A Brief History of Dieting
Diet fads come and go, but the history of dieting goes back far before reality television shows like ABC’s new My Diet is Better Than Yours. While dieting did not become an established industry until the 1950s, the National Eating Disorders Association says the promotion of unhealthy body images and weight-loss practices dates back to the 1800s at least. From tight corsets made of whalebone to the “Cigarette Diet” to dangerous anti-obesity prescription drugs, dieting has now transformed into a $61 billion industry that influences not only our health choices, but also our lifestyle choices. With the help of theNational Eating Disorders Association, here are some important and frightening moments in diet trend history. Here’s hoping the future holds a more balanced, healthier view of bodies.
1800s: During the Victorian era, from 1839 to 1901, women wore corsets laced so tightly that they were known to cause fainting, muscle dilapidation, and crushed ribs.
1863: William Banting, an overweight, former undertaker becomes the “grandfather of low-carbohydrate diets” by writing about his weight-loss plan in Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public. It sells more than 100,000 copies on both sides of the Atlantic.
1914: Plastic surgery is introduced to cosmetically repair the bodies of injured First World War soldiers, but is quickly used in private practice to alter women’s features.
1925: The Cigarette Diet is introduced by Lucky Strike Cigarettes with the slogan, “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” In the ‘20s, tobacco companies begin to target women, suggesting that smoking helps control weight. Even today, 40 to 50 percent of female smokers still smoke for diet control.
1930: The first industrialized liquid diet is introduced. Dr. Stoll’s Diet Aid was a powdered meal replacement sold in beauty salons. It consisted of a teaspoon of milk chocolate, starch, whole wheat, and bran in one cup of water.
1934: Good news for fruit lovers — bad news for people who care about getting full nutrients in their diet. The Grapefruit Diet, consisting of eating grapefruit before every meal, becomes extremely popular. The United Fruit Company also promoted the Banana and Skim Milk Diet, consisting of eating four to six bananas and drinking three to four glasses of milk every day for two weeks.
1950: The Cabbage Soup Diet, which involves the unlimited consumption of a low-calorie cabbage soup, is launched and remains one of the oldest fad diets in use today. The girdle, an elasticized foundation garment which replaced the corset, is introduced and will become commonplace in the years to come.
1959: The FDA approves the first appetite suppressant, Phentermine. But by the ’60s, amphetamine-based weight-loss drugs are found to be habit-forming and dangerous.
1963: Peer pressure and public shaming work — and the numbers don’t lie. When Weight Watchers launched, it recruited 500,000 members and grossed $5.5 million in one year. Nowadays, Oprah Winfrey owns 15 percent of the company.
1970s: The Sugar Association launches a self-serving advertising campaign touting sugar as a useful diet aid, appetite suppressant, and energy booster. The advertisements claim that“[s]ugar can be the willpower you need to undereat” and “[i]f sugar is so fattening, how come so many kids are thin?”