Why spend money on losing weight when it is mainly a question of common sense? Diets are a relatively new phenomenon, unless you count the biblical “milk and honey”, “bread and fishes” or the Roman “wine, women and song” as diets. There’s no secret to weight loss.
The compulsion to go on a diet is relatively recent, because not so long ago being fat was not viewed as a bad thing. Ask your Dominican grandma, who will probably tell you that you’re much too thin no matter how much weight you’ve put on, or that you’re not feeding your children enough, no matter how chubby they may be. When I first arrived in the DR I had to learn to accept that being told I was “looking fat” was a compliment, especially from older women.
It’s not just older women, though. The general Dominican beauty ideal, while no longer endorsing actual plumpness, has not reached the extremes of the North American/European bone-thin look, for the time being at least. Just compare photos of fashion models in Dominican magazines to their equivalents in the US and Europe.
In nineteenth century Europe and North America, dieting was usually linked to an austere, abstinent lifestyle and its main advocates were puritanical religious leaders. Later on, this role was taken over by people with other agendas in mind, like Dr William Kellogg who advocated a restrictive diet that just happened to include his breakfast cereals. This was the subject of T. Coraghessan Boyle’s hilarious novel, The Road to Wellville, which was also made into a movie starring Anthony Hopkins as the very eccentric Kellogg.
In the 20th century, thinness became desirable for aesthetic as well as health and religious reasons. The 1920s saw a revolutionary change in female fashions, with those drop-waist dresses that only flattered hipless and breastless figures. “You can never be too rich or too thin”, declared that scrawny specimen Wallis Simpson (the Duchess of Windsor) in the 1930s. The 1950s saw a brief revival in the curvaceous look, best exemplified by Marilyn Monroe, a size 12 (US) who would probably be considered obese in this day and age, but the ultra-slim androgynous look returned in the 1960s. Since then, there has been little variation in this ideal: much larger breasts are fashionable now, but as nature rarely includes these in the same package as extreme thinness, enhancement surgery has had to come to the rescue.
A huge slimming industry has sprung up, from the grapefruit diets of the 1930s and countless since: Scarsdale, Hollywood, F-Plan, GI, Food Combining, Cabbage Soup, Atkins, seaweed, liquid, Beverly Hills, all the accompanying books, products, magazines, supplements; diets based on dubious criteria like your star sign or blood type, not to mention questionable procedures like colonic irrigation… and dieting clubs like Weight-watchers, all resulting in the loss and gain of millions of pounds, in every sense of the word. Many people desperate to lose weight fell victim to anorexia, bulimia or amphetamine addiction, or resorted to high-risk surgical procedures like liposuction.
Apparently we spend much more money on all this than is spent on feeding the world’s starving people, and despite all those years of dieting we have entered the 21st century with what the media is calling an obesity crisis, with a higher percentage of overweight people than ever before.
The truth is that diets, especially faddish crash diets, rarely work, and what does keep weight down is a combination of genetics (i.e. luck), sensible moderation in eating habits and an active lifestyle.