Dr. Cooper discusses the history of diets

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by KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on November 8, 2013 at 10:28 AM

Updated Friday, Nov 8 at 10:37 AM

For several months now, Dr. Emily Cooper of Seattle Performance Medicine has talked about how diets don't work. But it seems wherever we turn, there's talk of a new diet that we can't escape.

How did the concept of dieting even start?

As we've talked about, today's science has shown that metabolic problems are more powerful than any diet can ever be. While depriving yourself can be successful in the short term, for most overweight and obese people, a diet won't work long term.  That said; let's talk about this incredible history.

One of the first recorded "diet plans" was in 1558 by an Italian businessman who had become so large, his doctors had given up. This man created a diet of just 12 ounces of food per day plus 14 ounces of wine. He lost weight, spread the news and it became popular.

That was all the way back in 1558. What was next?

There were many more in the next few hundred years and by 1915, early experiments attempted to help people lose weight and also to cure Diabetes. They literally would starve people for periods of time. Of course it didn't work, some people even died.

So 100 years ago, scientists knew that starving people wasn't a good idea.


Even more misguided was Dr. Lulu Peters in 1918.  She fueled the obsession we have with dieting today. She wrote a book that sold millions of American women on the brand new concept of cutting calories and the "thin is in" body image.

Was that when the obsession really started?

Yes. And when the idea of being very thin really took hold in the 1920s,  wild diet schemes jumped on the bandwagon.

Some of the more popular ones were the grapefruit diet, where you ate a grapefruit with every meal supposedly to burn fat, then came things like the cider vinegar diet in the 1950s that told people drinking a vinegar tonic with every meal would remove all their fat and cholesterol.

You would think that fad diets slowed down, but since then there have been so many more. Why?

Most of these, you're probably more familiar with. In the 1970s, it was the Scarsdale diet which allowed 700 calories a day and the "Atkins Revolution"  which was really an update of something called the 'meat diet' from the '40s and '50s.  Even though he based his protocol on old research from the '50s, Atkin's program became enormously popular based on his fantastic marketing and the fact that men now had a diet that felt ok to talk about in public.

At the same time, weren't there also diet pills you could buy at the drugstore?

Yes, many forms were eventually banned due to some of the ingredients being linked to increased risks of heart attacks and strokes.

Popular diets continue to go through cycles and recycles. There are too many to even mention. The Zone, prepackaged food plans like Nutrisystem and Jennie Craig, The South Beach Diet, then there's the Paleo Diet that started in the '70s as The Stone Age Diet, or the HCG diet which originated in the '50s and is basically a very low calorie diet but you take pregnancy hormones. Although in the '70s it was scientifically proven not to work, it still came back and is actually popular again today.

So, when it comes to most of these diets, they're more fads than science?

People are always trying to capitalize on a quick fix to weight loss. Everyone wants a magic pill or a magic program. Who wouldn't?  Some of these diets will help you lose weight for a short time, but no diet has been shown to lead to permanent weight loss in the vast majority of dieters and they can hamper your metabolism in the long term.  Especially if you lose considerable amounts of weight, and then gain it back over and over again.  It's really a vicious cycle and I see patients suffering the consequences of that every day. All this dieting isn't helping our health, it's hurting it.
 

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