Belly Laughs at Early Fad Diets

Nevertheless, fad diets and popular diet books even predate bathroom scales. On Siegal's bookshelf is "The Causes and Effects of Corpulence" by Thomas Short, who, in 1727, advised overweight people to move to more arid climates, observing that fat people were more likely to live near swamps.

"It's really no crazier than some of the things people have come up with in recent years," Siegal says.

If you're confounded by the mixed messages brought forth by each new fad diet, sink your teeth into these tasty morsels from the history of dieting.

Tasty Morsels From Diet History

1830: Graham's "Cracker" Diet -- Gluttony is not only bad for your health, it could make you sexually promiscuous and morally corrupt. That was the opinion of one of America's first avowed vegetarians, Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham, who is best remembered as the namesake of the graham cracker.

At his health retreats, Graham preached the virtues of a bland, meat-free diet. He urged his followers to swear off coffee, tea, tobacco and alcohol, and to eat plenty of whole-grain breads and crackers.

Perhaps it was Graham's preaching that inspired the practice of leaving crackers by the Christmas tree. It might be our subconscious way of saying, "Hey, Santa, maybe you ought to think about lightening the reindeers' load."

1864: Banting -- The floodgates for diet-book publishing opened when the first popular diet book was written by William Banting, a rotund English casket maker who was so fat he had trouble tying his own shoe and had to ease himself down steps by going backward.

Banting's "Letter on Corpulence" documented how the 5-foot-5 author shed 50 pounds on a diet of lean meats, dry toast, unsweetened fruit and green vegetables. Early editions of the book sold 58,000 copies and, for decades after, English dieters referred to the battle of the belt buckle as "Banting."

1857: Zander Rooms -- Dr. Gustav Zander of Sweden helped usher in an age of mechanized exercise equipment with the first belt-driven fat massager -- a device that would wrap around your body and giggle you to perfection. For decades to come, health spas offered "Zander Rooms."

Training films of Babe Ruth showed baseball's ultimate heavy hitter trying to shake off his 12 hot dog lunches. Of course, the Yankee great hit a lot of homers but took his time waddling around the bases. Who knows how many more he would have smacked had he not missed a good portion of the 1925 season with what the sports world dubbed "the bellyache heard round the world."

1903: The Great Masticator -- San Francisco art dealer Horace Fletcher is better known in the fad diet world as "The Great Masticator" for advocating a weight-loss technique that involved incessant chewing -- but absolutely no swallowing.

In 1898, after being denied health insurance because of his girth, Fletcher claimed that he slimmed down from 205 pounds to a svelte 163 by chewing each morsel 32 times -- once for each tooth -- and spitting out the remains. By his way of thinking, your body would absorb the nutrients it needed, and you'd get to enjoy the flavor of the meal without gaining weight.

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