150 Years of Dieting Fads

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Diet HistoryBefore there was Dr. Atkins, there was William Banting. He invented the low-carb diet of 1863. Even then Americans were trying out advice that urged fish, mutton or “any meat except pork” for breakfast, lunch and dinner — hold the potatoes, please.

“It turns out our obsession with weight and how to lose it dates back at least 150 years. And while now we say “overweight” instead of “corpulent” — and obesity has become epidemic — a look back at dieting history shows what hasn’t changed is the quest for an easy fix.”

In a recent article by AP writer Lauran Neergaard, she examines the history of dieting fads, starting off with Englishman William Banting’s account of losing almost 50 pounds in a year. He did it by shunning “bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer and potatoes, which had been the main elements of my existence” in favor of loads of meat.

“By 1903, La Parle obesity soap that “never fails to reduce flesh” was selling at a pricey $1 a bar. The Louisenbad Reduction Salt pledged to “wash away your fat.” Soon came an exercise machine, the Graybar Stimulator to jiggle the pounds. Bile Beans promoted a laxative approach.”

“The government’s first advice to balance proteins, carbohydrates and fat came in 1894. A few years later, life insurance companies reported that being overweight raised the risk of death. In 1916, the Department of Agriculture came up with the five food groups. Around World War II, charts showing ideal weight-for-height emerged, surprisingly close to what today is considered a healthy body mass index.”

“If what you need is a nutritionally sound, healthful weight-loss plan, you can get 100 of them,” she says. “That, we have figured out in the last 100 years. It’s how to do all this other stuff that I think is the real challenge.”

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