Fad Diets Through the Ages
Susan Stevens Daily Herald Health Writer
Posted May 5, 2006
1727: Thomas Short writes "The Causes and Effects of Corpulance,"
advising overweight people to move to arid climates because fat
people were more likely to live near swamps.
1830: Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham, an avowed
vegetarian, rails against refined flour, coffee, tea, tobacco and
alcohol. He preaches the virtues of a bland, meat-free diet with
plenty of whole-grain breads and crackers (such as his namesake
1863: London undertaker William Banting writes "A Letter on
Corpulence Addressed to the Public," a pamphlet detailing his 50-
pound weight loss by avoiding potatoes, beer, butter, bread and
carrots. Across the Atlantic, Americans refer to dieting as
1903: San Francisco art dealer Horace Fletcher avows a weight-
loss technique that requires chewing each bite 32 times, one for
each tooth, and then spitting out whatever food remained. According
to his theory, your body will absorb the nutrients it needs, and
you'll enjoy the flavor of food without gaining weight.
1917: Lulu Hunt Peters publishes the book "Diet and Health, With
Key to the Calories," ushering in generations of calorie-counters.
The book sells more than 2 million copies promoting a 1,200- calorie-
Early 1930s: Dr. William Hay, a victim of high blood pressure,
urges dieters to consume fruit, meat and dairy separate from bread
and potatoes. He argues the human body can't digest proteins and
starches at the same time.
1930s: The grapefruit diet first becomes popular. The 12-day diet
allows only a few veggies plus grapefruit or grapefruit juice with
every meal, based on the premise that grapefruit burns fat.
1951: Gayelord Houser develops a diet of natural grains,
vegetables, blackstrap molasses, yogurt, brewer's yeast, wheat germ
and powdered skim milk that he peddles to Hollywood's elite. His
book "Look Younger, Live Longer" draws converts including Greta
1960s: The high-fiber cabbage soup diet has dieters eating mainly
cabbage soup, fruit and vegetables for a week.
1960s: The extremely low-calorie Hollywood diet instructs dieters
to eat nothing but a special juice blend for 48 hours, claiming it
will promote fat burning.
1961: Weight Watchers is founded by a New York housewife who has
friends over weekly to discuss weight-loss strategies.
1964: Robert Cameron publishes his best-selling "The Drinking
Man's Diet," which says it's possible to wash down a steak with a
martini and still lose weight.
1972: Atkins publishes his diet plan. He claims a low-
carbohydrate diet is the key to weight loss because carbs cause high
1978: Harman Tarnower publishes "The Complete Scarsdale Medical
Diet." The rigid, high-protein diet tells users exactly what to eat
for two weeks and becomes a best seller.
1979: Nathan Pritikin publishes a high-carb, low-fat diet that
requires carefully planning meals based on calorie content.
1980s: Weight Watchers becomes popular. The plan assigns a point
value to foods, and each dieter is given a daily points target based
on his or her weight.
1980s: Slim-Fast combines the company's meal replacement shakes
and snacks with a single, balanced meal a day.
1981: On Judy Mazel's Beverly Hills diet, particular fruits are
assigned specific roles (for example, papaya softens fat, pineapple
burns it off, watermelon flushes it out).
1988: OptiFast shakes help Oprah Winfrey lose 67 pounds. She
gains it back.
1990s: The low-fat Nutri-System diet uses meal-replacement foods
to promote weight loss. The diet has about 60 percent carbs, 20
percent protein and 20 percent fat.
1990s: Barry Sears' "Zone Diet" claims that the body should stay
within a hormonally controlled zone. The diet restricts "bad" carbs
such as pasta, potatoes and bread.
1993: The book "Eat Right 4 Your Type" claims blood type
deterines your ideal diet. For example, people with type A blood
are naturally vegetarians. Type O: you're a carnivore.
1993: The Dean Ornish Life Choice Diet comes at the height of the
low-fat diet craze. The diet features extreme low-fat meals full of
1997: Atkins makes a comeback with an updated version, "Dr.
Atkins New Diet Revolution." He claims carbs are the enemy because
they lead to the production of insulin, the "fat-producing hormone."
1999: Suzanne Somers releases "Get Skinny on Fabulous Food." She
claims that when proteins and carbohydrates are eaten together,
their enzymes "cancel each other out," restricting digestion and
causing weight gain.
2003: The South Beach diet identifies good versus bad
carbohydrates and claims that restricting carbs promotes weight
2005: Atkins Nutritionals files for bankruptcy, signaling the end
of the low-carb era.
Date: May 3, 2006
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