The Evolution of Dieting | The Origin of Various Diets
Author : Amal Rahiman
The human diet has undergone constant changes to become what we consider an everyday meal. From gathering fruits and berries to hunting and consuming raw meat, and then finally consuming cooked meat with veggies, we humans have come a long way.
Most human beings are considered omnivores. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the changes occurred, but homo sapiens were initially hunter-gatherers – they used to forage for food rather than grow their own food.
As time went by, they started to settle in a fixed place and thus started farming for food. They then developed the tools and tricks to hunt for meat. This then evolved into using fire for cooking their food.
All of these changes can be seen through the evolution of our human body. The sizes of our brains increased as early humans started consuming more nutritious and protein-rich foods. Their teeth also decreased in size, as the food was now soft and easy to chew, making large teeth redundant.
But what is interesting to note is the current fad of trending diets. It is difficult to presume that early humans took part in diets to lose weight, as the food was a means of survival for them. They didn’t have supermarkets to get ready-to-eat meals, they had to work and hunt for their food.
Food was a means of survival for them and not a privilege. They ate what they had.
And at times, what they had was nothing,
So, they ate when they could.
However, as food became more easily available, people began to gain weight. And gaining weight led to being conscious of their looks. Which is what started fad diets.
The ancient Greeks believed that having a healthy body meant having a healthy mind. The wealthy would spend hours exercising to get the ideal muscular body. They spread the belief that being overweight meant being sick and dirty.
And people believed them.
Dieting is also rooted in religious beliefs. There have been cases of “holy dieting” where people believed that the body is evil and that gluttony is a sin (gluttony was perceived as wildly eating or even eating between meals). Few have gone into starvation willingly, believing that they could see holy visions.
Starving yourself can bring about hallucinations as your system becomes weaker. These hallucinations were believed to be messages from God.
Unfortunately, the idea of being slim is connected to being spiritual still exists today, although not as severe as “holy anorexia”, but the idea persists.
We all know what corsets were used for, and having a tiny waist was the norm back in the 1500s. Women have died from infection, with the tight corsets biting into their skin. As many thought the idea had died down in the present era, it is now making a comeback. Shapewear and corsets are back in business, albeit not as severe as before.
The 19th century saw the beginning of modern dieting as we now know it. Dresses started to become tighter, showing off a person’s physique. Celebrities would starve themselves and work out religiously to maintain their body.
This is also when the first vinegar diet was recorded. A celebrity would drink vinegar with water several times a day to flush off his fat (or so he believed). This diet has now evolved into the apple cider vinegar diet, where people consume a glass of apple cider vinegar with water before food.
The benefits of a vinegar diet have not been proven to be beneficial though.
There are several similar diet fads, that are not only harmful but also downright bizarre. Let’s take a look at some of them:
• Juice cleanse :
As the name suggests, only juices are allowed to be consumed, no solids at all. While protein shakes and veggie juices can be good for you, they cannot be a healthy substitute for solid foods. You will lose a lot of water weight initially, but you will quickly gain it back, making it a redundant diet.
• Gluten-free diet (for weight loss) :
The rationale behind this is that once you give up gluten, there’s very little that you can actually eat. However, most of the gluten-free options available are processed foods high in sugar and fat, giving you the opposite of what you actually want.
• The Cotton Ball Diet :
People consume cotton balls or tissue paper dipped in various liquids such as orange juice, or smoothies. The idea is that the cotton balls will make you feel fuller for a longer time.
Clearly, this cannot be good for your stomach, so while you may lose weight, you will definitely gain a plethora of gastrointestinal illnesses.
• The Lion Diet :
Those who follow this diet eat only twice or thrice a week. They skip meals for a day or two and then consume huge meals on the 3rd day, similar to how a lion eats.
While this may sound feasible, it is again not healthy to starve your system for a whole day. Intermittent fasting would be a better idea.
• The Sleeping Beauty Diet :
You cannot eat while you sleep, and thus this diet suggests sleeping more so that you eat less. If you can afford to sleep for a whole day though, you could afford a gym membership as well, so why bother damaging your system.
• The Master Cleanse :
You drink a concoction in the morning and a laxative at night to “cleanse” your system.
Do not even try it. It is not only useless but can be fatal to your system.
Having said that, there are a couple of diets that are safe to follow and could also prove to be beneficial.
• Ketogenic Diet :
A high-fat, high-protein, low-carb diet that has gained popularity over the past few years. Since the diet is high in fats, it is strongly suggested to meet your nutritionist before starting this diet, especially if you’re diabetic. In this diet, your body uses the stored-up fat in your system for fuel, since it does not get any carbs for energy. It is a healthy diet to follow, as long you follow up with your doctor.
• Atkins diet :
A diet in which the carbs consumed are initially low, but then can be increased in later phases of the diet. The initial phase is very similar to a keto diet, but after which carbs are to be slowly introduced into the diet.
Those with kidney issues and diabetes are strongly suggested to stay away from low-carb high-protein diets. Always check with your doctor.
• Paleo diet :
The idea behind this diet is to eat only those foods that have been available to our Palaeolithic ancestors. These are foods such as fruits, veggies, meat, fish, and eggs. Dairy, grains, salt, and sugar are not to be consumed. The food that could have been hunted or foraged is to be eaten.
• GM Diet (General Motors Diet) :
A strict 7-day eating plan in which each day allows you to eat from certain food groups, for instance, on day 3 you can eat only vegetables, and on day 5 you can eat only protein-rich foods. It does promote weight loss, but it is also dangerously low in nutrients and could prove to react negatively with your system.
• Intermittent Fasting :
A diet plan in which a person skips eating for a couple of hours or 24 hours. While it does have its benefits if followed correctly, it can lead to binge eating or overeating, nullifying the effects of fasting for weight loss.
Fad diets will come and go as they please. It is up to you to make an informed decision on your health. What works for others may not work for you, and so always consult with a doctor before trying any diet and understand if your body can handle the demands of the diet.
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