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Some of today’s weight loss methods are comical, at best, and others are obviously schemes designed to collect your hard-earned cash. Still, they don’t compare with the methods recommended by doctors, religious icons, and even celebrities of the past. Some are outrageous, but others are downright disturbing.
Bulimia is a very serious eating disorder, and it is estimated that anywhere from two to three out of every 100 women will deal with bulimia at some point in their lives. Although this condition is considered problematic today, things were far, far different in Roman times. Back then, purging a meal wasn’t taboo. In fact, it was mainstream.
There are many theories as to the reasons why so many Romans choose to purge their meals, but the most popular has to do with the way Roman toilets worked. There was no privacy, and lavatories were large “rooms” that consisted of holes carved in stone set above a water supply. Some theorists suggest that Roman women would rather purge their meals than wait until they needed to share a toilet with others; another theory claims they did it to help maintain their girlish figures.
Born in the late 1700s, Lord Byron became the world’s first diet icon. Poor Byron gained weight incredibly easily, and he was constantly in a battle with himself to maintain his figure. By the time he was old enough to attend Cambridge University, the poet found his figure horrifying, and he also believed that his excess weight affected his mind. As such, Byron ate an incredibly strict diet consisting of hard biscuits and sparkling water, or potatoes covered in vinegar. Records show Byron dropped five stone in just five years – a substantial weight loss for an otherwise healthy man in that time.
By 1822, when Lord Byron was still a young man at 34 years old, he was subsiding on a small slice of toast and a cup of tea in the morning along with plain vegetable broth for an evening meal. He got very ill and died two short years later. Although records show he died of malaria, some historians argue that his frail state may have been his demise.
Back in the 1820s, a devout Presbyterian by the name of Sylvester Graham spread the rumor that lustful desires weren’t the fault of the devil – it was all in the food. Graham believed that being overweight caused sexual desire, and later attributed weight gain to things like meat and fat. He also taught that sexual arousal caused everything from tuberculosis to epilepsy.
Most people thought Graham was crazy, and rightfully so, but others believed it. Although we now know that meat can be a healthy part of a balanced diet and some fat is necessary, Graham did leave behind one legacy of his ludicrous teachings regarding weight loss methods – the bland, tasteless, whole-grain cracker we all know and love. It’s called the Graham cracker.
The 19th Century brought with it new technologies and fads. During these times, people were especially enthralled with pills, potions, and wonder drugs – especially for dieting. In fact, many historians agree that diet pills were born during the early 1800s as the “scientists” of the day mixed up ingredients designed to melt away pounds. Unfortunately, many of these concoctions contained strychnine or even arsenic, which is incredibly dangerous in even the tiny amounts found in the pills.
Arsenic was touted as a safe way to speed up the metabolism and boost energy. They were much like the amphetamines of their time. Those who used them would often take more than recommended, thinking they’d lose weight even faster. Many of these people met a very untimely demise.
Of all the strange things people did to lose weight in the early 1900s, Fletcherizing was one of the strangest and, arguably, also one of the most disgusting weight loss methods of them all. The idea behind Horace Fletcher’s diet was to chew very small bites of food up to 100 times before swallowing so that it could mix properly with saliva and digest as intended. In fact, he advocated that food should be in liquid form before swallowing.
Another all-important part of Fletcherizing involved examining food as it exited the body. He even taught very small children how to do this, claiming that unless their feces looked a certain way, they were not eating a healthy diet and they may die at a young age.
Sterilized tapeworm, the most disturbing of all the weight loss methods, got its start in the late 1800s or early 1900s, about the time that scientists were discovering the effects of parasites. Word got out that these nasty pests could live inside the gut and digest its host’s meal, and somewhere along the line, someone decided that this may be a good way to lose weight.
The tapeworms were packed into pills and sold by the jar to those who wanted to lose weight. Advertisements told them they could eat all the food they wanted and still lose weight. Of course, today, scientists (and the public) understand the dangers associated with the tapeworm diet, but people still try it. Each year, at least one warning from a public health official makes its way onto social media.
Weight loss methods have certainly changed throughout the years, but one thing is for certain – it seems that people will try just about anything to shed unwanted pounds. The good news is that weight loss is possible, and all it takes is a balanced diet, some exercise, and some willpower.