Nutrition throughout the history of the world is long (obviously) and diverse (naturally). Despite nutrition trends changing drastically depending on where you are and what time period you were there in, they all are tied to two things: the economy and social expectations of the era.
The Ideal Body Type
You can’t talk about trends in nutrition without talking about the motivating force behind them: the ever changing ideal female body type. Historically, women have been the ones to ride the roller coaster of impossible standards. We are under constant pressure from the fashion and beauty industry to look a certain way, while simultaneously being told how we should look based on what men like. Pretty girls have thigh gaps, no they don’t, #thickthighssavelives; pluck your eyebrows, never mind, full eyebrows are “in”. It’s exhausting!
The ideal female body has changed a lot over the years, almost always driven by the desire to look like the upper classes.
Ancient Era (B.C.) to the Italian Renaissance (1400-1700)
In most countries, the ideal body type was what would today be considered overweight. In many cases, having a “rounded tummy” was desirable. This was largely because having extra fat on your body meant you had enough money to eat well. The poor were living off crumbs and bad water while the rich were living fat – literally. In many places, a wife was seen as a direct portrait of her husband’s status.
If yo’ girl was thick, so was your wallet… or something like that.
Throughout much of the 1800s, this fuller-figure was still the coveted shape, with one small change – a synched waist. You betcha, this is when the corset really began to shine. The corset is really the beginning of making your body fit clothing rather than clothing to fit your body. It’s also when the “ideal” body began to become increasingly impossible to achieve.
Fast forward to the roaring twenties, when everything changed. A boyish figure became popular – so long desirably plump, hello flat chest, curve-less hips, even short haircuts! Not entirely sure what caused the shift, perhaps larger breasts didn’t fly so well with all that high-energy swing-dancing they were doing? Hmmm. Who knows?
The curvy, fuller-figure made its final stand thanks to Marilyn Monroe and the golden girls of Hollywood. The hourglass look was back in full force – big boobs, big butt, slim waist. No thigh gaps found here!
The 60s is when the thin, willowy look really started to come in. Supermodels became the new golden girls in the 80s, starting the “be thin but not too thin, and still have big boobs” idea. It coincided nicely with the fitness boom (athletic chic, anyone?). The 90s took a turn for the worse when “Heroine Chic” took hold, featuring impossibly skinny models along with a surge in rates of eating disorders.
Today’s beauty standards haven’t gotten much better – curvy but thin, big butt but have a thigh gap, big boobs but no back fat and a flat stomach… so impossible, that many turn to plastic surgery to achieve “the look”. Way to go, society.
Who Run the World? Women!
Another factor that contributes to women being the driving force behind most diet trends are because for a large part of our history women were doing the majority of the cooking. Certain food and diet trends (for example, the introduction of canned food) came out of women joining the work force while still being expected to cook, clean, etc. With so much pressure to look a certain way and play the role of working woman and dutiful housewife, it’s no wonder some pretty whacky diets have come out over the years!
100 Years of Dieting
Naturally, to go along with the pressure to fit a certain mold, women have been using various dieting strategies to achieve “the look” for a long time. Some make sense, others are down-right frightening.
1900s: The Chew and Spit diet
Literally what it sounds, you chew all of your food until it has completely liquefied in your mouth, then spitting it out. While it’s true, chewing properly is important for digestion and weight loss, turning your food into saliva soup is a tad extreme. That, and spitting it out is, well, gross.
1910s: The Tapeworm Diet
Women ate the egg of a worm that would then hatch inside their stomach and eat some of the food they’re eating, no joke. A great method for weight loss including the vomiting and diarrhea that comes with it! Once they reached desired weight, you take an anti-parasite that also has fun gastrointestinal side effects, but hey, all in the name of a tiny waist, right?
1920s: Cigarette Diet
Ahh. The good old days, back when we were are blissfully (?) unaware of how our nicotine habits were slowly skilling us from the inside out. This diet is as it seems – instead of a meal, have a cigarette (or in some cases a laxative). Effective? Maybe. Incredibly destructive? Definitely!
1950s: The Cabbage Soup Diet
7 days a week, 3 meals a day, you only eat cabbage soup. You’ll lose weight and your sanity! Hooray!
1980: Beverly Hills Diet
The workout craze started in the 80s, and along with it came Lean Cuisine, Diet Coke, Jenny Craig, and the Beverly Hills Diet. A little more structure to this one, dictating that you only eat fruit for the first 10 days (pineapple was optimal), then you slowly add other foods in so as not to “confuse” your enzymes. Right.
1990s: Blood Type Diet
Dieting began to get increasingly scientific. This one states that your blood type rules what foods your body responds best to. For example, type A has difficulty with animal proteins and should therefore eat vegetarian; type B should avoid carbs and tomatoes. You get the picture.
Early 2000s: The Baby Food Diet
You can eat whatever you want with this diet! That is, of course, as long as it’s pureed and marketed towards babies. Pureed sweet potato sounds great, but pureed chicken – no thanks, I’ll pass.
In the ripe old year of 2017, we’re overwhelmed with diet options: Vegetarian, pescatarian, ovo-lacto vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, FODMap, Paleo, Keto, low-carb, raw food, the middle eastern sand monkey diet (ok just kidding, that last one isn’t real) – it’s a lot to take in!
The important thing to remember that you need to figure out for yourself what makes you feel good and still enjoy your life. Rule of thumb? If it sounds too good to be true, it is – there is no magic pill or one food that will make you healthy. Balance, moderation, and whole foods coupled with exercise and sleep is the only long-lasting way to good health. Before starting any new diet or workout routine, do your research and talk to your doctor, and remember: Never let any food or diet, good or bad, get in the way of enjoying your life!