We now know that weight loss is not a “one size fits all” fad, it needs to be tailored to the individual’s needs: these may include metabolism, what medications people are taking, financial and social conditions.
Calorie counting and low fat diets only seem to work for a short space of time, and we now know low fat diets are not good for long term health. Calorie counting as well is not a justified way to lose weight long term – if all I had to do was stick within 1,500 calories a day, I’d save it all up and eat éclairs, wouldn’t you?! What calorie counting fails to do is to educate people in a way that they can eat great food for the rest of their lives. It also gets consumers fixated on the front of packaging forgetting to look at whats actually in the food they are buying. We tend to think of dieting as a modern phenomenon but in actual fact, we can go way back to the ancient Greeks and find a generation of people fascinated by food and diet. Throughout the centuries, there have been some extraordinary, weird and wacky ways of keeping off the pounds. Let’s travel back a bit in time and look at what was happening to our ancestors and conclude with the most recent craze the 5:2 intermittent fasting diet.
The Fruit and Vegetable Diet – around 500 BC
The ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras and his followers, practised one of the first recorded diets, known as vegetarianism. Although ancient Greeks did have a penchant for the athletic look, Pythagoras’ abstinence from the heartier foods in life had little to do with becoming a perfect size ten. Vegetarianism was, in fact, the only way to ensure you were not eating your grandmother or another relative, whose soul could have transmigrated to your neighbour’s pig! (reincarnation was a popular belief in the Ancient world). The great mathematician was so passionate about his diet that he is said to have met his death defending a bean field.
The Jesus Diet – 1 AD to 2000 AD
One of the oldest diets in history is the Jesus diet according to their website www.jesusdiet.com. The followers of this eating regime claim that almost all diseases and pains can be healed by fasting and prayer. You are only allowed to eat raw food (excluding meat) and eat twice a day at the most. These two meals have to be restricted to one or two pounds – although I can’t find anywhere in the Bible where it tells you this. Also they recommend a one day a week fast.
Bulimia or Ox-Hunger – The Middle Ages
Some say bulimia, curiously called Ox-Hunger long ago, first began in the Middle Ages. People at celebrations gorged on food and then induced purging through vomiting. Like the Romans, this early form of bulimia was not motivated by a desire to be slim for fashion’s sake. Instead, eating a lot is believed to have been a sign of wealth and status, and in certain countries even today, being thin or underweight is a sign of poverty not wealth.
Feverless consumption or hysteria – 1800s
This was thought to be a Victorian form of anorexia ‘hysteria’ sweeping through the middle classes and the aristocracy of Western Europe and North America during the second half of the 19th Century. Literally starving oneself was believed to be the fastest way to embody the Victorian fad of frailty, which was associated with spiritual purity and femininity. At that time, the aristocracy romanticised people who had tuberculosis, or consumption.
Cheyne’s lettuce diet
Medical doctor George Cheyne, little known today, was among the most quoted men in 18th Century Britain. A 450lb (that’s about 32 stone) obese man known for his Falstaffian appetite, he nevertheless advocated moderation to his neurotic clientele. This inventor of the all-lettuce diet was also a fellow sufferer who struggled with obesity and depression (so perhaps the lack of protein might have been an issue!). It’s amazing how lettuce is the first food we talk about when it comes to dieting!
20th Century Diets
The Mega-Bite Diet – 1910
Horace Fletcher, an american art dealer, earned his title ‘The Great Masticator’ – a reference to animals that ‘chew the cud’ – through his publication of a best-selling diet book. In it, he recommended chewing each mouthful at least 32 times until it became a thin, liquid paste, and that any food that couldn’t be broken down to a gruel consistency, had to be spat out. Fletcher claimed to lose 65 of his 217lbs through this remarkable method. The diet had a motto: “nature will castigate those who don’t masticate”. Although chewing and tasting food is important for digestion and would slow down mealtimes- this seems quite arduous to me and certainly not everyones taste!
The Hollywood 18-day Diet or Grapefruit Diet – 1920s to 2000s
The 1920s saw the emergence of glamorous flappers as the feminine ideal. In an effort to achieve this slim, hipless, flat-chested look, women tried the Hollywood 18-day, or Grapefruit Diet (which is still around today). The premise is to consume only 800 calories a day through eating barrels of ‘fat-burning’ grapefruits, so as to kick-start your metabolism. The only plus: You can have as much black coffee as you like. Please don’t try this!
The Tapeworm Diet – 1920s to date
Advertisements for tapeworm pills first emerged in the 1920s. Since then, a number of famous women are alleged to have tried this revolting eating plan. The tiny parasite lives in the intestine of the host, helping to consume the food. The result: You are hungry all the time but are still able to remain rail thin, however much you eat. One urban myth that circulated during the early 1980s claimed that a woman taking a ‘miracle diet pill’ lost such an alarming amount of weight in just a few weeks, her doctors decided to find out what was causing it; and when they opened the mysterious pills to investigate the contents, were greeted by the head of a tapeworm!
The Bland Diet – 1930s
This plan was advocated by American Presbyterian minister, Sylvester Graham, who was nicknamed ‘Dr Sawdust’. Bland foods such as crackers and dry bread were favoured over meat, spices and stimulants because, it was argued, that the spirit would grow strong only through denial of the flesh. He felt that resisting these luxurious foods would eventually encourage restraint in people’s sexual and social behaviour. Graham developed a band of supporters across the US but his diet soon lost popularity when devotees became too weak and ill. However, it’s interesting as we use the phrase ‘eat a bland diet’ if someone is recuperating after an operation or has just had a stomach bug.
Breatharian Diet – 1980s to 2000s
The Bretharian Institute of America explains their philosophy in this statement:
“When humans reach the purest sense of harmony with the surrounding world, as well as a complete undersanding of each individual’s role as a function of God to create the universe, they will have reached a vibrational frequency on this material plane, where they no longer require food, water or sleep”
Ellen Greve, an Australian who practices this particular brand of madness, has 5000 disciples and charges more than £1000 per ticket for her seminars, where she attempts to liberate people from the “drudgery of food and drink”. As a food lover and devotee of good food, I will pass on this!
The Atkins Diet – 1970s to date
A whole host of celebrities, from Nigella Lawson to Renee Zellweger, have embraced this carb-shunning, protein-heavy diet, as did the public. The Atkins Diet Books hit the top spot in bestseller lists everywhere, although the diet suffered a minor blip when Dr Robert Atkins died after slipping on an icy pavement in New York in 2003. It remains popular, although the GI (Glycaemic Index) Diet seems to have now claimed the top spot.
When I did some research on how many diets there are today, I stopped when it reached over a hundred – but here are some of the most popular.
- Rosemary Conley
- South Beach Diet
- East Right for your Blood Type Diet
- Cambridge Diet
- GI/GL Diet
- The Grapefruit Diet
- The Atkins Diet
- The F Plan Diet
- Jenny Craig
- The Dukan Diet
- The Hay Diet
- Macrobiotic Diet
- The Scarsdale Diet
- 7lbs in 7 days etc
- Cabbage soup Diet
The 5:2 diet: what is it and how does it work?
Bringing us right up to date is this new way of eating, which has started a new craze of trying to prevent ageing and also lose weight at the same time.
With the 5:2 diet, you can eat whatever you like five days a week – so-called feeding days. On the two “fasting days” you eat 500 calories if you are a woman, or 600 calories if you are a man. It doesn’t matter which days are spent “feeding” and which “fasting”, as long as the fasting days are non-consecutive and you stick to the 5:2 ratio.
On fasting days you can consume your calories in one go, or spread them through the day – there is no medical research into whether filling up at breakfast or snacking throughout the day is more effective for weight loss.
A typical fasting-day breakfast of 300 calories might consist of two scrambled eggs with ham (good sources of protein), plenty of water, green tea or black coffee. For a typical 300-calorie lunch or dinner, try grilled fish or meat with vegetables.
On feeding days you can eat whatever you like. Most dieters, rather than feeling a need to gorge, found that they were happy to consume around 2,000 calories – the recommended daily intake for women (2,600 for men) – and did not crave high-fat foods.
Contrary to popular opinion, fasting can be a healthy way to lose weight. It can reduce levels of IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1, which leads to accelerated ageing), switches on DNA repair genes and reduces blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels.
According to current medical opinion, the benefits of fasting are unproven. As a diet, it is not recommended for pregnant women or diabetics on medication. Anyone considering a diet that involves fasting is advised to consult their GP first, and to do it under medical supervision.
So my thoughts on this. Well my father was all over this 5:2 diet immediately he turned on to the Dr Michael Mosley Horizon documentary. In five weeks he and his partner had limited success. He initially lost some weight but put it on as soon as he starting eating normally. His blood pressure and cholesterol stayed the same. His partner lost overall only five pounds. What they missed was the social aspect of eating together and a glass of wine at the weekends. What we don’t know of course is Michael Mosley’s glucose, BP, cholesterol levels and IGF-1 markers. They may have been so high that this way of eating would have helped anyway.
So how do you lose weight?
Eat less and exercise more? Oh, if it were only that simple. You need to find a way of eating that you can continue for the rest of your life, and therefore can’t be labelled a ‘diet’. And it’s mostly about carbs not fat!! A tailor-made programme for your own personal needs is the way to go and not a diet in sight – as we know diets don’t work. As soon as you stop, you put the weight back on and this is why today’s diet industry is worth $40-$100 billion in the US (yes, it’s big business) and over £2 billion in the UK. Remember 95% of slimmers regain the weight. All to often I see the devastating impact losing ten stone with diet programmes can have, once the weight is regained. The feeling of failure is palpable in people. Unless you need to lose weight fast for example bariatric surgery this is not the road to take.
If you would like a sensible no nonsense approach to long term weight loss please contact me for more details about my Weight Loss Package. You will have individualised advice and support over four months.
Tel: 01323 737814. www.katearnoldnutrition.co.uk