The cabbage soup diet of the 1950s allowed the indulgence in as much cabbage soup as one could consume.
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Each year, 45 million Americans go on a diet, and while their end goals may be similar, the paths they take to get there can look vastly different depending on the latest conventional wisdom.
The United States seems to undergo dietary whiplash every decade or so, and it has been that way since the inception of dieting in the 19th century. “What is striking is just how little it takes to set off one of these applecart-toppling nutritional swings in America,” wrote Michael Pollan in “Our National Eating Disorder,” in a 2004 issue of the New York Times Magazine. “A scientific study, a new government guideline, a lone crackpot with a medical degree can alter this nation’s diet overnight.”
Dieting in the U.S. began in earnest in the 1830s, with the emergence of Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister who was strident about the hazards of eating processed flours and who developed one made from the entire wheat germ, not just the endosperm.
Over the decades—and centuries—that followed, all manner of food and fitness regimens and pills, potions, and pastes have been touted as the magic bullet to beauty, fitness and svelteness. Adherents to various diets have engaged in floor-rolling—literally rolling on the floor; taken baths with thinning salts; subsisted on little else but bananas and skim milk; and voluntarily undergone yogurt enemas.
In 1863, English undertaker William Banting went on a low-carb diet to lose weight and wrote about it in his booklet “Letter on Corpulence.” It became so popular in both the United Kingdom and America that his name became a verb: The response to, “Would you like a piece of cake?” was, “No, thank you, I’m Banting.”
The early 20th century saw the advent of the “reducing salon,” at which clients would be enveloped between two sets of rollers that would—through the power of electricity—squeeze up and down the body up to 80 times per…