Dieting is certainly not a 21st century obsession. In fact, they have also been a popular way for people throughout the 20th century to lose weight and improve their health. Although a lot has changed since then – including what we know about dieting and weight loss – many of the popular diets we follow today have similarities to those of the 20th century.
The early 1900s
Body weight regulation became a major problem in the 1900s thanks to new understanding of the links between obesity and mortality. Like many diets today, the early 20th century diets emphasized low carb and no sugar.
One of the most popular diets in the early 1900s was the Banting Diet, invented by English undertaker William Banting in 1863, who had used the diet to help him lose weight when he was obese. The diet appeared in many health guides and women's magazines and recommended people follow a high-protein, low-carb plan that avoided pork, beer, potatoes, and bread.
The Banting Diet's focus on avoiding carbohydrates set the trend for other popular diets at the time. For example, users on a dry diet only consume half a liter of fluids per day, no soups, sauces or alcohol, and to avoid pastries, puddings, white bread, potatoes and sugar. Another diet plan published in Home Science Magazine in 1905 urged readers to avoid carbohydrates, excess fluids, and desserts, and to walk four miles a day.
Until the 1920s, weight loss was not an exclusively female domain. In the interwar period (1920s and 30s), medical concerns about body weight were offset by popular notions of beauty requiring thinness, with many diets marketed exclusively to women.
The emergence of the feminine ideal of the "new woman" in the 1920s, with its slim, androgynous shape and increased purchasing power of women, may also have fueled the popularity of diets during this period. As detailed in Woman & # 39; s Outlook magazine, the "anti-fat reduction craze" was widespread in Britain by 1926. Home scales were also widely used so that people could easily monitor their weight. All of this resulted in an abundance of diet plans and books, such as the Hay Diet (invented by Doctor William Hay), which advocated avoiding certain food combinations in order to maintain balance in the body, and "Slimming for the Million" by Eustace Chesser, which these eliminated carbohydrates.
Carbohydrate avoidance remained at the center of the most popular diets in Britain between the wars. However, on some diets – such as the Salad Days or Fasting Days – the emphasis has been on limiting calories. For example, the 18-Day Diet published by the Daily Mail in 1929 suggested avoiding carbohydrates and following a strict diet. Readers were told to have only half a grapefruit, an egg, a slice of Melba toast, six slices of cucumber, and tea or coffee for lunch. For dinner they were limited to two eggs, a tomato, half a head of lettuce and half a grapefruit.
The 1950s and 60s
While, unsurprisingly, losing weight during the war and rationing didn't play a role, commercial weight loss solutions exploded in the years that followed – all in the name of maintaining a slim, beautiful body.
By the late 1950s and early 1960s, body cultivation through diet had become firmly a woman's domain, and dieters could choose from a variety of therapies to reduce body weight – which had increased on average as a result of the postwar consumer boom. Low-carb approaches continued to dominate – including the crash diet, the third day diet, and the daffodil diet, which claimed to "keep the spring daffodil lean".
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By the late 1960s, weight loss programs focused on limiting portion sizes and using as few calories as possible. The 1968 Three Day Liquid Diet published in Woman & # 39; s Own suggested that readers only have two eggs, two quarts of fresh milk, juice from two large oranges and a dessert spoon of olive oil, and as much lemon tea or coffee as they wanted (no sugar). This should help followers "forget the sweetness".
The advent of slimming clubs, commercialized weight loss solutions, and dieting during this period was partly due to the recognition of the links between obesity and disease. In part, however, it is also the result of culturally constructed ideals of beauty for women who were associated with lower body weight.
The 70s and 80s
Popular weight loss regimes were more than just a weight loss diet and were increasingly touted as self-help tools for the emancipated woman in women's magazines like Woman & # 39; s Own. In order to achieve success and inner balance, the body had to be controlled through diet and increasingly through exercise.
The link between fitness and health led to the widespread emergence of gyms with popular exercise classes like aerobics – a term first coined by Kenneth Cooper in the 1960s that recommends fitness workouts and energetic movements. The regimes in the 1980s emphasized low-fat foods that arose from the introduction of dietary guidelines to reduce fat intake in the late 1970s and 1980s.
The F-Plan diet was one of the most popular of the time, with an emphasis on high-fiber and low-calorie foods. She recommended that people eat foods like cereal for breakfast, legume salad for lunch, and lean meat for dinner. At the end of the 20th century, diets like Atkins and the South Beach Diet returned to Banting's focus on cutting carbohydrates for weight loss.
Despite the knowledge we now have about dieting weight loss, diets continue to be popular. Modern diets like keto or paleo even have many similarities to the low-carbohydrate, low-calorie diets popular in the 20th century. However, research shows that dieting can actually lead to weight gain and eating disorders.
While the attractiveness of dieting is understandable, evidence shows that eating a balanced diet and getting more exercise are the best ways to lose weight.