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Looking at the History of Diets by Sam Mackinnon

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Happy 2019 Everyone!

How are your New Year’s Resolutions going?? Every January, I struggle between the emotions of feeling motivated to tackle new goals/adopt new habits, but also wanting to sit around and do nothing because I just experienced a lot of nonstop extended-family time over the holidays (I know at least some of you know what I mean!). This year I came back to a podcast episode I listened to around this time last year and I still think it’s very interesting and relevant, especially for the New Year  and the “diet” mentality.

If you’re into podcasts, Gastropod is a really interesting one. Their tagline is “the podcast that looks at the science behind food” and the two ladies who host the podcast really take their time doing the research.

This episode looks at the history of diets, where it all started, and who we have to blame for them. You don’t necessarily need to listen to the podcast but I wanted to share some of the things I learned and my thoughts I had while listening…

– The Ancient Greeks are who we have to blame for diets! They believed in healthy mind, healthy body through regular meal times, eating sparingly, plenty of sleep, work, and exercise. They had a lot of other more peculiar beliefs I won’t get into. Overall, they are responsible for having planted the seed that society gets to dictate and have a say in what shape you are, something that is still around today.

– It’s interesting that obesity used to (for the most part) be a luxury of the rich because they were the only ones who could afford the high cost of sugar. The increase of refined flour, sugar and processed foods in our food supply has mainstreamed weight gain across all income levels.

– The Art of Living Long by Luigi Cornaro was the very first diet book that came out in the 15th century. It spread across Europe mostly because of its timing with the invention of the printing press, but he, himself, was an obese man who managed to lose weight and therefore, wrote a book on how to do it. His recommendation was to eat 12 total oz of food daily, low-carb, high protein, with 14 oz of wine to wash it down. He did in fact manage to live into his 90s, BUT all that said, I would not recommend his diet. Long-term calorie restriction would most likely lead to micronutrient deficiencies, not to mention you can get in a lotta veggies in over 12 oz, which would be way healthier.

– In the late 1800s, the first scales to measure the weight of people were placed in the middle of train stations, shops and restaurants!!! Could you imagine?? I thought this was so interesting! This was also when people started to put a “number” to our bodies and the obsession over weight really took off.

– They brought up the Ketogenic diet, which over the last couple years has become more mainstream. I have used the ketogenic diet with clients for years, but ONLY for therapeutic uses, meaning definitely not for the general population. It’s a diet that has a lot of side effects and to put it plainly, requires a helluva lot of effort and compliance. When done correctly and with professional support, it can yield positive results with various disease states and weight loss, but definitely not for the faint of heart and especially not for yo-yo dieters.

– On that note, don’t fall victim to fad diets. It’s called a fad for a reason. I know this might sound strange coming from someone who’s supposed to make their living telling people what to eat, but to me, pushing diets isn’t the point of a dietitian/nutritionist. I feel my purpose is to help individuals who are having problems with how their body is functioning- digestive issues, diseases/conditions, athletic performance, etc. and to better understand their bodies and learn about what they can do to help themselves. My purpose giving advice via this blog, is to provide general, rational, scientific information that I would recommend to everyone I come across, not knowing anything about them individually. I feel I am qualified to do that because of my background studying the human body, food, and nutrition.

– Food and our mental health are deeply intertwined. Emotionally and physiologically. Physiologically, there are links between our microflora in our guts and depression and obesity. I hope to do an entire nutrition seminar on this in the future!

– Diets and obsessions with body image, it turns out, have been around for centuries. We have been conditioned for a very, very long time to be concerned with our appearances and what we eat and THEREFORE, it does take effort to develop healthy beliefs about body image, food, and or exercise. You’re not alone.

– If you’re looking to make changes, the best thing you can do is start building healthy habits and BE CONSISTENT! Consistency is key. It’s so so cliche but it’s also true, it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. It’s not easy, it takes good ol’fashioned hard work and dedication, but when you build on those healthy habits, it does get easier. 

Pick 1-3 habits to start incorporating daily and see how many days in a row you can practice that habit. If you miss a day, start the chain over and see if you can beat your previous chain. Habits such as 1 tablespoon of chia seeds at breakfast, or one 8 oz glass of water before you leave for work are great places to start- small and simple.

Link to GastroPod Podcast Episode 22 “We’ve Lost It: The Diet Episode” on iTunes: