1087: William the Conqueror, unable to ride his horse, goes to bed to lose weight. He designs a liquid diet consisting of mead. Back in the saddle, fit as a fiddle, he is thrown at the first hedgerow. He dies.
1830: Minister Sylvester Graham, in the Presbyterian Mirth-Regulator, publishes his remedy for gluttony, sexual desire and immorality: three months of communion wafers. To keep his loosened trousers from falling, Graham cinches his belt three notches tighter, a gesture his congregation takes as a sign of lewdness and moral desuetude. The interpretation gains weight when a dizzy Graham says “vas deferens” instead of “vast difference” during a sermon on grace. He disappears mysteriously and is never found.
1878: Dr. William Banting , author of Letter of Corpulence, the world’s first diet book, writes that heaviness can be avoided by not consuming starch or sugary foods. Banting and a test group of twelve patients shed fifty pounds apiece under the influence of his revolutionary epistle. A still-portly member of the placebo group discovers Banting in the dieting ward late one night, dressing drugged patients in Confederate battle uniforms in their sleep. Banting’s license is revoked.
1890: Chemist Wilbur O. Atwater breaks down and orders rum-rolled crabcakes. Sated, he breaks down the last cake into its nutritional components (protein, fat, carbohydrates) and measures their caloric value. Two months later he is badly scratched while attempting to seduce a shrub. He succumbs to his wounds.
1896: Weight loss products such as laxatives, purgatives, arsenic and Epsom salts advertised positively. (1986: Bulimia advertised positively in Vogue, Marie Claire, Redbook and Horny Secretaries III.)
1900: Howard Fletcher, “The Great Masticator,” promotes the chewing of food until it attains a liquid state. Sporting the white medical-jacket Empirical look, he eliminates all fibre from his acolytes’ diets, and rebuffs their painful confessions of non-evacuation. To demonstrate the efficacy of his method, Fletcher loses sixty-five pounds by chewing alone. A potential coup is foiled when Fletcher padlocks the outhouse. The Masticator triumphs.
1905: Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters advocates caloric counting as a method of weight reduction. Tobacco farmers in Virginia and the Carolinas advocate reaching for a “Lucky” to combat Victorian America’s disquieting addiction to sweets. Dr. Peters is discredited.
1963: Jean Nidetch introduces Weight Watchers. Fletcher’s fiberless liquid diet finally rebuffed in favour of more scientific regimes: Dexitrim tablets, the Pritkin Diet, the Beverly Hills Diet, the Three-Martini-Lunch Diet and the Open-Stomach-Surgery Diet.
1975: Women’s magazines apply Dr. Hunt’s caloric counting to sexual liberation. Texas Instruments stock soars.