History of Weight Loss Diets
Obesity was very rare before agriculture. It emerged and grew from sedentism enabled by rising crop yields and generally has been held undesirable or even sinful leading to efforts at eradication. Anti-obesity diets have generally been artifacts of the culture they emerged from and have changed greatly in the modern period.
Ancient Greek diets (400 BC):
Renowned physician Hippocrates believed that obesity was a consequence of an imbalance in bodily humors. He recommended a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, coupled with exercise and purging.
Ancient Roman diets (200 BC - 200 AD):
The Romans viewed obesity as a sign of wealth and indulgence. They sometimes resorted to purging and vomiting to control their weight, and they consumed foods like cabbage to promote weight loss.
Middle Ages (500 - 1500 AD):
The Christian practice of fasting during Lent and other religious periods promoted weight loss. In this era, obesity was often seen as a sin, and fasting served as penance.
Renaissance diets (1300 - 1600):
The Renaissance saw a resurgence of interest in the classical works of the Greeks and Romans. Physicians like Luigi Cornaro advocated for moderation in diet, emphasizing portion control and a balanced mix of foods.
Enlightenment diets (1600 - 1800):
The Enlightenment brought about the development of early nutrition science. Chemist Antoine Lavoisier discovered the process of metabolism, which led to a better understanding of how the body processes food and stores energy.
Banting diet (1863):
William Banting, an English undertaker, popularized the first low-carbohydrate diet. His diet plan focused on eliminating sugar, starch, and beer, and it emphasized the consumption of meat, poultry, and fish.
Calorie counting (early 1900s):
Nutritionists like Wilbur Atwater and Lulu Hunt Peters introduced the concept of calorie counting as a weight loss strategy. They encouraged people to track the energy content of the food they consumed and to balance it with their energy expenditure.
Grapefruit diet (1930s):
Also known as the Hollywood Diet, the grapefruit diet gained popularity for its claims of rapid weight loss. The diet involved consuming grapefruit with every meal, based on the belief that the fruit contained fat-burning enzymes.
Cabbage soup diet (1950s):
This diet required individuals to consume large amounts of low-calorie cabbage soup, leading to rapid weight loss due to the low calorie intake.
Atkins diet (1970s):
Dr. Robert Atkins popularized a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that claimed to promote weight loss while allowing people to enjoy foods typically restricted on other diets, such as meat and cheese.
Paleo diet (2000s):
The paleo diet, based on the presumed eating habits of our ancestors during the Paleolithic era, focuses on whole, unprocessed foods like meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds while avoiding grains, legumes, dairy, and processed foods.
Ketogenic diet (2010s):
The ketogenic diet involves consuming a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that forces the body into a state of ketosis, where it burns fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. This diet has gained popularity for its potential to promote rapid weight loss.
As theories of obesity have evolved over time, diets have shifted from a focus on purging and fasting to an emphasis on the composition and balance of nutrients. With a better understanding of metabolism and the role of macronutrients, contemporary diets often target specific physiological processes (e.g., ketosis) or model themselves after presumed ancestral eating patterns (e.g., paleo).