Instant diets and their history

Contrary to what one might think, “miracle” or instant diets (fad diets or crash diets) have existed since ancient times. In recent weeks, a controversy arose over the mediatization of the diet that a celebrity had to follow in order to attend the Met Gala dressed in a historic Marilyn Monroe dress (in addition to controversy over the code of ethics of museums for the preservation of historical pieces). Many voices pointed out the danger of extolling these diets as synonymous with achievement or triumph, or even more, as part of a ritual when there is a social event in which the full weight of a person’s value is deposited due to the way in which it looks.

Some other voices were against it, pointing out that the fact that young people are influenced by these diets indicates that something is wrong in the family environment and not in what a celebrity does or does not do. The reality is that “crash diets” or instant diets characterized by low caloric intake and nutritional insufficiency in order to achieve rapid weight loss, have existed for centuries. Purges and long fasts were once considered the best ways to achieve not only bodily purity, but also spiritual purity through sacrifice. The “clean” with juices and other liquids, have existed from Ancient Greece to the Victorian era. The poet Lord Byron promoted a diet based on water and vinegar with the aim of looking pale, a highly desired physical characteristic at the time, since pale skin was a sign that one did not have to work from sunrise to sunset, and therefore, indicated a higher social position. Instant diets that prescribed eating potatoes, sprouts, liquids, apple cider vinegar and other products have been around for years.

Beyond the anecdotal aspects around what the diets prescribed, it is a fact that these instant or miracle diets have always responded to the socio-historical conditions of the time. For example, in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, “clean” diets were promoted against environmental contaminants that had not previously existed in high concentrations. The obsession with weight and its relationship with diets was greatly accentuated at the beginning of the 20th century.

Although the fashions on the way in which the silhouette is considered aesthetic were changing, the reality is that instant diets existed since then, some of them posing serious health risks, such as those that recommended arsenic pills “to speed up the metabolism”; those that involved the voluntary ingestion of you had (worms), to prevent the absorption of nutrients from food or that known as the “Sleeping Beauty Diet” in which a person was voluntarily sedated to sleep for up to a week and lose weight ( in addition to muscle mass) due to the lack of food intake. Although all these seem unusual facts, it is necessary to question what we are looking for through the monitoring of these diets, which continue to exist today, only under other formats. Digging beyond body shape to seek acceptance, social validation, or a sense of success probably makes us think that the instant diet is not what we need.

Liliana Martinez Lomeli

Food and society columnist


Food and society columnist. Gastronaut, observer and foodie. She is a researcher in sociology of food, nutritionist. She is president and founder of Funalid: Foundation for Food and Development.

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