And You Thought the Cabbage Soup Diet was Crazy!

by DavalosMcCormack on July 7, 2008

There are a lot of very strange diets out there – you may even have tried some of them – everything from the cabbage soup diet to eating only eggs or grapefruits. But they are nothing new. Over the years Americans have been wildly creative in coming up with new ways to punish our bodies or elevate our souls using food.

In the 19th century for example Sylvester Graham advocated a lifestyle based on eating whole wheat bread and sexual abstinence. His diet did not allow butter, fish, meat of any kind, no spices or coffee or tea. In fact the only drink he allowed was cold water. It’s not too surprising therefore that the only thing anyone remembers about Sylvester these days is his creation, the Graham Cracker. Appropriate enough really, because he must have been crackers to think anyone could stick with his diet.

Around the same time a lady named Ellen White was coming up with a similarly ascetic diet. No meat or fish, no spices, no tobacco or alcohol. She even hired someone to help create a kind of 19th century spa resort that offered all sorts of exercises and water cures along with her diet. The man was so zealous he created dozens of new grain and nut food products for the guests, including one flakey cereal from corn. The resort ultimately failed, the diet didn’t take off, but Mr. John Hardy Kellogg’s cereal is still with us.

In 1890 a gentleman named Horace Fletcher decided to find a new way of eating after his application for life insurance was turned down. The company said Fletcher, who was grossly overweight, was unhealthy. So, he came up with the idea that he could chew his way to better heath. He said every mouthful of food had to be chewed at least 100 times, effectively turning his own mouth into a quisinart! This became known as “Fletcherizing”. It also meant that meal time went on forever. Fletcher lost weight, but his diet didn’t catch on, or at least not for long.

What’s interesting is that each of these diets were, for a while, highly popular. Then as people realized just how impractical or ineffective they were, they faded away (the diets that is, not the people – though sticking to the diet probably would have caused the people to fade away as well).

While we may consider ourselves much more sophisticated these days, we’re not really. To one degree or another we are still as hooked on fad diets as ever. Turn to the New York Times list of non-fiction best sellers and you can almost guarantee that some diet book is at, or close to the top (probably closely followed by a cook book!)

Each new diet, whether it’s Atkins, Scarsdale, South Beach or eating for your blood type promises a healthier, happier you, just by changing the way you eat. Most end up leaving people no slimmer, and a lot more frustrated at yet another failed diet.

You’ve probably heard that dreadful statistic, that 95 percent of people who go on a diet ultimately put the weight back on again, and often add on a few extra pounds for good measure. Dieting doesn’t work because it’s essentially promising you permanent results if you make temporary changes in how you eat.

It would be lovely if it were that simple. Sadly it isn’t. For permanent results you have to make permanent changes. You didn’t put weight on overnight, and you can’t take it off overnight either – at least not if you hope to keep it off longterm. That is one lesson we should have learned from history.

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