the intestine of the host, helping to consume her food. The result: you are hungry all the time but still able to remain rail thin , however much you eat. One urban myth that circulated during the early eighties claimed that a woman taking a ‘miracle diet pill’ lost such an alarming amount of weight in just a few weeks that her doctors decided to find out what was causing this and when they opened these mysterious pills to investigate the contents, they were greeted by the head of a tapeworm.
The Bland Diet – 1930’s
This plan was advocated by American Presbyterian minister, Sylvester Graham, who was nicknamed ‘Dr Saw Dust’. Bland foods such as crackers and dry bread were favoured over meat, spices and stimulants because it was argued that the spirit would grow strong only through denial of the flesh. He felt that resisting these luxurious foods would eventually encourage restraint in people’s sexual and social behaviour. Graham developed a band of supporters across the U.S., but his diet soon lost popularity when devotees became too weak and ill. However its interesting as we use the phrase eat a bland diet if someone is recuperating after an operation or has just had a stomach bug.
1980s – 2000s: The breatharian diet (also known as the air and sunlight diet)
The Bretharian Institute of America (www.breatharian.com) explains their philosophy in this statement: ‘When humans reach the purest sense of harmony with the surrounding world as well as a complete understanding of each individual’s role as a function of God to create the universe, they will have reached a vibrational frequency on this material plane, where they no longer require food, water or sleep’. Ellen Greve, an Australian who practices this particular brand of madness, has 5,000 disciples and charges more than £1000 per ticket for her seminars, where she attempts to liberate people from the ‘drudgery of food and drink’.
The Atkins Diet – 1970’s to date
A whole host of celebrities from Nigella Lawson to Renee Zellweger embraced the the carb shunning, protein heavy diet as did the public. The Atkins Diet books hit the top spot in best sellers lists everywhere and although the diet suffered a minor blip when Dr Robert Atkins died, after slipping on a icy pavement in NY it remains popular, although the GI (Glycemic Index) diet seems to have now claimed the top spot.
Cabbage Soup Diet
South Beach Diet
Eat Right for your Blood type
The Grapefruit Diet
Only eating eggs diet – Charles Saatchi
The Atkins Diet
Jenny Craig – meals bought to your door
The Dukan Diet
The Hay diet
The Scarsdale diet
7lbs in 7 days etc
So how do you lose weight:
Eat less exercise more? Oh if it were only that simple. You find a way of eating that you can continue for the rest of your life, and therefore it will not be a “diet”. And it is about carbs, but its not about fat! A tailor made programme for your own personal needs is the way to go and not a diet in sight – as we know diets don’t work. As soon as you stop you put the weight back on and this is why todays diet industry is worth 40-100 billion dollars in the US (yes its big business) and over £2billion in the UK and 95% of slimmers regain the weight.