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Dieting: A Brief History



The subject of how to lose weight has to be the single biggest lure of magazine articles and health books the world has ever seen. We all want to read and believe something – anything! –different from the outdated and hopefully erroneous ideas of bygone years that taught us that an unseen and unknown little monster called the calorie was responsible for all our weight woes and that to engage in a life of constant detection was the only way to defeat it.

We’ve all seen the horrible little calorie-counter books and lists of even the most harmless of tiny things we put in our mouths that have a calorie count bigger than any of us ever realized, even chewing gum. How discouraging is life when anything filling to the stomach or pleasant to our taste buds must be cut out?

Atkins, All-Fruit, & Everything in Between

People had to have an option, some kind of variation on the calorie-counting cruelty that kept most of them as overweight as ever and more discouraged. And suddenly they had one. The idea of sticking to protein foods, no longer keeping the depressing track of their calorie composition, and actually eating until they felt satisfied was a very exciting idea. And even better, for most people, it worked. They tried not to think about the funny tastes in their mouths and how their breath smelled, how the sight of meat made them gag, and sorely yearned for the bready taste of soda crackers.

With the high hopes the Atkins diet gave us, we were on our way. Surely there were other untapped ways of weight loss to be discovered. And we found them. There was a modified protein-eating plan that allowed a moderate amount of carbohydrates along with all the meat. Then there was a diet that allowed a heavenly hour to eat everything you ever wanted, before turning it off for the rest of the day.

Another diet considered hopeful was a carbohydrate diet wherein all other foods were not allowed. Some lost weight on this one, but for most, it was just a wonderful hope. There was the all-fruit diet, which was very successful for some. And the all-of-one-food diets have often been popular, with many different foods spawning their own diets.

An old and sensible idea states very simply that it wasn’t what you eat, but when you eat it. Now, instead of counting calories, some just use their clocks, eating nothing after 8 p.m., 6 p.m., or 4 p.m., depending on how much they want to lose. Eating breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper is another idea.

The Rise in “Miracle Diets”

As time goes on, the variation and promises of diets, workout regimes, miraculous pills, and weight loss boot camps and programs get broader. Just last month, I read about a diet for losing all belly fat, seven pounds this week, and thirty-five pounds by Christmas.

If these miracle dieting claims we see every day have any merit (plenty of them don’t, but we’ve all heard real-life testimonials of the ones that do), is it because we are all as an individual in the ways we lose weight as we are in the ways we live? Could we actually have more confidence now in our attempts to lose weight, and that is affecting how much we lose?

Are we exercising and just generally using our bodies more? One exercise expert in a health gym swore to me that it wasn’t what we ate that mattered, but how fast we work it off that counts. Can positive thinking in that we are going to lose more than we ever dreamed possible actually be hypnotizing our brains into doing the unthinkable when all we used to be able to do was count those horrible calories and plan on losing a whole half-pound next week?

Maybe losing weight has simply caught up with the 21st century, which tends to mean some empty promises, some scams, a lot of commercialization, and maybe a few miracle solutions we wouldn’t have believed possible twenty years ago.