Dieting and Weight Loss: 1800s to 1930s (2023)

We recently published an article about itthe ancient history of dieting. We've learned that unusual and sometimes dangerous methods of losing weight are as old as the hills.

In this article we will continue our walk through the dark passages of history. We'll examine some of the more unusual weight loss fads from the 1800's to the 1950's.

Once again we will see that diet trends and dubious weight loss techniques have a long and disappointing history.

And we will learn that many diet diets from centuries past still haunt social media today.

We'll start with perhaps the least ridiculous diet we're going to cover today.

The first low carb diet book.

In the 1860s, a doctor suggested a diet to one of his patients: William Banting, one of London's leading undertakers.

The diet consisted of reducing starches and sugars and eating three meals a day of fish or meat with vegetables and some fruit. He also suggested avoiding bread, beer, sweets, milk and potatoes.

As far as fad diets go, this one doesn't sound too far left.

The diet was a great success for Banting, who lost considerable weight.

To share this miracle with the public, he explained his diet in a pamphlet entitledLetter about obesity.

Initially, he gave out his pamphlet for free, but it ended up selling tens of thousands of copies.

In general, the diet is quite low in carbohydrates. However, it allows up to seven glasses of wine or sherry a day. So it's not exacta ketogenic diet.

"The Big Chewer"

In 1898, American businessman Horace Fletcher lostalmost 40 pounds(18 kilos) chew each bite up to 100 times.

Fletcherism, as this technique became known, required you to chew your food until it became runny.

Fletcher, an energetic man by all accounts, wrotea bestselling bookon the subject and has traveled the world spreading the gospel of chewing.

He also taught people not to eat until they were "good and hungry" and never to eat when angry or worried.

However, followers could eat whatever they wanted as long as they chewed until "the food swallowed itself."

Apparently, those who faithfully followed the diet only had a bowel movement once every 2 weeks. And the feces were almost odorless.

According to the historian and authorLuise Foxcroft, "Fletcher has brought a sample of his own stool to illustrate this marvel."

(Video) How to Lose Weight by Healthy Eating - 1940's Guide for Women

That sounds a bit extreme because it is, but there it issomeSinnFor this.

For example, ZOE scientists are conducting a study to examine whether the speed at which you eat is linked to health outcomes.

But eating slower doesn't mean you have to chew every bite 100 times. That's a bit too much.


Sim,Weight loss pills with arsenic.. From the middle of the 18th to the beginning of the 19th century, medicines containing arsenic could be sold over the counter.

Arsenic is incredibly toxic, but in low doses it acts as a stimulant. However, there's a fine line between being a little more energetic and being dead.

And for some people who were very keen on losing weight, overdosing was a real risk.

Of even more concern, not all products containing arsenic list it on their labels, adding an extra layer of danger.

Of course, using arsenic for weight loss is a bad idea.

Interestingly, the arseniccan cause weight lossalthough it also causesheavy damageto different organs. Not recommended.

a dose of worms

We are now at the beginning of the 20th century and we are talkingparasites. Tapeworm capsules to be exact.

The premise is easy to understand: you take a capsule of tapeworm eggs. Once inside you, the tapeworms hatch. You then eat some of the food you ate, which is said to keep you in shape.

According to the sellers of these pills, there were no side effects.

But like the authors ofa reviewexplains, “It was a tremendous mistake, like having this parasite […] pain, constipation, vitamin deficiencies, anemia, bowel obstruction, [jejunal perforation], appendicitis and pancreatitis.”

Some types of tapeworms can also growup to 82 feet(25 Meters) long.

And that's really all you need to know if you're still wondering if it's a good idea.

We should note that since this fad began long ago,we can't be surethat the capsules actually contained tapeworm eggs.

After all, diet charlatans are not known for telling the truth, and identifying tapeworm eggs would be a challenge. It could have been a scam from start to finish.

It's worrying that some people are still selling these pills, illegally of course, but who knows if they actually contain tapeworm eggs?

And while the theory of how they work seems "reasonable," there's no evidence that taking these pills will result in weight loss.

There is a lot of evidence that tapeworm infection is bad news.

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(Video) Weight Reduction Through Diet (1951)

Parasites: keep or eliminate?

Lately, the wellness world is working in the opposite direction: parasitesauberThey have become fashionable, with TikTok at the forefront.

Parasitic infections are a significant problem in many parts of the world. In the west, however, they are not a big problem.

Thomas Moore, MD, an infectious disease specialist and clinical professor at the University of Kansas-Wichita School of Medicine, saidconsumer reports:

“If you really do have a parasite, the most important thing is diagnosis because there are effective treatments. [...] There is little to no scientific data to show that these preparations fight infection.

In short, wellness scammers sell parasite cleansers that don't work on people without parasites.

how mad are you

dr William Howard Hay, born in 1866, is famous for creating the hay diet. Today this is commonly known as an alkaline diet.

The general idea is that you should avoid eating too many foods that become acidic after digestion.

Hay believed this would make his blood more acidic, which would lead to illness.

It's true that your blood needs to be at the right pH; If it's too acidic or too alkaline, it's a serious problem.

But the foods you eat don't affect the acidity of your blood.

As far as fad diets go, this one isn't too bad, it's not based on fact, but at least it's not dangerous.

For example, according to alkaline diet lore, most fruits and vegetables are alkaline. and the majorityultra-processed foodsthey are angry.

So if you increase your consumptionplant foodBy avoiding ultra-processed foods, you'll likely experience some benefits. But this has nothing to do with your body's pH level.

But not everything is positive:full grainand dairy products are considered acidic, and if you eliminate them from your diet, you're missing out on some good sourcesnutrient.

Incredibly, it lives on, although there is no evidence to support the alkaline diet claims.

On social media, you've probably seen people saying it would prevent cancer, obesity, and just about everything else.

Although according to the data it is more than a century olda reviewin research into alkaline diets and cancer, "there is almost no real research to support or refute these ideas."

'Have a Lucky instead of a Candy'

Nicotinesuppresses appetiteSo it's perhaps no surprise that cigarette manufacturers have embarked on the weight loss journey.

(Video) Why Being Skinny Used to Be Easier

In the 1920s, Lucky Strike wanted to get more women interested in tobacco. So they started their"Get a Lucky instead of a Candy" Bell jar.

"If you're tempted to overdo it, find a lucky one instead."Your recommended ads.

Interestingly, the confectionery industry was furious with this attack on their products.

So they launched a revenge campaign and distributed information about the dangers of smoking.

Eventually, the Federal Trade Commission stepped in and stopped Lucky from promoting cigarettes as a weight-loss aid.

Unfortunately, Lucky's marketing campaign worked too well and increased its market share inmore than 200%.

We don't need to explain why replacing cigarettes with food is a bad idea.

wonderful grapefruit

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the 18-day diet gained popularity. It involves eating a whole grapefruit with every meal.

It's essentially a low-carb diet, so eat eggs, meat, and other foods high in protein and fat in addition to grapefruit.

In Hollywood, this diet plan has caught on. It has become known as the grapefruit diet or the Hollywood diet.

The diet was supposed to last “only” 18 days, but it was very restrictive. It required people to eat only 600 to 700 calories a day and was devoid of nutrients. This worried some experts as early as 1935.

The health educator Carl Malmberg, for example, expressed concern in his bookdiet and die.

He found that many people who saw results from the diet continued for more than 18 days. This, he writes, "invites a certain catastrophe".


In the 1970s, the grapefruit diet experienced a renaissance. In accordance witha review, his return to the limelight was credited to the United States Department of Agriculture.

They promoted the diet because there was a grapefruit surplus in the 1970s.

The grapefruit diet had another resurgence in the 1980s, being renamed the 10-Day 10-Pound No-Weight Diet. Even today you will see similar diets on the internet from time to time.

We should mention that a few small studies have looked at whether grapefruit (along with a standard diet) can help with weight loss.

some concludethat there may be benefits for certain demographics, butothers foundwithout significant weight loss.

Eating more fruit will likely benefit your health, but extreme calorie and nutrient restriction will not.

(Video) Why we’re fatter than in the 1950s - Warren Nash

what to do with everything

If this journey through fad diets has taught us anything, it's that people are willing to try anything to lose weight.

NOZOEWe know that losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight is incredibly challenging, so unusual and "simple" remedies often seem tempting.

Unfortunately, there will always be people who want to make money by selling useless weight loss products.

Our research has shown thateveryone reacts differently to food. So find the right way to eatAreThe body is the key to thishelps you achieve your long-term health goals.

There is no magic potion or approach, and you should remain skeptical whenever it promises quick results or miracle cures.


Arsenic and weight loss: at a crossroads between lipogenesis and lipolysis.Journal of Trace Elements in Biology and Medicine. (2021).

Chronic Arsenic Toxicity in Bangladesh and West Bengal, India: Review and Comments.Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology. (2001).

diet and die. (1935).

Does prolonged chewing decrease food intake? Fletcherism reinterpreted.Appetit. (2011).

Do you really need to do a parasite cleanse? (2022).

From social taboo to the "torch of freedom": the marketing of cigarettes to women.Tobacco control. (2000).

George Washington Hill is a "Reach for a Lucky" campaign.Journal of historical market research. (2010).

History of weight loss diets until the late 1950's.obesity. (2022).

The Weirdest Diets in History. (2013).

Horace Fletcher (1849–1919): "The Great Chewer".Journal of the History of Dentistry. (1997).

Letter about obesity. (1869).

Nicotine and energy balance: a review examining the effect of nicotine on the hormonal regulation of appetite and energy expenditure.Appetit. (2021).

parasites -Taeniasis.Biology. (2013).

Systematic review of the relationship between dietary acid exposure, alkaline water and bmj. (2016).

Diet pills against tapeworms. (2014).

(Video) Vintage Weight Loss Exercise Machine Fads (1930's, 1940's, 1950's, 1960,'s)

The demand for cigarettes derived from the demand for weight loss: a theoretical and empirical study.healthy economy. (2016).

The effects of daily grapefruit consumption on body weight, lipids, and blood pressure in healthy and obese adults.metabolism. (2012).

The effects of grapefruit on weight and insulin resistance: relation to metabolic syndrome.Medical Nutrition Magazine. (2006).


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