A Not So Celebration of the History of Popular Diets

I Choose Respect Over Body Shame
I Choose Respect Over Body Shame

“Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” – Albert Einstein

In honor of Respect Your Body Month, Potentia’s Coordinator of Nutrition and Wellness – Megan Holt, DrPH, MPH, RD – compiled a timeline and unpacked the history of  fad diets and their many claims. Somewhat humorous and ridiculous at times, this list is not an endorsement of any of these trends but is intended to reflect the the constant ebb and flow of claims on what is true health. We support a non-diet, intuitive eating approach to feeding – when appropriate – and are passionate about educating the community on the dangers of fad diets and the diet mentality. – Rebecca

1863 Banting’s Diet: One of the first documented low carbohydrate diets. William Banting was a carpenter and undertaker. “Bad” foods included sugar/starch, butter, milk and beer.

1830 Graham’s Diet: A Presbyterian Minister, Sylvester Graham, touted a ‘bland’, vegetarian diet free of milk, meat, alcohol, white bread and ‘excitatory’ spices (which, upon intake, cause a person to become ‘lustful’).

1920 Inuit Diet: Vilhjalmur Stefannson, an Arctic explorer, noted improved health and quality of life among persons living in Arctic regions by eating a diet consisting predominantly of whale blubber, raw fish and caribou, with minimal fruit and vegetables.  Thus, the Inuit Diet was born.

1930 Dr. Stoll’s Diet Aid: One of the first liquid supplement diets, shakes were given out as meal substitutes in local beauty parlors in efforts to popularize this diet.

1930 Hay’s Diet: Dr.Hay warned of ‘digestive explosion’ from consumption of fruit, meat and dairy at the same meal. He urged separation of foods into alkaline, acidic and neutral meal/snack categories.

1950 Grapefruit Diet: Consists of having ½ grapefruit daily, and minimal caffeine. Fatty meats, particularly bacon, may be consumed liberally, as the combination of grapefruit and saturated fat is “claimed” to accelerate the burning of body fat.

1980 Cabbage Soup Diet: This plan advises the consumer to consume cabbage soup at meal times for seven consecutive days, with the stepwise addition of beef, fruit, vegetables, brown rice and skim milk.

1980: Fat free/very low fat: Emphasized elimination of fat in the diet, given its caloric density and link to development of cardiovascular disease. Manufacturers quickly adapted by producing fat reduced versions of our favorite foods, using sugar to enhance palatability.

1990 Atkins Diet: Popularized by Dr.Robert Atkins, initial phases demand a carbohydrate intake not greater than 20g/day, and exclusion of fruit, starches/grains, added sugar, starchy vegetables and beans/legumes. Caffeine and alcohol are forbidden, but meat, eggs and oils may be consumed liberally.

2000 South Beach Diet: Essentially a tamer version of Atkin’s, partakers are allowed to include a greater percentage of calories from carbohydrates in the form of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in later stages, and are discouraged from over consumption of fatty meats/foods rich in saturated fats.

2000 Master Cleanse: Users are ‘detoxified’ by adhering to a strict regimen that includes a mixture of water, lemon juice, maple syrup and salt. The diet was originally publicized in the 1940’s by an alternative healer by the name of Stanley Burroughs.

Present day fad: The Paleo Diet, also referred to by some as the ‘Caveman’ diet, advocates a diet mimicking that of our Paleolithic ancestors. The Paleo diet features exclusion of processed grains/oils, legumes and dairy.  This sort of an eating style is not new, as it was initially popularized in the 1970’s, though it’s made a comeback in recent years.

Despite their obvious differences, many of these diets all share a few common features (aside from the lack of credentials or expertise of behalf their wealthy creators): They erroneously suggest that we can manage health/weight through black and white thinking, they don’t ‘work’, they aren’t sustainable and they lack supporting evidence.

What do you think about this list? Would you add to it?

How do you respect your body through how you feed yourself?

Please join the conversation over on Potentia’s Facebook page on Choosing Respect Over Body shame.

In good health –

Megan