Diets have never worked

LITTLE CHANGE: Low-carb diets were being touted in the 1960s.
LITTLE CHANGE: Low-carb diets were being touted in the 1960s.

At a recent street book sale in Whangamata I picked up a vintage gem. It's called The Complete Woman Book of Successful Slimming, published in the UK in 1966.

It is a fascinating and fun read. There's the quaint language ("It is highly unlikely that you are overweight because of your glands") and a fairly comical exercise chapter, where a demure lady in a black leotard performs exercises to "firm bustline" and "trim waistline". (Who knew a few gentle side bends is all it takes?)

There's a fantastic chapter on "shaping aids" in which we are advised: "If you can't afford to buy new clothes and new foundations right away, take in your old clothes to fit your new figure, and spend what money you can afford on buying a new bra and girdle, or an all-in-one corselette … they can do a splendid re-shaping job for the newly slimmed figure."

Most of this book, however, feels strangely familiar. It opens with this: "We live in a fatty land, a nation in which over half the adult population is estimated to be overweight. And if we continue to follow the pattern of other affluent countries, all the indications are that we shall continue to get fatter."

This could have been written yesterday. And in fact much of the diet advice here could be found in some modern diet articles or books. The Complete Woman cautions against fad diets and slimming pills. It advises not to cut out too much fat or protein from the diet. And then it goes on to outline what is basically a low-carb diet. The foods are a bit different from what we'd eat today, with canned meat, kippers, aspic and dripping not appearing on too many of our modern menus.

There's a rule to drink half a pint of milk a day, which is unusual to modern eyes. And there's a lot of artificial sweetener involved, which most nutritionists would not encourage these days. But isn't it interesting that here we have a low-carb diet being promoted as "the best of the modern methods" way back before Atkins, before Paleo, before any of the so-called "revolutionary" diet theories that abound today?

It goes to show that there is really not much new when it comes to weight-loss theory. People have been trying - and failing - at various diets for decades. We didn't see a nation of newly slimmed-down women in the UK post-1966, despite The Complete Woman's best efforts. Just as we didn't see Americans getting thinner thanks to Dr Atkins.

There are lots of ways to lose weight, and different things will work for different people, depending on lifestyle, lifestage, personality and willpower.

But the fact remains (and we have known this since before 1966) that if we want to maintain weight loss, we need to find a way of eating that we can live with not just for 12 weeks, but for our whole life. And that's unlikely to be a diet with a long list of rules.

Sunday Star Times