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Time Traveling Food: The Complete History of Diets

Posted on 05/28/2015

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Whether it’s with vinegar, cabbage or tapeworms, people have tried tons of different ways to lose weight. Dieting became a regular habit for many once corpulence was no longer in fashion, making for some very interesting moments in dieting history. From the crazy to the downright ridiculous, and everything in between, here are some highlights:

1820: The Vinegar Diet

Poet Lord Byron brought the vinegar diet into vogue. It involved drinking water mixed with apple cider vinegar to cleanse the body and shed weight. It also caused vomiting and diarrhea.

Late 1800s / Early 1900s: The Fletcherism Diet

It’s nothing new to read that you should chew your food thoroughly before swallowing. But chewing your food thoroughly and then spitting it out? That was the idea behind the Fletcherism Diet from the late 19th century. Art dealer (you read that right) Horace Fletcher claimed that if you chewed your food 32 times and spat it out, that you would absorb all the nutrients during chewing, thus making swallowing your food pointless. While you should chew your food thoroughly, you still need to swallow it in order to survive.

1930s: The Grapefruit Diet

Also called the Hollywood Diet, this eating plan involved eating a grapefruit with every single meal. Sick of grapefruit yet?

1930s: The Hay Diet

No, you weren’t expected to eat hay. The name comes from American doctor William Hay, who established the eating plan. He categorized foods as starch, protein or neutral, advising against eating both starch and protein at the same meal.

1950s: The Cabbage Soup Diet

Large quantities of cabbage soup were the main star of this diet, with the soup eaten before every meal. Soup before a meal can be a good idea to reduce calorie intake, but large quantities of any one food type is typically not (think grapefruit).

1950s: Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet has been evolving for more than 5,000 years, with the superior health

of the region's inhabitants first noted in a research paper published after World War II. As more research evolved, so did the diet's popularity. It calls for eating little red meat, medium amounts fish and loads of plant­based foods.

1954: The Tapeworm Diet

The tapeworm diet involved ingesting baby tapeworms, known as cysts, so the parasites could lodge in the intestines. Here they would grow, gobbling up nutrients that led to weight loss in the host. Getting the tapeworm in the body was easy. Getting it out was another story.

1963: Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers started when an “overweight housewife obsessed with cookies” began inviting a group of women to her home in Queens, NY, to discuss weight­loss tips. That housewife was Jean Nidetch, and her small group has since grown to include millions of men and women around the world.

1970s: The Prolinn Diet

Also called the Last Chance Diet, this plan involved foregoing food in favor of drinking a concoction called Prolinn created by Robert Linn. It contained hooves, horns, bones and other slaughterhouse byproducts – but no nutrients. At least 58 people had heart attacks while following this diet, although it was unclear if the attacks were due to fasting, drinking the Prolinn or both.

1970s: HCG Diet

This diet involves eating around 500 calories a day combined with injections of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, a hormone taken from pregnant women’s urine. HCG is supposed to boost your metabolism to help you lose weight, although the massive calorie restriction is certainly a contributing factor. The diet made headlines in the 70s, and again in 2011.

1972: Nutrisystem

Nutrisystem is a weight loss program that home delivers shelf­stable and freeze dried, portion controlled packaged meals. Since it’s establishment, Nutrisystem has helped people achieve short­term weight loss goals, but has received criticism from some customers not being able to sustain their weight loss.

1972: The Atkins Diet

The low­carb movement came into full swing with Dr. Robert Atkins “Diet Revolution” book. The eating plan advised limiting carbohydrates to reduce weight as well as the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome. The diet gained new popularity with Atkins’ 2002 follow­up, “New Diet Revolutions.”

1975: The Cookie Diet

Florida doctor Sanford Siegal baked up a specially designed diet cookie that’s packed with a blend of amino acids. Eating six to nine of these cookies each day, along with sensible meals, was the diet’s recipe for losing weight.

1977: Slim­Fast

Slim­Fast started with a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch and a sensible dinner. The weight­loss product line has since grown to include snack bars, protein meal bars and a handful of shake flavors.

1978: The Scarsdale Diet

Dr. Herman Tarnower’s “The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet” outlines a plan for eating carbohydrates, proteins and fats in precise proportions. A jilted girlfriend shot Tarnower two years after the book’s publication.

1981: The Beverly Hills Diet

Judy Mazel was hailed a Hollywood diet guru after the publication of her book, which outlined a restrictive, six­week eating plan that recommended loads of pineapple and discouraged certain food combinations, such as carbohydrates and proteins at the same meal.

1983: Jenny Craig

Based on the motto “Eat Well, Move More and Live Life,” Jenny Craig is an Australian weight loss and nutrition based company founded by husband and wife team Jenny and Sid Craig. Each customized Jenny Craig program combines frozen meals and other packaged foods, containing fruits, vegetables, lean meats, as well as meatless options.

1985: Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating

Illinois registered nurse Seattle Sutton eschewed dietary gimmicks and went for straightforward healthy eating with a plan that delivers well­balanced, freshly prepared meals including fresh fruit and vegetables, right to people’s doors. She is continuing to achieve her goal to improve people’s eating habits and overall health to this day.

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1997: Stacker 2

Stacker 2 was originally developed for bodybuilders who engaged in the practice of “stacking,” or ingesting Ephedrine HCL, caffeine and aspirin for a lean look and extra energy.

2003: The South Beach Diet

The low­carb movement gained even greater momentum when Miami doctor Arthur Agatston published “The South Beach Diet.” The eating plan is essentially a combination of the Atkins Diet and the Mediterranean Diet.

2004: The Gluten-­Free Diet

Gluten ­free grains have been around forever helping those with celiac disease, but gluten­ free diets started gaining widespread popularity around 2004. The eating plan involves shunning the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley and other whole grains.

2007: Zantrex

Zantrex weight­loss products have been around since at least 2007, and they’re still going strong. Caffeine is one of the main components in their product line.

History has shown us a slew of diets that range from the restrictive to the absurd, but your wisest move is always to eat a balanced diet and consult with your doctor before starting any type of specific diet. You want to make sure your eating plan is safe, healthy, meets your nutritional needs, and is finely aligned with your goals. 

Let us know if you think we missed any in the comments!

If you're looking for a fresh meal plan that doesn't require any crazy science or fads, and provides real health benefits that sees you looking and feeling better, then see why Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating is the choice for you!

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Seattle Sutton, BSN, RN

She made healthy eating her mission in life long before anyone else did, in hopes of helping her own obese father. A registered nurse by training and entrepreneur at heart, she lives, eats and breathes everything about healthy eating and helping to improve people’s eating habits and overall health. She enjoys never having to bother with grocery shopping, cooking and counting calories. Her favorite SSHE meal, although it’s hard to pick just one, is the Potato Gnocchi with Basil Pesto Sauce.

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