The Toxicity of Diet Culture & Where It All Began

I always knew something was off when I first got into the Health and Fitness Industry back in 2010, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it or didn’t know how to articulate it at that time. 

Growing up and to this day, I’ve always been the person to not follow the crowd and do things differently and that was no different when I got into this industry. 

When I started personal training, I provided my clients with a vastly different approach than what was out at the time and was training my clients Holistically before I even knew there was a term for it, or before it became this wildly “new” phenomenon. 

Intuitively I knew the way most people were going about achieving their health and fitness goals was not only misleading, but miserable, and why most people can’t stick to a healthy regimen.  

But the more I studied and the more research I did, the more I realized I couldn’t blame them, or the majority of the general public for their approach to getting healthy and losing weight. 

I briefly touched on this in my last blog: Why Are Americans So Confused About What to Eat, explaining a few of the reasons why most people are so confused about how to live and eat healthy. 

One of those reasons being the constant marketing of  “magic” fad diets and supplements, promising unrealistic and unsustainable results, in the name of sales instead of in the name of actually improving the health of the consumer. 

So I wanted to take it way back to where diet culture all began and why it’s so toxic, not only physically, but mentally as well. 

And despite the long history and vast selections of diets, our society’s obesity rates and chronic illness continue to rise. 

Which begs the question: When will people finally realize the current state of addressing our health and wellness isn’t working and be open to a new approach that actually works?

Where It All Began

Believe it or not, fad diets have been around for centuries dating back as far as the 15th century, when an Italian nobleman by the name of Luigi Cornaro restricted himself daily to 12 ounces of food (bread, egg yolks, meat and soup) and 14 ounces of wine.¹ 

This was his way of try to heal his gastrointestinal disorder and it is rumored that he lived to a ripe 102 years of age, earning his approach the nickname “The Immortality Diet”.¹

Next we have Lord Byron who, during the start of the 18th century, was considered one of the first diet icons and helped kick off the public’s obsession with how celebrities lose weight, says historian Louise Foxcroft. He was known for drenching his food, mostly bread and potatoes, with vinegar to lose weight. 

We end off the 18th century with William Banting, whose “Letter on Corpulence” was likely the first low-carb diet book ever published. 

In it, he states: “Of all the parasites that affect humanity I do not know of, nor can I imagine, any more distressing than that of Obesity.” 

Banting touted his successful weight loss by replacing an excessive intake of bread, sugar and potatoes with mostly meat, fish and vegetables.

Which in hindsight, limiting your intake of bread, potatoes and sugar is an obvious step to take on the road to better health and healthy weight loss.  

By the 19th century, an interesting array of diets began to arise on the scene promising weight-loss and a desirable smaller figure. 

During my research, I also found it interesting that men were at the forefront of these diets and were overly concerned with their weight just as much, if not more than the women of those times. 

Different Types of Diets

As the popularity of these diets grew and more and more people started to become concerned with their weight and image, a variety of ways to reach said weight loss goals started to become more available. 

These included a variety of Liquid Diets, Cleanses/Detoxes and Celebrity/Physician (“Dr.”) Diets. 

Liquid Diets, Cleanses/Detoxes were meant to rid our bodies of harmful toxins, even though our bodies have the natural ability to do so. 

Which is why I don’t recommend these harsh detoxes or cleanses because the body already has a natural detoxing system built within (The Lymphatic System) and can heal itself if given the opportunity. 

Some of the most notable liquid diets, cleanses/detoxes include: The Lemonade Diet, which I’m sure you’ve heard of and consists of a mixture of lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper you would have to drink six times a day for at least 7-10 days.  

Other popular liquid diets included Soup Diets, the most notable being The Cabbage Soup Diet, where you would consume nothing but soup for 7 days.   

Do any of these sound appealing to you? But wait, there’s more…

Then you have your Celebrity & Physician (“Dr”) Diets that are meant to add some credibility and a reassuring stamp of approval, regardless of whether it makes sense or not. 

Take for instance, The Beverly Hills Diet, The South Beach Diet and The Atkins Diet. 

Later, the Atkins Diet was found to potentially increase the risk of heart disease. A disease that Dr. Atkins himself later died of that could be linked to following his own advice which has found to be nutritionally unbalanced.   

Can you believe there was even a tapeworm and cotton ball diet?! 

It was believed that if you ate a tapeworm, it would live in your stomach and digest your food for you. Yuck, and talk about doing bizarre things for the sake of weight loss! 

Then you had the even stranger Cotton Ball Diet where you would eat five cotton balls a day that were dipped in orange juice, with the hopes of feeling full and not having to eat so you can  lose weight…..yes you heard right. 

Not only is that extremely dangerous, it’s also a ludicrous attempt to avoid the very thing we need to survive….food!  

The one thing that all of these diets have in common is they push the idea of quick weight loss, which is usually unhealthy and unsustainable. 

Which is why over 90% of people who lose weight with diets, gain it back + more within five years. 

Like I always say, how you lose it is how you gain it and slow and steady wins this race!  

Damaging Physical & Mental Effects of Diets

 Which brings me to my next point. 

All of the diets mentioned above, and the many I didn’t list, can have a damaging effect on one’s physical and mental health. 

Not only can you develop internal, intestinal issues, by following crazy fad diets, your confidence and self-esteem can take a hit because you fall short on the false claims and unrealistic results these diets promise.

This can lead to bouts of depression or even eating disorders because you’re not able to live up to the outlandish restrictions diets impose, or the sleek body images constantly paraded in mainstream media.  

At the end of the day, diets and quick weight loss are not the key to happiness.

So don’t be so hard on yourself trying to live up to the unrealistic and unhealthy expectations that have been imposed on us for decades. 

Be gentle with yourself and know that this is a journey. 

A journey of unlearning, a journey of undoing, but a journey well worth embarking on that provides a huge ROI. 

If you’d like to finally get off the diet hamster wheel, create new habits and get control of your eating, so you can lose/manage your weight in a healthy way that provides long-term results, make sure you register for my NEW Holistic Nutrition Program, Six Weeks to Shaping Your Eating Habits.