The second part of this blog takes a brief look at some of the more ‘modern day’ diet ‘fads’…. In case you missed part one of Resolutions or revolutions, here is a link…. Resolutions or revolutions….? Part one….

In 1800 the Romantic poet, Lord Byron was driven by the desire to be ‘pale and interesting’…. To maintain his gaunt appearance he is rumoured to have survived on a diet of soda water, dry biscuits and vinegar…. This became popular among the fashion conscious – and so perhaps Byron can be attributed for the first ‘fad’ diet….

Lord Byron June 1804. Wikimedia Commons

“Fashion has joined hands with superstition….through fear of looking gross or healthy….ladies live all their growing girlhood in semi-starvation”…. George Beard, Physician, 1871….

The Victorians were obsessed with image above health; diet drugs, marketed as ‘miracle cures’ became big business. Miracle cures were usually nothing more than laxatives but there were those that caused health issues, such as heart problems and even death…. At a time when it was not a legal requirement to list the active ingredients in a medicine, all manner of substances were used; from Dinitrophenol (an industrial chemical which raises the body temperature and can cause blindness), even to arsenic….


For some, such was the ‘need’ to be thin that drastic measures were taken – one such in the form of voluntarily swallowing tapeworm cysts….


In 1863 William Banting, an undertaker by trade, wrote what is thought to be the first official diet book – ‘Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public’. He claimed lots of protein and less carbohydrates to be the secret to weight loss – perhaps a very similar concept to the Atkins Diet of more recent times….

William Banting. Wikimedia Commons

During the early 1900s Horace Fletcher, also known as ‘The Great Masticator’, came up with the theory that you can eat as much as you like as long as you chew each mouthful 100 times…. Perhaps there’s something in this – you’d soon get bored after a few mouthfuls, not to mention developing a severe jaw ache….

In 1918 Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters wrote ‘Diet and Health’ – concentrating on calorie intake; in her book she advised women to have no more than 1,200 calories a day…. The book sold millions of copies during the 1920s….

Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters. Wikimedia Commons

The 1920s also saw companies claim their products could help with weight loss; chewing gum and laxative manufacturers amongst them…. One advert, that would certainly cause controversy today, was that used by the Lucky Strike Cigarette Company….stating ‘reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet’….

Vintage “Lucky Strike” billboard – Durham County, NC. The Brucer via / CC BY-NC. Original image URL:

By the 1930s the ‘fad’ diet was really beginning to take off…. The Grapefruit Diet was born, in which grapefruit is eaten with every meal…. It was also the decade that gave us ‘The Hay Diet’; devised by William Hay, an American doctor, who separated foods into three groups: protein, starch or neutral…. His belief being protein and starch should not be eaten together at the same meal….

Courtesy Max Pixel

The 1950s craze was for cabbage soup; by eating it every day it was claimed 10-15 lbs a week could be lost…. Other soup diets, such as watercress, became popular too….

Courtesy Pixabay

It was also in the 50s that the tapeworm made a reappearance….when the opera singer Maria Callas reportedly lost 65 lbs by deliberately ingesting one….

In 1961 Jean Nidetch, a New York housewife, set up a group to help her over-weight friends lose weight…. In 1963 it became known as ‘Weight Watchers’ – and was launched in the UK in 1967…. Run on a points system (SmartPoints), a value is given to food and drink. A daily allowance for protein, carbohydrates, fat and fibre is given; fruit and most vegetables having no limit. With its group support providing motivation, the plan is that up to 2 lbs a week can be lost….

Weight Watchers. JeepersMedia via / CC BY. Original image URL:

The 1970s and 80s saw a succession of diets come and go…. In 1972 Dr. Atkins’ ‘Diet Revolution’ was published, selling millions of copies. Thirty years later a revised ‘New Diet Revolution’ sold millions more….

1975 gave us the Cookie Diet; (now, that sounds more like it)….cookies made with a blend of amino acids (perhaps not then)…. 1977 Slim Fast was launched; milk shakes as a meal replacement for breakfast/lunch and a proper dinner in the evening…. In 1982 Jane Fonda released her first exercise video – with the motto ‘no pain, no gain’…. Also during the 80s the diet pill Ayds was introduced – only to be withdrawn because of the arrival of AIDS…. 1981 saw the Beverly Hills Diet; devised by Judy Mazel, who was inspired by the Hay Diet. Her belief being the enzymes in our bodies that digest food were getting confused…. For the first ten days only fruit should be eaten – other foods then to be gradually introduced….

In 2000 Gwyneth Paltrow became known not only as one of our favourite actresses but also for her following of the Macrobiotic diet….consisting of whole grains and vegetables…. 2012 – the 5:2 Diet was brought to us….the idea being to eat normally for 5 days and then on two non-consecutive days limited calorie intake to 500 for women and 600 for men….

And so the diets continue to come and go…. One that springs to mind which is popular at the moment is the ‘Paleo Diet’ or ‘Caveman Diet’…. Basically foods that can be hunted, fished or gathered…. This includes meat and seafood obviously but also eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices are all allowed… However, no wheat, dairy, potatoes, refined sugar, salt and strictly no processed foods….


There are no accurate records as to the health of our Stone Age ancestors; this is all based on educated guesswork – but the thinking has to be based on going back to ‘grassroots’….

There is no doubt weight gain can cause many health issues, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer…. Since 2007 our NHS has been referring patients to slimming clubs, such as or similar to Weight Watchers; the thought being this is one of the most effective ways of controlling weight. The UK diet industry is worth £2 billion (£60 billion in the US) – and like our waistlines, this is still expanding….despite all this, 64% of us are still overweight…. Perhaps this gives an incentive to keep up those New Year’s resolutions that an apparent 44% of us have made…. X

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