The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same


Weight loss advice from the turn of the last century

By Marcus O’Neill, MSc RD

“The safest way to control weight and conserve health is by a balanced and carefully planned diet. ‘Freak’ methods of reducing are often dangerous and usually ineffective.”

Sounds like pretty reasonable advice, right?

What’s interesting about this quote is that it comes from a medical textbook called, Your Weight and How to Control It, published in 1929. That’s right, it was written over 85 years ago!

And here are another couple of gems from the same book:

“An intensive study of medical frauds and fads made over a period of nearly twenty years has convinced me that in the whole realm of quackery there is no field that is more easily worked nor one that offers greater financial returns to the medical swindler than that devoted to the exploitation of ‘cures’ for obesity.”

And, “Virtually all so-called obesity cures, except those products containing dangerous drugs, are simply shrewd schemes for fooling the overweight, and the purchasers of most of them are being kidded by experts.”

So, if this stuff was known more than 85 years ago, why is there still confusion about healthy eating and the best way to lose weight?

Much the same as it was all those years ago, the short answer is money. There is an incredible amount of money to be made in the weight loss industry. A 2013 report by Marketdata Enterprises Inc. estimated that the American weight loss industry alone is worth 60.5 billion dollars a year. This includes things like diet food products, health club memberships, diet websites/apps, diet books, and exercise DVDs. And for people to create a market for their new products, they need to make some pretty bold claims, regardless of whether those claims have any validity.

Celebrity endorsements don’t help either. It’s bad enough that you have movie stars or television personalities pushing their personal diets as the cure to all of society’s weight problems, but then you add to that plenty of seemingly qualified medical professionals claiming to know the latest miracle weight loss solution (I’m looking at you, Dr. Oz). Don’t kid yourself, the people endorsing these products stand to make millions if their new gimmick is successful.

Governments and other regulatory agencies need to take a stand against all this “quackery” and tighten the rules surrounding what people are allowed to claim about their so-called health products. But until that happens, my advice is to be very skeptical of any product claiming to be the “ultimate weight loss cure”. Keep in mind that the truth today is virtually identical to what it was almost a century ago. A healthy diet includes a variety of fresh, whole ingredients, and includes an emphasis on things like fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. If you want to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. The formula is pretty simple and people claiming you need the latest superfood or supplement to lose weight or improve your health are really just the modern versions of snake oil salesmen.

I’ll end by providing one last quote from this truly visionary book:

“The movement to prevent unwise and fanatical reduction in body weight must be considered as an activity of preventive medicine worthy of the consideration of every intelligent man or woman”.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.



Fishbein, M (Ed.). (1929). Your weight and how to control it: A scientific guide by medical specialists and dietitians. New Your, NY: P. F. Collier & Son Company.


Marcus O’Neill is a Registered Dietitian from Canada, currently residing in Maadi. He can be reached by email at, or you can follow him via Twitter (@marcusoneillrd), or his website (


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