The History of Dieting

The history of dieting starts with one of the first dietitians who was the English doctor George Cheyne. He himself was tremendously overweight and would constantly eat large quantities of rich food and drink. He began a meatless diet, taking only milk and vegetables, and soon regained his health. He began publicly recommending his diet for everyone suffering from obesity. In 1724, he wrote An Essay of Health and Long Life, in which he advises exercise and fresh air and avoiding luxury foods.

The Scottish military surgeon, John Rollo, published Notes of a Diabetic Case in 1797. It described the benefits of a meat diet for those suffering from diabetes, basing this recommendation on Matthew Dobson’s discovery of glycosuria in diabetes mellitus. By means of Dobson’s testing procedure (for glucose in the urine) Rollo worked out a diet that had success for what is now called type 2 diabetes.

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The first popular diet was “Banting”, named after the English undertaker William Banting. In 1863, he wrote a booklet called Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public, which contained the particular plan for the diet he had successfully followed. His own diet was four meals per day, consisting of meat, greens, fruits, and dry wine. The emphasis was on avoiding sugar, sweet foods, starch, beer, milk and butter. Banting’s pamphlet was popular for years to come, and would be used as a model for modern diets. The pamphlet’s popularity was such that the question “Do you bant?” referred to his method, and eventually to dieting in general. His booklet remains in print as of 2007.

The first weight-loss book to promote calorie counting, and the first weight-loss book to become a bestseller, was the 1918 Diet and Health: With Key to the Calories by American physician and columnist Lulu Hunt Peters.

The Atkins Diet was suggested by the American nutritionist Robert Atkins in 1958, in a research paper titled “Weight Reduction”. Atkins used the study to resolve his own overweight condition and went on to popularize the method in a series of books, starting with Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution in 1972. In his second book, Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution (1992), he modified parts of the diet but did not alter the original concepts.