Calories and Corsets: A history of dieting over two thousand years by Louise Foxcroft
|Calories and Corsets: A history of dieting over two thousand years by Louise Foxcroft|
|Category: Politics and Society|
|Reviewer: Zoe Morris|
|Summary: Fun, fascinating and filling, this book won't help you with your new year diet, but may help you laugh away a few lbs.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 240||Date: January 2012|
|Publisher: Profile Books|
We’re in that post-Christmas period when all the socialising and indulging is over and all you’re left with is a pasty, bloated, over-fed but under-nourished complexion, a wardrobe full of clothes just a little too tight and a new year’s resolution to Get Healthy. So it’s the perfect time for a new diet book to hit the shelves. The title of this one might make you think it’s going to be full of useful tips, and the cover does little to dispel this idea, groaning as it is with the weight of plump jellies, lavish cupcakes and even a decadent lobster or two, but take a moment to note the subtitle, if you will: a history of dieting over 2000 years.
This book sets out to show that an obsession with what to eat, and what not to eat, is far from new. Certainly, things may be worse now thanks to the proliferation of publically reproduced photos, from cellulite-obsessed tabloids to the whole tag-your-friends delight of the book of faces, but if you go back 2000 years you will find as many insane ideas about dieting as float around today. In the early 19th century, Lord Byron was a notorious yo-yo dieter who could definitely give Kirstie Alley a run for her money, while Pliny, as you may know, was a whizz on the appetite-suppressing qualities of certain foods. Other famous types get name checked too – the Earl of Salisbury, Coleridge, Henry VIII. Most of them are of course dead, perhaps with the exception of Beth Ditto whose mug shot crops up on the very first page. Maybe it’s because it makes a better case if you know how they end up but Ditto’s still ok because she’s probably unlikely to change (unless she does a Nigella / Sophie Dahl and sells her soul to the slim and trim brigade). But yes, lots of colourful characters from history and few from the modern day. The effect of the case studies, though, is that they help add to the tone of the book. You’re not a silly person reading a trashy tabloid about J-Lo’s bottom (or Pippa’s derrière, for that matter), you’re an informed, educated person who would never have to, ahem, Google ‘Morris Fishbein’ to check whether he was a historical figure / literary character / someone you really should know about...
But I digress. Over the years, the book reminds us, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the propensity to obesity of those with open access to food – the problem is, this is not now limited to the wealthy. No longer signalling someone’s favourable position in society, things have swung in completely the opposite direction with gluttony more indicative of the poor or at least common person. You can, as they say, never be too rich or too thin and those who are the first will so often hanker after the latter to validate their superior standing, restraint being just so indicative of this.
This is an extremely readable book that had me laughing and gaping and shuddering at times. It doesn’t read like it’s come from the pen of a Cambridge scholar, and I mean that as a compliment. It is entertaining while also educating, and it’s a lot easier to follow than some of those diet books it sets up and then brings down.
Lots of diets feature in the book, but few are remotely appealing. Neither are the tactics, from chewing food a few dozen times to taking cold baths to praying the weight away. There’s a massive amount of information in the book, but what struck me most is how in recent years the biggest change hasn’t been an increase in diet plans and diet gurus, but just an increase in their commercialisation. I shouldn’t know what Atkins or Dukan are, having never contemplated either, but I do. Alli should be just a series of letters to me, but though I don’t know anyone who has taken the drug, I am well versed on its claims ... and it’s unpleasant side effects. The conclusion the book draws – that we should stop obsessing, and start being sensible with our eating and exercising – is not going to be a revelation to any readers, but the massive amount of research that’s gone into the book does serve to support the wrapping up of 2 millennia of seriously messed up scoffing . Highly recommended.
Thanks go to the publisher for supplying this book.
You Can Think Yourself Thin by Ursula James is a good place to start if this book has inspired the slimmer in you. After all, if there's one thing we know from the diet industry, it's that if they make a statement like that it MUST be true. Non? Or, for those swinging the other way, there's always Dear Fatty by Dawn French which you might like to enjoy with the contents of a selection box or two, if reading helps you work up an appetite.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Calories and Corsets: A history of dieting over two thousand years by Louise Foxcroft at Amazon.com.
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