For the overwhelming majority of human history, man has been driven by the singular need of acquiring more food. More protein, more sugar, more carbs – more of anything that’s edible in order to stay alive. And then – boom – along came King William I, or William the Conqueror, England’s first monarch. William was a rather……large……man and when his corpulence rendered him unable to mount his horse, he went on the first recorded weight loss diet in history. Unfortunately, little was known about diet and nutrition in those days and the good king decided to commence a liquid diet – as in the liquor variety. As would be expected, the diet did him little good and when William passed away — ironically enough, from falling off his horse — his corpse had to be squeezed forcibly into a casket.
Fast forward about a thousand years to Horace Fletcher, a Victorian era weight-loss aficionado. Fletcher advocated the chewing of food 32 times before swallowing – a practice which became widely known as “fletcherizing.” Nick-named “The Great Masticator,” Fletcher’s ideas were supported by many prominent personalities of the early 1900s, including John D. Rockefeller and Upton Sinclair. Fletcherizing, it was argued, would lead to the consumption of less food, thus promoting better health. Some of Fletcher’s ideas were before their time. For example, he also argued that one should never eat unless truly hungry and that “emotional” eating – or eating when angry or sad – should be avoided. These suggestions are standard fare in today’s diet books.
By the time Fletcher died, the idea of weight loss via dieting had taken root in the American psyche and led to a host of dieting milestones over the course of the next fifty years:
- 1918 – Publication of America’s first best-selling diet book, Diet and Health, With Key to the Calories by Lulu Hunt Peters
- 1919 – Health-O-Meter pioneers the first mass market bathroom scales
- 1928 – Lucky Strike cigarettes launches the “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet” weight loss campaign
- 1930 – The Grapefruit Diet, also known as the Hollywood Diet, is all the rage, calling for consumption of a mere 585 calories per day consisting of grapefruit, black coffee, melba toast, green vegetables and eggs
- 1942 – The first standards of ideal body weight are published by Metropolitan Life Insurance
- 1951 – The Jack LaLanne Show debuts as the first ever television exercise program
- 1958 – Saccharin is approved for use as an artificial, non-caloric sweetener for foods
- 1963 – Sugar-free Tab is introduced by Coca-Cola
- 1967 – Twiggy becomes the world’s first supermodel and her waif-like 5’7” 92 lb. frame is popularized
Stay tuned for future Diet 411 posts as we explore the pros and cons of dozens of popular weight-loss fads and diets.