Staying fit and leading a healthy lifestyle aren’t just modern trends: they’re ideals that have been around for centuries. Undeniably, vanity has played a significant role in our history, while the obsession with keeping fit can be found no matter how far back into history you go, largely due to the inception of various diets and work-out routines.
It’s no secret: a combination of eating well and working out regularly is the key to maintaining a good lifestyle, but looking to our predecessors for tips and advice on how to do this is not always the best idea. Indeed, if we look back, we find hundreds of ‘fad’ diets – just take 11th Century William the Conquerer and his ‘Liquid (alcohol) Diet’ as an example! Yet looking forward there are positive signs for the future of dieting, with an emphasis being put on nutrition, scientifically proven weight loss methods and exercise.
However, while good work is being done to eradicate bogus weight-loss programmes and ‘fads’, people will always want to find that quick-fix. In this article we’ll have a look at various different dieting trends throughout history, and see how the more outlandish fads have been slowly but surely replaced by more sustainable, healthy weight loss methods.
Talking of outlandish fads, The Victorian Age seems a great place to start. This is because the Victorians, with their corsets and ideal hourglass figures, first made body consciousness (and vanity) a real issue. It was thought that women needed to be seen as ‘frail’ to find themselves a husband, and thus began ‘Victorian Starvation'*, where women literally starved themselves to live up to the image of being delicate and feminine.
This was followed by poet Lord Byron who, in 1820, launched the ‘Vinegar and Water Diet’ – the aim was to take a few spoonfuls of this before a meal to make you feel full up.
The first official ‘fad’ was introduced later that century, by Horace Fletcher, and was known as ‘Fletcherism’. The diet involved chewing your food... a lot – 32 times to be exact – after which you would spit it out. This was supposed to allow you to take in all the nutrients from food, but none of the calorie or fat intake. It was a popular diet on both sides of the Atlantic and, as such, truly started the Western world’s obsession with bizarre diets.
The 20th Century saw a stronger focus towards various diets that disappeared as quickly as they came. This began in the 1920s, where an increase in cigarette sales was caused by manufacturers professing their weight loss properties. This was before the dangers of cigarettes were known, of course, with tobacco companies merely stating they suppressed one’s appetite, as is evident from the once popular “pick up a cigarette instead of a sweet” advertising campaign.
The 50s saw a strong rise in celebrity culture and, consequently, all of the unrealistic body expectations that went with it. This brought with it a lot of weird and wacky ways of keeping trim: fads such as the ‘Tapeworm Diet’ (where people took pills with parasites that ate up all your fat) and the ‘Sleeping Beauty Diet’ (so-called because you can’t eat if you’re sleeping) became increasingly popular, despite the harms associated with them. One positive to come out of this era, however, was the ‘Grapefruit Diet’. Eating half a grapefruit with every meal not only gives you one of your five a day, but actively helps to reduce fat. This diet has been a stalwart in households ever since the 1930s, so clearly longevity lies in the healthy alternative!
The following decades saw the rise of more substantial and well thought out ways of staying and keeping fit, with people encouraged to make smarter decisions. The creation of specifically formulated weight loss foods and milkshakes saw another rise in the dieting curve. However, for the first time, this was partnered with people who were far more aware of the necessity of leading a healthy lifestyle. This led to the fitness crazes of the 80s and the rise of a gym culture which saw more people taking up the likes of aerobics and yoga.
More recent times have seen a rise of scientifically proven dieting trends such as The Atkins Diet. This sees users on a low carb/high protein diet and, although there are debates over the safety of such a diet, the effects on weight loss are undeniable. More modern-day ways of keeping fit include cleanses and detoxes – mainly used by celebrities and then followed by fans. At the same time, more and more people are turning to diet supplements such as fat burners which work with the natural workings of your body to help you lose those extra pounds. At the same time, the food wheel (red for bad, orange for ok, green for good) which can be found on most supermarket products these days, as well as the aforementioned ‘five a day’ concept has seen a big increase in the trend for healthy eating.
In summary, the past few decades (and centuries for that matter) have seen the development of a number of interesting dieting trends, some more dubious than others. While the older of these certainly raise health suspicions, we can be confident that the more recent are backed up by scientific research and tend to be clinically proven. Looking forward, more gravitas is being placed on keeping fit and maintaining a healthy lifestyle in conjunction with any weight loss programme. While there are a number of gimmicky diet fads hitting bookshelves and TV screens every year, it’s becoming easier and easier to see the wheat from the chaff – simply ensure that they follow these key concepts to healthy living.
* Read more: 15 most bizarre diets in history
* Read more: 15 most bizarre diets in history