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It’s all Greek to Me

We have talked about the first weight loss procedure via suturing from the middle ages and we have talked about the first weight loss surgery. But these were not the only weight loss attempts by the general populace world-wide. In fact, there were many ideas and methods that were used by both prominent historical figures as well as ordinary people who were trying to assuage their weight gain anxiety. The results varied from ineffective and silly to the highly effective yet deadly. What were some of the things that they did? What sort of logic was applied to these dieting and body contouring fads? How did they play out? Today, we are going to find out just that.

It’s all Greek to Me

It was already ingrained in ancient Greek culture that to be fat was not only a physical failure but a moral one as well. One would even go so far as to say that the Greeks correlated fatness to corruption and considered it a civic duty for Greek citizens to stay in good physical shape.

The first recorded series of solutions for excessive weight gain was penned by the philosopher and physician, Hippocrates. Hippocrates had little to no reference to fall back on aside from cultural traditions and values when he made his treatments. This meant that the treatments were less scientifically based and were more likely a byproduct of trial and error with varying results.

His treatments included but were not limited to recommending a ‘diaita’ of soft and bland foods, slow running, hard physical labor, wrestling, sea-water enemas, and vomiting after lunch. Some of these treatments even went to outlandish heights, such as avoiding sex and walking around naked.

His methods had varying degrees of success. For instance, we know that exercise is a healthy habit to take up but we also know now that vomiting after lunch or sea water enemas would be more harmful to your body in the long run than helpful.

Still, Hippocrates did provide a starting point for most weight loss management and diet enthusiasts of the ancient past.

Weight Loss Management through Drinking Vinegar

One of the more puzzling dieting techniques that became widespread practice in the early 1800’s was the Vinegar Water.  The diet itself was both invented and popularized by one of the most famous poets of the Romantic period, Lord Byron. Lord Byron was a man who had been battling his fears of becoming too fat for his entire adult life. It has been argued by some historians that he may have been battling anorexia at the time. “Acquaintances record his horror of fat, which he believed lead to lethargy, dullness, and stupidity , according to Louise Foxcroft, a researcher of dieting fads that had existed throughout history.

The famous poet would often starve himself for extended periods of time, eating only crackers and drinking soda water with the occasional potato covered in vinegar. Then, he would binge when he had starved himself enough and settled his stomach with milk of magnesia after.

When that didn’t work he would resort to other desperate measures, such as putting on at least 6 layers of sweaters, eating only red cabbages, and drinking only apple-vinegar cider. He also took up smoking tobacco cigars, so he could curb his appetite. These actions did make him lose a drastic amount of weight and his mostly vinegar only diet started to become more popular in well to do society.

His well-known status combined with his open criticism of women eating in public, influenced refined young women into consuming a diet of rice and vinegar to fit the ideal standards of Romantic beauty. That hadn’t gone unnoticed by his critics, who were concerned that, “Our young ladies live all their growing girlhood in semi-starvation.”

The diet may have been effective in terms of weight loss, but there is little substance in it that would lead to a healthy lifestyle. At best, this weight loss management technique is a fad diet, that would lead to things like malnutrition, and anorexic/bulimic behavior patterns.

While Lord Byron’s life didn’t directly end from his diet, there is a strong possibility that his starvation habits were enough to weaken his immune system and prevent him from living a long life. He passed away at age 36, fighting a fever from a relapse of malaria.