What Was The First Fad Diet?

What constitutes a healthy diet has changed as our knowledge of nutrition and exactly how food sustains people has also changed, with superfood suppliers mindful of the evolution of nutritional advice and knowledge.

The truth about a diet is that it should not be seen as a temporary change or programme, but instead as part of a lifelong commitment to a person’s health to enjoy a balanced diet of food of which superfoods can play an important but not exclusive role.

However, certain types of diets promise considerable, rapid results in the short term with little in the way of medical backing and with potentially very negative side effects.

These highly marketed fad diets have a surprisingly long history, dating back to before humanity had definite answers to the question of nutrition.

Ancient Fad Diets

The earliest civilisations that started to consider the effects of food on people were the Ancient Greeks and Romans, with the former providing the root word ‘diaita’ that would provide the origins for diets.

The first diet ever recorded was written onto the Ebers Papyrus, the oldest surviving medical document, and proposed a combination of okra and wheat-germ as a way to manage diabetes.

Aside from diet treatments, the core principles of healthy eating can be traced back to the concept of ‘diatetica’, which proposes that people eat the right foods in moderation, making sure they do not eat too much nor cause themselves to starve, and the importance of exercise in combination with diet.

Elements of this survive in modern diet advice to this day, although the idea of the four humours, bathing in lukewarm water, eating only two meals a day (breakfast and a main meal), not having sex and even forcing oneself to be sick have thankfully been left in the past.

The Dawn Of The Modern Fad Diet World

The 19th century brought with it a range of technological and cultural advances, one of which was major changes in how we sourced and ate food. Rather than having a diet largely based on what was available in a region, people in the Victorian era had more choices than ever before.

As with a lot of medical advice in the 19th century, misinformation was rife, and one of the earliest examples of a fad diet came from one of the era’s most famous poets.

Lord Byron was one of the leading figures of the Romantic poetry movement and the Byronic hero (modelled after his own eccentricities) is still commonly seen in fiction to this very day.

Regrettably, he was also obsessed with his appearance and would start several exceedingly dangerous diets as part of what would be diagnosed today as an eating disorder.

The most concerning and most popular of these was the ‘vinegar and water diet’ which he devised and popularised in the 1920s and involved drinking a mix of apple cider vinegar and water.

In particular, there was a fear that young women who were either fans of his work or knew disciples of his were at risk of starving themselves to death due to his comments.

Arguably the first fad diet was devised by Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister, inventor of the Graham cracker and major part of the temperance movement in the United States, who advocated a whole grain, raw vegetarian diet and was among the first to use the term ‘natural’ in a diet context.

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