All About Food: How would Jesus diet — or William the Conqueror?

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Well, folks, bathing suit weather is here, and our thoughts turn to our waistlines and the fastest, easiest way to shrink them. We can offer a few suggestions from the past that might interest you...or not. Some are pretty wacky, and some are just weird.

Dieting goes back at least to the 4th century BC. Hippocrates recommended a diet of light emollient foods, slow running, hard work, wrestling, sea water enemas, walking about naked and vomiting at lunch time.

When the ancient Romans used the vomitarium, they may have been the first adherents of the bulimic diet, except that they were not trying to achieve fashion-model thinness, just seeking to make room for more sows’ udders, boiled flamingos and dormice stuffed with pork.


In 1087, William the Conqueror partook of the first recorded liquid diet by taking to his bed and consuming nothing but alcohol. Eight hundred and 60 years later, we have the Drinking Man’s Diet.

Since the year 1 AD and continuing to the present, people have been losing weight on the Jesus Diet, which involves prayer and fasting, eating raw foods but no meat and eating only twice a day. Fasting for one entire day of each week is also mandated.

In 1727, Thomas Short wrote a book called “The Causes and Effects of Corpulence.” He believed that larger people were more likely to live near swampy areas. He advised that fat people should move to more arid climes.

The Victorian era brought the Starvation Diet to the United States and Europe. This was literally starving oneself, since frailty in women was associated with spirituality, purity and femininity. Not recommended!

Lord Byron, in the early 1800s, was convinced that vinegar was the magic elixir for weight loss. He was said to have eaten potatoes soaked in it and drunk vinegar straight daily. It caused vomiting and diarrhea (thus the weight loss).

One of the most famous diets was the brainchild of Horace Fletcher, “The Great Masticator.” In 1910, this San Francisco art dealer advocated that each mouthful of food should be chewed 32 times until it was as thin as a liquid paste. If any of the food didn’t break down, you were to spit it out.

John Harvey Kellogg, a health nut who invented granola and cereal flakes, opened a sanatorium in Michigan and encouraged his clients to “Fletcherize,” chewing slowly to the accompaniment of a little song Kellogg himself wrote called, “Chew, Chew.” Fletcher was notorious for carrying around a 2-ounce sample of his own “poo” to demonstrate to people the purity of his system. They said it smelled like hot biscuits. His diet was very popular and had such devotees as industrialist John D. Rockefeller and author Henry James.

The 1920s brought the tapeworm diet, perhaps the least appetizing in history. It involved swallowing a pill containing tapeworm cysts to introduce a parasite into one’s intestine. You later had to take another pill to kill them and then excrete them.

The tapeworm consumes the food of its host, leaving the person always hungry but stick thin. It was, as might be imagined, very unhealthy with many serious side effects, including epilepsy, meningitis and eye problems. Opera singer Maria Callas was reputed to have lost a great deal of weight on this diet.

Sylvester Graham, inventor of the Graham cracker, was a Presbyterian minister who was the proselytizer of the Bland Diet in the 1930s. His theory was that you must deny the pleasures of the flesh by eating bland food like crackers and dry bread — no spices, no coffee, no luxurious food. This would encourage restraint in sexual and social behavior. He believed it to be a cure for masturbation.

In recent times we’ve seen the Grapefruit Diet, the Cabbage Soup Diet, the Paleolithic Diet, the Acai Berry Diet, the Blood Type Diet and more. The latest craze is the lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper diet, involving two weeks or so of nothing but those ingredients. The stars all love it!

I would like to suggest the following: Eat less, exercise more.

TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at