Fad diets are perhaps a modern concept, but if we look back to the seventeenth century we can find some pretty interesting weight loss remedies. As we have seen previously some medical writers felt that the shape of your belly had a lot to say about your personality. They also informed their readers that being excessively overweight caused numerous diseases, including gout, suppression of menstrual bleeding, impotence and infertility. In response medical practitioners suggested various remedies to help overweight men and women shed those extra pounds. I have yet to find water with maple syrup and cayenne pepper cropping up but there are a few that sound just as unappealing.
Firstly the diet that inspired this post, which was shared by Ask the Past. Found in Thomas Lupton’s A Thousand Notable things (1579). ‘An excellent & approved thing to make them slender, that are grosse. Let them eate three or fowre cloves of Garlyke, with asmuch of bread and butter every morning and evening, first and last … and drinke every daye three good draftes of the decoction of Fennel, that: of the water wherein Fennell is sodde, and well streyned’.
Lupton’s diet even came with a stirring true life endorsement ‘I knewe a man that was marvelous grosse, and could not go a quarter of a myle, but was enforst to rest him a doosen tymes at the least: that with this medicine tooke away his grosnes, and after could journey very well on foote.’1
Secondly, The Golden Practice of Physick, a posthumous edition of Felix Platter’s medical treatise, suggested that ‘Decoctions are chiefly commended for abating corpulency, as of the Huskes of Filberds [hazelnuts] boyled in Wine, Roots of Polypody, Avens, wild Chervill: Rosemary with a little Ginger. Or the distilled Water of these often drunk. Also Vinegar often drunk doth the same thing.’2
Christopher Wirtzung’s treatise The General Practice of Physicke (1605) wrote at length of the ‘troublesomnes of Fatnes’ and offered the following weight loss suggestions:
‘Take Sandaraca (which was either Red arsenic sulphide or a resin exuded from the Callitris quadrivalvis tree) three quarters of an ounce, drink it in the morning with water, and with Oxymel‘ (a drink made with honey and vinegar)
‘take everie morning a crust [of bread] with vineger, wherein a little Pepper is tempered.’3
Finally, and perhaps a little more appealing than the suggestions above, The New Idea of the Practice of Physic by Franciscus De Le Boe suggested a total regime for losing weight.
‘Fatness of Body may be Cur’d, 1. By Using often and plenteously any sharp Sauces, both Sowr,and Aromatic, that is, salt, or bitter; which as well make the Glandulous Liquors more Acid, as Choler more bitter and sharp. Such are Vinegar, Juice of Citrons, Spirit of Salt, &c. Pepper, Cloves, Cinamon, Mace, Ginger, Cresses, Rocket, Mustard, any Radish, and chiefly Horse-Radish, &c. 2. By Moving the Body much. 3. By vexing the Mind with Cares. 4. By daily lessening Sleep. 5. Wholly abstaining from Oily and Fat Food; for so by little and little the superfluous Fat will not only be con|sum’d, but its new encreasing hindred.’4
Several of these sound rather unappealing, including increasing you worries – there is nothing like nervous energy to soak up calories – and drinking vinegar, but perhaps no more so that maple syrup with cayenne pepper, or eating baby food.
1. Thomas Lupton, A Thousand Notable Things (London, 1579), 49.
2. Felix Platter, Platerus Golden Practice of Physick (London, 1664), p.510.
3. Christopher Wirtzung, The General Practice of Physicke, (London, 1605), p. 616.
4. Frans de Le Boe, A New Idea of the Practice of Physic (London, 1675), p. 347
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