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Diets: A History


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Could you imagine eating a tapeworm or smoking a cigarette to lose weight?

What if you could sleep for a few days to drop a few pounds?

What would you do if someone told you to chew your food 32 times and spit it out (The Fletcherism Diet)?

What we knew then

From the 1800’s to the 1970’s these were some of the ideas behind weight loss.  Before you furrow your brow and whisper, “whaaaat”, it is worth mentioning that there were methods to this madness.

In the late 1800’s, we knew that nutrient absorption occurred in the mouth. So, why swallow it? It was better to avoid the extra calories. As far back as the 1920’s, research suggested that nicotine, a substance found in tobacco, suppressed appetite. Yes, that’s a cool scientific fact, but what’s important is that you could lose weight and look cool doing it. Swallowing a tapeworm is arguably unappetizing, but that wasn’t the trick. The Tapeworm Diet resembled the Fletcherism Diet, in that, it deprived you of nutrients. The tapeworm would literally eat the contents of your intestines, but at least you were able to swallow your food.  And finally, a three-day nap was thought to be beneficial because the subject would fast for three days. Who has time to eat when you have sheep to count?

What we know now

These diets make sense now, right?  Well, not so much.

Tobacco is stuffed with carcinogens, which may lead to cancer and invade most of your healthy cells.  In addition, tapeworms steal nutrients from your body and a fasted sleep puts our body in starvation mode.  At this point, every single fat cell in your body is held hostage. The creators of these diets tried to provide the public with an effective method to lose weight and avoid illness and disease, but were unfortunately, initiating weight gain and other ailments.

The HPA-T Axis’ Role in Dieting

Limiting cancer-causing substances and providing our bodies with adequate nutrients is important for weight loss. For example, the HPA-T axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal–thyroid axis) is a system in the brain that plays a vital role in weight management, and to successfully maintain a healthy weight, the HPA-T axis utilizes vitamins, cofactors, amino acids, and enzymes.  These micronutrients are found in our food, and to obtain them, we should eat a balanced diet on a daily basis. In addition, we need healthy cells to process the nutrients.

So, maybe we are better off swallowing our food, avoiding cigarettes, evicting the tapeworms, and limiting sleep to 8 hours.


Clinical Contributor

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Ramona Richard, MS, NC

Ramona Richard, MS, NC

Ramona Richard graduated with honors from the University of California with a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology and graduated summa cum laude with a Master’s Degree in Health and Nutrition Education. She also holds a Standard Designated Teaching Credential from the State of California, is a California state-certified Nutrition Consultant and a member of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.

Ramona has participated in nutrition education in both public and private venues, including high school and college presentations, radio and public speaking for the past 20 years. She is the owner of Radiance, a nutrition consulting company, the Director of Education for Sanesco International, and a medical technical writer.

Disclaimer: The information provided is only intended to be general educational information to the public. It does not constitute medical advice. If you have specific questions about any medical matter or if you are suffering from any medical condition, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

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