Fashionable Food

Mini Skirt, Midi Skirt, Long Length to the Floor,

Kaftan, blazer, button up or shawl,

Shoulder pads, high waist, Levi or Prada,

Gina versus Gucci, Beckham versus Gaga.


Fashion rarely stands still. If you are not moving forward, you are left falling behind. Whether you subject yourself to fashion and trend cycles or not, what can still be appreciated is how universal fashion is. It blankets a vast degree of fabrics, footwear, spectacles, styles, celebrities, jewellery, nail design and even food.

Although you may never have considered what you choose to eat to be influenced by ‘trendy diets’ or ‘fashionable eating plans,’ it is likely that what is provided on the shelves of local supermarket brands and restaurants will be under influence by the latest diet trend or eating revolution.

Some people confess to dieting as being a major part of their life. In fact many will speak of having ‘tried them all.’ They have attempted the ‘5:2’ twice weekly starvation plan, the hunter gather ‘Paleo’ diet, had an obligatory few meetings with ‘Weight Watchers’ and even subjected themselves to weeks on only cabbage soup or vegetable juice. All in aid to lose weight. Fast.

Despite iconic figures such as Marilyn Monroe demonstrating a healthy and voluptuous UK size 16 body, there has continued to be an on going undercurrent for desired weight loss amongst women and men alike. Spiralling health concerns regarding yoyo dieting, overeating in the form of binges between extreme weight loss plans whilst conversely, under eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa have grown within an epidemic of mental health concerns.

So as a large percentage of the population, very generally, prefer to avoid ‘normalised’ eating regimes, the media continues to flood with the latest weight loss aid or testimonial. Likely because the extreme nature of such eating patterns deems them unsuitable for a life long subscription.

As we can track the changes in clothing over the years, think Jane Fonda sweat bands in the early 80s and Princess Diana Shoulder pads in the early 90s, is this the same for dieting trends? Can we couple events over history to what we were feeding our families and ourselves? What was the new way to lose weight when we were teenagers as opposed to when we were in our twenties?

Let’s consider the shift in diet trends over history.


Dieting through the Ages

The first documented attempt to lose weight was when King William the 1st (1066-1087) became the most obese man to have ruled over England. As this was usually a time for calorie deficit in testing environmental conditions, he was alone in his decision to try and lose weight (and ultimately try to get back on the saddle, which he had become too large to do).

His attempts consisted of exchanging food for alcohol; the ‘liquid/liquor diet.’  Suprisingly, this worked well from a weight loss perspective and he soon was able to ride a horse (which ultimately led to his death after a riding accident soon after).

Alcoholics, likewise, are usually of low weight as they are nutritionally challenged despite calorie intake from alcohol. Though are subject to severe concerns from liver damage and bleeding pathologies. Therefore not a brilliant start to the dieting industry.

An equally poor momentum for dieting was later in 1820. Romantic poet Lord Byron pursued his weight loss goals with hard biscuits, water and vinegar. ‘I am as thin as a skeleton’ Byron boasted, ‘thinner than you saw me at my first arrival in Venice and thinner than yourself.” A paper by Dr J Baron in the British Medical Journal described Byron’s weight as fluctuating from obese to underweight, and strongly suggesting that Lord Byron was suffering from an eating disorder (masked secondary to public perceptions of mental health during this time).

It was not until the 1900s that weight loss goals really came in to the public attention. Lucky Cigarettes were one of the first companies to use weight loss as a way to attract media attention for its products. Their marketing campaign in 1925 promoted using cigarettes instead of food to control calories. There was no direct link drawn between using cigarettes as an appetite suppresant and with lung cancer but medical professionals agree that any increase in cigarette smoking will have led to an increase in cancer risk in most, if not all, individuals.

Shortly after the Lucky advertising campaign in 1930, we were introduced with ‘The Grapefruit Diet.’ A very simple premise of adding a grapefruit to every meal, convinced of its fat burning properties, whilst reducing carbohydrates to a minimum.

Calorie consumption was kept low for 10 days followed by 2 days ‘break.’ This was hugely popular despite medical concern for the low calorie allowance. There was also a significant lack of research to support the claims regarding grapefruit enzyme, ‘fat busting’ activity. This maintained its popularity until the 1950s, though many diets today still use the basic formula fermented during this era. Low carbohydrate diets and calorie counting were born.

Tired of extreme eating plans and low calorie diets, imaginations became tuned in to losing weight. What if losing weight consisted of a single pill? After the grapefruit hype, the late 1950s introduced a tablet containing of tapeworms. People were prepared to allow parasitic tapeworm infections inside their digestive systems in the hope of losing weight. Satisfaction from hearty meals, though without the anabolism of these calories in to fat (as the tapeworms would eat ingested food from inside the hosts gut). Weight loss was fast and efficient.

Side effects including bloating, stomach pains, weakness, headaches and movement of the tapeworms in to the blood stream. The latter resulting in potential deadly consequences for those involved.

Finally, a sensible approach to weight loss appeared in 1963. ‘Weight Watchers’ was founded by Jean Nidetch in Brooklyn, New York. Although similarly focusing on counting calories, the ethos was regarding how to re-educate participants in to healthy eating habits and eating smarter for long-term sustainable weight reduction.

Weight loss was driven towards slow and controlled dieting with support offered at each weight watcher meeting. People shared stories, tips and advice, whilst those running the weight watcher meetings had previously experienced their own weight concerns. This has been hugely successful and still heavily attended today. Weight watchers can expect, on average, a 2.6% reduction in weight over a 12 month period. This was the first medically supported  diet to step in to the limelight.

Though with results slower than most other quick fix diets, dieting trends did not halt with Weight Watchers. Especially not, within the media spotlight when requiring a more urgent ethos to calorie control. In 1970, Elvis Presley made famous ‘The Sedation Diet.’ Admitting to taking sleeping pills to put him to bed and prevent him from eating. ‘Sleep don’t eat.’

In 1975 obesity expert Dr Stanford Siegal in Miami Florida formulated an amino acid blended cookie, which was said to help control hunger levels. Initially only available on prescription, the cookies were taken for breakfast and lunch followed by a regular meal, averaging on 800 calories per day. This was hugely successful, despite reports of unappetising cookies and significant lack of nutritional value.  Products are still available from the ‘Cookie Doctor’ website and copy cat non-prescription cookies available elsewhere.

Miami Florida was busy during this 70’s dieting era. Later in 1977 the ‘Slimfast’ plan also emerged from the region. Owned by Unilever from the year 2000, the company was initially formulated by S. Daniel Abraham. The idea was to substitute 2 meals a day with a high fibre, high protein shake with a sensible evening meal. Very similar in lay out to that of the Cookie Diet. Sixty dieters died during its first year of operation and ultimately removed from the market along with other liquid meal plans. It was re-introduced in the 1980’s with higher recommended daily calorie content.

Slim fast was not the only diet to lead to fatalities by its followers. The Dexatrim pill in 1979 contained a vasoconstrictor (narrows blood vesslels) named phenylpropanolamine. As a nasal decongestant, it was identified to suppress ones appetite as a ‘fortunate’ side effect. The FDA began sounding alarm bells in 1984 when the pill was linked to haemorrhage (bleeding) in females. It took until October 2000 before the drug was taken off the shelves. It is now only available with a prescription and medical supervision.

This was not the end to appetite suppressants however. In 1980, a further appetite suppressant came to light by the name of ‘Ayds.’ Added to candy and marketed to help you lose 10 pounds in only 5 days without diet or exercise, its popularity initially soared.

As the Aids disease began to reach public attention in the mid-80s, the brand lost significant popularity and was eventually withdrawn from the market despite operating under a new name ‘Diet-Ayds’ which failed to divert association from the Aids disease.

In 1988, liquid diets made a brief come back. Oprah took to the stage with a large bucket of fat on her show ‘Oprah.’ She claimed taking in only liquid and completely eliminating solids had helped her shift the same amount of fat as in the bucket she displayed. Interestingly, this diet peaked again in 2014 with the ‘juicing’ diet cleanse; encouraging people to take in nothing other than vegetable juice for a period of 1-7 days. There was some speculation that this diet fad had led to the recent death of Peaches Geldoff, but this was later ruled out.

1991 saw the birth of the ‘low fat’ era, which has continued to bathe in puplic popularlity until only recently. Medical professionals backed the low fat diet plan claiming it could help with cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke. Low fat, high sugar alternatives hit the market across most dairy produce; low fat ice cream, low fat yogurts, low fat margarine.  Even Mcdonalds produced a ‘low fat burger’, which was successful during its initial release. Most recent data suggests this is not actually as healthy as we had once considered and that sugar, not fat, is responsible for a lot of the population’s obesity. Dr Atkins was one of the first to realise this.

Moving on from the low carbohydrate Grapefruit diet, one of the most universally acclaimed diets of all times emerged in 1992. Dr Atkins disagreed with most medical professionals at the time (who continued to advise low fat to lose fat) claiming we needed to bring fat back! Low carbohydrate, high fat dieting was recommended in his book. He advised strongly that we remove carbohydrates almost entirely from our meals. It was a controversial move in 1992 and has taken many years for recognised researchers to document that this was not as radical as it sounded. In 2003, the SouthBeach diet mirrored a lot of what was recommended by Dr Atkins, only also recommending tighter calorie control along with carbohydrate counting.

In 1995, the Zone Diet got scientific. Gwenth Paltrow made the diet famous with her Svelte figure and support for the diet plan. It advised very specific macronutrients based on the individuals blood group, suggesting we should all diet a little differently depending on our individual genetics. This was time consuming and needed some initial assistance from a nutritionist. It was however based on many Japanese foods such as grains, vegetables and green leaves, famed for their nutrition and health benefits.

Following on from more sustainable diet plans such as the Zone diet and the Weight Watchers plan, a further sensible and long term eating trend caught both the public and medical attention. The Mediterranean Diet in 1996 recommended balanced meals, low red meat content, low refined sugar and low saturated fat meals. Food was high in olive oil, nuts and vegetables with starchy food such as potatoes, rice and pasta heavily present.

Presented by Walter Willett of Harvard School of Public Health 2013 UNESCO added the Mediterranean diet to the intangible cultural heritage of humanity for Italy, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Morocco. This continues to be a staple eating plan for these countries. The DASH diet (dietary approach to stop hypertension) mirrors much of the Mediterranean diet values. Doctors state eating in such a fashion may be able to control blood pressure when coupled with a low sodium intake.

2006 brought back radical eating trends. Beyonce became significantly lean following the ‘Master Cleanse’ regime. ‘Feasting’ on only hot water, lemon juice and maple syrup daily resulted in a gross calorie defecit. Weight loss was fast but side effects were significant. People reported hair loss, depression, supressed thyroid and reduced immune system. Long term risks include osteoporosis and infertility.

The major eating trend in our current century, however, has circled around protein and ‘eating clean.’ In 2010 Dr Loren Cordain penned the “Paleo Diet.’ This has formed the foundation for most present day diet plans. Dr Loren claimed we needed to cut out processed foods in favour for clean, unprocessed, no added sugar or salt alternatives. Mainly protein. Following years of a childhood reading books on the hunter era passed down from his father, he concluded that our diets have been turned upside down to how nature had intended. Meals include meat with fresh vegetables or salad, minus the starchy potatoes or pasta. ‘Protein keeps you fuller for longer.’

The Paleo Diet also forbids taking in diary produce. As the only mammals who continue to eat diary after nursing as youngsters, Dr Loren believes that diary is responsible for many food intolerance symptoms, along with gluten (also eliminated from the diet).

As with the Atkins diet, energy is processed via ‘ketosis,’ involving the break down of stored fats rather than circulating sugars. Resulting in a leaner, muscle sparing physique. The high protein content fits with current body building and physique model trends that are incredibly popular today. ‘Strong is the new skinny.’



As demonstrated, diets have varied vastly over history. From tapeworm tablets, maple syrup drinks, cabbage soup and juice cleanses, to taking a full 360 degrees and eating as our ancestors once did back in cave man times. The variety of constrictive eating plans, which encourage intake of limited calories and limited foods suggest how difficult it would be to maintain such efforts to stay slim in the long term. Hence giving rise to yet a new attempt and new radical diet option.

Dieting such as with Weight watchers, the Zone Diet, the Mediterranean diet allow balanced meals, cheat options here and there and varied food intake. These may not have ever hit the headlines as being the most trendy or favour such rapid results, but they are psychologically sound for users and medically safe and sustainable.

The Paleo diet is interesting. It does not require calorie counting and of course, eating foods rich in protein and nutritional value such as meats, unprocessed vegetables and salad food items is most definitely not going to be bad for one to follow. However, in a world of temptation and fast food service counters, I do believe it would be challenging for someone to follow for significant periods of time without ‘falling off the wagon.’

Perhaps it is the obsessive attitude towards our diet fads that is most problematic. Terrified at the thoughts of gaining weight, terrified that we will not look perfect in our ball gown, wedding dress, swimsuit, we follow each diet to the letter. If we allowed a little more ‘cheating’ when we craved it, added a little carbohydrate when we felt weaker, it would hopefully prevent the yoyo dieting trend that has been somewhat of a common denominator throughout the history of dieting.  Plus, remaining stressed about the need to lose weight causes a surge in cortisol, the stress hormone responsible for causing our fat to cling to our bodies.

Some diets noted are definitely much safer to follow than others. The key is to find what works for you, try and avoid the term ‘dieting’ and follow a moderate, realistic, healthy eating approach.

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