London: Hollywood film stars, who were role models from the very beginning, each had his or her own diet guru cashing in on their fame.

Greta Garbo slept with hers, one Gayelord Hauser, a handsome and charismatic man with a perm and a fake doctorate who knew that 'most of our high-priced movie stars live in fear of losing their attractiveness and thereby their popularity they simply can't afford to become fat and unattractive."

The first best-selling diet book, 'The Art of Living Long', was published in 1598 by a Venetian merchant called Luigi Cornaro, who had over-indulged for too long and had grown immensely fat and ill, a daily reported.

In desperation he devised his own diet, the first high protein, low carb diet - he was the original calorie restricter. He dieted himself right down and lived into his nineties on just the yolk of an egg a day.

Sometimes he used to eat it over two days.

The Victorians bought arsenic in their thousands. Most were harmless and made of soap and lard but some were lethal with arsenic and strychnine in the ingredients - poisons that speed the metabolism.

In 1920s America up to a 100,000 people were taking Dinitrophenol, a cancer-causing chemical dye to lose weight. It sent many dieters blind.

At best dieters lost about 2-3lbs a week, so not a spectacular result for taking such a risk.

Dieting was huge in the 20th Century and the diet industry relied on fear and anxiety to sell its products - as it still does. You could buy tape worm pills and just 'Eat, Eat, Eat', and then take another pill to kill off the worm.

The opera singer Maria Callas was said to have bought into this one.

Or you might swallow Bile Beans or Figuroids, smoke cigs laced with appetite suppressants, chew laxative-filled chewing gum, bathe in Every Woman's Flesh Reducer, sit in a vibrating chair, or be massaged until fat oozed through your pores.

Cosmetic surgery is nothing new either. Late Victorian so-called beauty-surgeons were considered the lowest of the low by most doctors because they were happy to exploit women who were "willing to suffer pain and prolonged discomfort, and to spend the last of their money" on having excess fat cut away.

Fletcherism was the "in" dieting fad for the Edwardians. Everyone was at it, including Henry James, author Franz Kafka, and tycoon John D Rockefeller.

It was thought up by US entrepreneur Horace Fletcher who knew a winner when he saw one. It was all about chewing. You chewed each morsel of food a certain number of times - a shallot took 700 chews and flake of cereal rather less.

When you had reduced your mouthful to a woody fibre, having swallowed all the juice, you spat out what was left.

LORD Byron, mad, bad and dangerous to know, was the world's first celebrity dieter in the early 1800s. He wasn't so much the pale, thin Romantic poet, but more the chubby yo-yo dieter of his age.

Like celebrities today he worked on his figure, sticking to a diet of biscuits and soda water or potatoes soaked in vinegar. He'd follow this with a binge meal and a heavy dose of milk of magnesia.


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