It appears that interest in weight loss is waning. People want to embrace a more positive approach to food, diets and dieting instead of obsessing about weight loss. They are becoming more involved in food and healthy lifestyles instead. This a plus for the concept of Health At Every Size approach. Good news.
This post is an update to a previous post that depicted the history of diets and dieting and how they changed over time. It shows how women’s body image, food gurus, medical associations, the food supply and ultimately the food industry through lobbying has affected our eating habits for over a century.
DIET HISTORY TIMELINE
A French lawyer named Brillant-Savarin said in a publication entitled The Physiology of Taste: “More or less rigid abstinence from everything that is starchy or floury” is a cure for obesity.
Sugar consumption, mainly as molasses) had increased in the U.S. to 15 pounds per capita.
William Banting lost 65 pounds on a high fat, carbohydrate restricted diet and subsequently published, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public. He based his success on the advice of his physician, Dr. William Harvey.
1880 – 1910
One out of three people lived on a farm and ate from what they raised and grew there – today with 300 million people, only about 1% do so. The risk of getting type 2 diabetes was 1 in 30 in a lifetime – now it is 1 in 3. (CDC estimates). Butter consumption was 18 pounds per capita and deaths from heart disease was below 10% – In 2000 it was below 4 pounds and now heart disease mortality is about 40% eating concocted supposedly healthier alternatives – e.g. margarine.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a man named Wilbur Atwater conducted experiments in which he calculated the number of calories in various diets, and collected people’s feces to determine how many calories were wasted. Based on these experiments, Atwater concluded that proteins and carbohydrates have about 4 calories per gram, fats have 9 calories per gram, and alcohol has 7 calories per gram.
Lillian Russell, a stage actress and singer born in 1861. was repeatedly mentioned known as one of the most beautiful women on the American stage.” At the peak of her fame, Russel weighed approximately 200 pounds and was celebrated for her curvaceous figure. She was described ” a particularly robust and healthy creature, who takes good care to remain so.” By today’s standards, her weight would be classified as “obese”.
Proctor and Gamble introduced Crisco – a highly hydrogenated vegetable fat and cheap alternative to lard – the primary cooking fat at the time. The advantage to the manufacturer and the cook was a longer shelf life but provided a multitude of hundreds of pounds of unhealthy trans fatty acids.
The twenty-seventh President of the United States, William Howard Taft reportedly was stuck in the White House bathtub due to his massive girth.
1918 Lulu Hunt Peters, an American doctor wrote the first known diet book, Diet and Health with a Key to the Calories. It was a best seller with over 2 million copies sold. She was the first to mention that cutting calories was an effective weight-watching tool. Her success was more than likely prompted by the new body image of women as being slender, or “thin was in”.
Sugar consumption reaches 100 pounds per capita in the U.S.
Margarine consumption reaches 2.6 pounds per capita. By 1957, margarine consumption increased to about 9 pounds – surpassing butter for the first time ever.
A blood test for cholesterol was developed.
1937 – The Debate Begins (aka What’s going on here?)
Columbia University biochemists David Rittenberg & Rudolph Schoenheimer demonstrated that dietary cholesterol had little or no influence on blood cholesterol. This scientific fact has never been refuted.
“Cholesterol in food has no affect on cholesterol in blood and we’ve known that all along.” These are the words of Professor Ancel Keys, American Heart Association board member and author of The Seven Countries Study who, in retirement, recanted the idea that dietary cholesterol raises blood levels. His recant has been greeted with silence. Keys studied 22 countries, but chose data from only seven. He also excluded France with high fat and low rates of heart disease. Due to this, his observational study was considered to be flawed.
1950 – 1955
Dietary emphasis on fats and cholesterol in the diet became a hot topic due to Ancel Key’s flawed study and in 1955; President Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack. His twice-daily press conferences focused on his cholesterol levels and he was put on a low fat diet. Dietary fat also became the villain for weight gain.
Margarine outsold butter for the first time – more trans fat and an increase in omega-6 fats shown to be inflammatory to the body tissues. Some animal research had suggested that omega-6 fats alone encourage weight gain.
1961 – Let the Diet Books Begin
Calories Don’t Count was published by Dr. Herman Taller. The low-calorie diet is a humbug, he declared. A native of Romania, he studied medicine in Italy and became a Brooklyn obstetrician-gynecologist specializing in natural childbirth. He was also a dieter whose weight ballooned up to 265 lb. on a 5-ft. 10-in. frame. Previously, a cholesterol researcher suggested an oily substance to help bring down his high cholesterol level. Taller also found that he was losing weight–65 lb. in 8 months–even while consuming 5,000 calories a day. The oily substance was a polyunsaturated fat that was claimed to stimulate the body to burn fat. Taller therefore recommended a high-fat diet supplemented by polyunsaturated safflower oil capsules high in omega-6 linoleic acid. Back in the 1960’s vegetable fats were new and everyone wanted them to be a new health food. This has not been supported in the last 50 years of research.
The American Heart Association adopted the well-known low-fat diet that began an era of fat maligning and the glorification of low fat foods. Dieters began to count fat grams daily. However, during our national experiment with a low-fat diet, people continued to pile on the pounds every decade.
High fructose corn syrup enters the sweetener market. By 1985, 50 percent of the this sweetener was consumed in America.
Obesity levels had remained between 12-14 percent from 1960 to 1980. After 1980 and then again in 1990, obesity grew dramatically until today when every state has obesity rates over 25 percent. Type 2 diabetes is now reported to have a 1 in 3 lifetime risk.
The Food Guide Pyramid was introduced, recommending 6-11 servings of breads, cereals, rice, or pasta a day without mentioning whole grain options. Fats and oils were restricted without mentioning healthy fats versus less healthy ones.
Soybean oil has 70 percent of the edible fat market in the U.S. Lard consumption is less than 1 pound. Sugar consumption in the U.S. 150 pounds per capita. Butter consumption is less than 4 pounds per capita.
After 50 years of Egg-beaters, low fat cheese, margarine, skinless chicken breasts, and highly processed soy and Canola oils, and two Food Guide Pyramids and 11 releases of the USDA Dietary Guidelines, one third of Americans are obese; 25 percent are diabetic or pre-diabetic.
Food Guide Pyramid is revised to My Pyramid with little dietary changes and was criticized for its misunderstandings and format.
Sugar consumption is now 160 pounds per capita. Compare that to the 15 pounds per capita in 1830.
2011 No More Pyramids
A simplified MyPlate is introduced as the latest attempt at Food Guides. My Plate recommended 30% of the plate as grains, 30% vegetables, 20% fruit and 20% protein. A small circle represents dairy.
2015-16 The 2015 Dietary Guidelines were presented with little changes based on the latest research. Here is what they said and what they should have said.
- This is a big change For the first time, our national health authorities are urging Americans to limit sugar to no more than 10% of daily calories. In a 2,000-calorie diet, 10% is 200 calories—the equivalent of about 12½ teaspoons of sugar. Yet we average 20 teaspoons a day.
- It is not in the guidelines! Based on scientific evidence that’s been accumulating for decades, dietary cholesterol (as opposed to blood cholesterol) just isn’t any concern anymore.
- For the first time, there is no limit on total fat. However, the advice to limit saturated fat is still in there—even though the evidence that saturated fat leads to heart disease has turned out to be pretty weak..
- An original report associated with the new guidelines called for cutting back on red meat, especially processed meat, but the final official guidelines due to the lobbying of the meat industry wanted its message weakened.
- Fish. This got specific for the first time—aim for at least eight ounces a week, in part to get its heart-healthy nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids.
- The original report called for including sustainability issues in the guidelines—which would mean eating more plant-based food and less animal-based foods. But the USDA administration omitted that idea, too.
About 287 people per 100,000 had heart attacks in 2000. By 2008, the rate had dropped to 208 heart attacks per 100,000. Deaths from heart attacks also declined. That is good news. Something must be going right – but what is it? Many think it is due to technological advances in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease.
What’s going on?
In 2010, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a landmark report that has turned current fat recommendations upside down. The verdict from the study is that “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk for heart disease.’’
Over the same period, the use of drugs to treat high blood pressure and high cholesterol increased quite a bit. Meat consumption has been declining for the past few decades. However, the gains could be short-lived. In the last decade the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes has increased by almost a percentage point. Over the same period, obesity has increased by three percentage points. If that trend continues, heart disease rates may again rise.
Unless we have been infected by a yet to be discovered obesity virus, we have a national eating disorder that needs to be fixed. Big food has made quite a mess of our food supply. Is saturated fat the culprit it was made out to be? Can excess refined vegetable oils, sugar or fructose be to blamed?
Will our food culture ever be able to return to a diet of whole, real foods to replace the refined, processed, chemical-laden foods forced upon us by the food industry? Will the experts in the AHA, the USDA and big food ever get it? Do not count on it. The solution may just have to rely on getting the message to consumers with more reliable nutrition education who then may make more demands for a healthier and safer food supply.
Today there are so many opinions as to what is the best diet, what are superfoods, how should we eat, how can I lose weight and keep it off – it makes your head spin. The following article by Dr. David Katz discusses this dilemma. And it is problem – who is right or wrong? It seems that almost everyone that eats food has their own, often strong, opinions about diet and nutrition and due to the internet the plethora of information and misinformation is available to us like never before.
Here is a great article on 23 studies comparing low carbohydrate versus low fat diets. All the studies were randomized, controlled trials and published in respected, peer-reviewed journals. Another thing that stands out in these studies is their consistent results and conclusions, not often found in diet and nutrition research. And yet, there still remains skepticism about the efficacy of the lower carbohydrate diet on weight loss and metabolic effects. What still remains to be determined is if the differences in the metabolic markers (HDL, trigycerides, LDL particle size, etc) will result in less heart disease or at least have a favorable effect on our chronic disease risks, namely diabetes and heart disease. It will be interesting to see this trend continue, but it will be of no worth unless it translates to better heart health in the long run. Additionally, a low-carb diet should be defined; at this point it appears to be an ambiguous term and there are many approaches being followed such as the Paleo diets, low-glycemic diets,, ketogenic diets, etc. etc.
A recent study examined the effects of a low-carbohyrate diet versus a low-fat diet on inflammation, implicated in heart disease among other chronic diseases.
A controversial new government study released this week has challenged some dieters’ resolutions to lose weight.
The research showed that people, who are up to 30 or so pounds above normal, have a slightly lower risk (6%) of premature death than those at a normal weight.
But those who are extremely obese — roughly 60 or more pounds over a normal weight — have a 29% greater risk of dying early than those who are at a normal weight, according to the review nearly 100 studies, conducted by researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The scientists looked at deaths from all reasons and people’s body mass index (BMI), a number that considers weight and height.
This recent study supports previous studies that basically reached the same conclusions. A study in 2005 found that overweight people had the lowest mortality of any weight group. The overweight category of BMI ranges from 25 – 30, a groups we would politely called “chubby”. For example, a woman who is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs between 146 and 175 pounds would fall into this group as well as about a third of Americans as defined by the Center For Disease Control and Prevention.
Fat phobia, excessive fear and dislike of fat in oneself and in others, is a relatively new phenomenon, born during the 20th century. Before that time, fat was accepted and admired in women, and was considered a sign of affluence and therefore high status. One of the greatly admired beauties of the end of the 19th century, Lillian Russell (1861-1922), weighed over 200 pounds. Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) was an operatic star and actress of large proportions. Elisabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), the feminist writer and lecturer and the fiery labor organizer, Mary Harris “Mother Jones” (1830-1930) were both obese by present day standards.
Generally the time line looks like this:
- Victorian area – 1800’s. As mentioned before, the ideal woman’s body type was plump, fleshy, and full-figured. This led to the wearing of tight restrictive corsets to make the waist appear tiny, a very unhealthy problem leading to breathing and digestive problems.
- Early 1900’s – Slenderness became more fashionable, and women became more interested in calorie counting and the science of weight loss (just emerging).
- 1920’s – The hourglass figure changed considerably to the image of the “flapper”, who ideally was thin to resemble a more boyish image.
- 1950’s – A thin woman with a large bust line was considered most attractive. Marilyn Monroe became the ideal but by today’s standards but has been described by some as “fleshy”.
- 1960’s – Being thin became the normal standard exemplified by the English model Lesley Hornsby, aka Twiggy. At that time she weighed 90 pounds at 5 feet 6 inches tall.
- During the 1970’s and 1980’s, thinness was ideal as promoted by popular women’s magazines. Miss America contestants became thinner as well as top models.
- 1990’s – Pamela “Baywatch” Anderson exemplified the ideal as very slim and large-breasted.
Today – Thin is still in. We use many means to achieve this goal including liposuction and many fail diet after diet. There are some indications that reality may prevail as we hopefully shift our emphasis on weight loss to healthy weights. The track record is dismal and not since the early 1900’s has it been popular. Maybe it’s time for a change, again. Is it time for common sense about our weight? Take a look at the “ideal woman” from 1912. It is totally impossible to define the ideal woman or man and even more impossible for many of us to acheive. TAKE A LOOK AT THE LIFE OF ELSIE REBECCA SCHEEL
Obesity is in the news (as usual) again this week with the estimate that by 2030, 42% of Americans will be obese (not just overweight, but obese). Compare that to our current U.S. rate of 36%. For months now nutrition “experts” are diligently trying to determine the cause of our national eating disorder and suggestions have been made smaller from portion sizes, too much fat, too many carbs, obesogens (chemicals in the food), processed and fast food, sugar-sweetened drinks, not enough sleep, not enough calcium, bacteria in the gut, and even viral infections. The list goes on and it still may be seen that all these factors may be contributory along with those still remaining to be studied.
The old long-held paradigm of calories in, calories out has been questioned. This advice works for some people, but for others it just doesn’t apply as we struggle with calorie restriction and increased exercise. The weight often creeps back even though some food and exercise habits have improved.
Studying food in different cultures allows us to look at the different ways people view food and how their diets affect their obesity and chronic disease rates. One culture stands out above all – the French, as they have a fairly high fat diet with low rates of obesity and heart disease. This is often called the “French Paradox”. How do they do it, we ask? The French, especially those residing in the northern and central regions, traditionally enjoyed cakes, pastries, and cheese that would make our arteries slam shut and pounds creep onto our waistlines.
So what are the facts about the traditional diets (around 10 years ago) of the French that kept them healthy and slim?
- The French diet was high in saturated fat – 35-38% of total calories came from fat compared to around 34% in the U.S.
- According to one study with French participants, only 14% derived less than 30% of their energy from fat, and only 4% derived less than 10% of their energy from saturated fat.
- Their heart protective HDL-cholesterol and rates of hypertension were about the same as they are in North America, but the total serum cholesterol levels were higher.
- They also smoked.
So tally these factors up and you would think that the French would have had at least a higher risk of heart attacks that North Americans. But the opposite was true.
According to the American Heart Association, out of thirty-five selected countries, France reported deaths from heart disease that were among the lowest in the world – second only to Japan.
In addition, they were better at combating cancer. For example, they reported incidence rates of breast cancer that were 50% lower, on average, than in the U.S. Also, their rates of colon and prostate cancers were roughly 30 and 60% lower, respectively, than those in the U.S.
Were they obese? Of course not. They were leaner – back in the late 1990’s, only 8% qualified as obese. How much of this is genetic? Probably not much since when the French moved to Montreal and began to consume a more U.S-style diet, “they gained weight and their heart disease rates began to resemble those of the U.S.
French Diet Secrets at a Glance:
Moderate drinking. The French have always mastered the art of moderate drinking. Their tempered one-to-two drinks-a-day habit may be what kept their hearts healthier despite their traditional high fat diet. And the French rarely drank alcohol without food. Think – no Happy Hours.
Lots of fruits and vegetables (no surprise). Even though the diet was high in fat, the French ate traditionally on average, four or more servings of vegetables a day.
No snacking. This is where the traditional French diet so differed from the U.S. typical dietary habits. Americans reported snacking on average three snacks a day contributing about 20% of day’s total calorie intake, the French did not usually partake of this between-meal ritual. Think of our supermarket aisles laden with snack foods.
They also did not eat pastries every day – they considered these as treats for special occasions. What’s for dessert? Mostly fruit after dinner
A Megameal Lunch. A study showed that the French had consumed about 60% of their daily calories by 2:00 p.m. each day compared with an American group taking in only 40% of their calories by 2:00 p.m. then having a snack a couple of hours later and ate the largest meal at dinner.
Curtail Dieting. The French rarely take dieting to extremes. Prepackage meals and diet foods were considered an “insult” to their palates. Instead, they made small changes like limiting butter or cutting down on cheeses to lose extra pounds that may creep on.
But, alas, the French are getting fatter – the topic of the next post. Stay tuned.