Monday, October 19, 2015

We seem to think that an obsession with weight and dieting is a fairly modern idea.  The reality series The Diets That Time Forgot shows that our counterparts from as far back as the Victorian era were trying all sorts of things to get rid of unwanted pounds.  This 6 part series takes a group of 9 overweight people and divides them into groups to test out diets from the past to see which, if any, are effective.

The three time periods are:

1) The Victorians, which are on a mostly meat-based diet

2) The Edwardians, who can eat whatever they want, but must chew every mouthful 32 times


3) The 1920s, who are on a strict limit of 1200 calories per day

The 9 volunteers are sequestered in a beautiful stately home re-titled "Sir Roy's Institute of Physical Culture" for this program.  Sir Roy Strong, the former head of the Victoria and Albert Museum, is the leader of the project, assisted by various experts in things such as health, physical exercise, movement and other aspects of wellness.

There's an added degree of difficulty:  as well as conforming to diets from the past, the contestants from each time frame must also wear the clothing from that era -- this includes when they are exercising or otherwise doing anything involving physical exertion.  That alone makes gives the 1920s team something of an edge, as their clothing is looser and the women don't have to deal with corsets and stays.

The first episode introduces the contestants to their new way of eating during the 24 days of the experiment.  The Edwardians, who must chew every bit 32 times, also find out they must tip their heads back and let the well-chewed mess slide down their throats -- whatever is left, they must spit out.  Charming!

The second episode starts the contestants on the exercise ideals from their time periods.  The
Victorians were concerned with balance, posture and breath control, while the Edwardians first attempted to isolate and train various muscle groups using weights.  The 1920s group got a more games-based, PE approach.  This is also when the strange ideas that supposedly aid in weight loss began, starting with cold baths and immersion in cold baths.  It was thought that the shivering would help in weight loss!

Part three brought the contestants into the great outdoors for events such as the "paperchase," where some contestants would leave a trail of small bits of paper through the woods that the other contestants had to follow.  The 1920s contestants were also introduced to "naturism," which involved exercising in the nude.  Not surprisingly, not all the contestants were eager to give that a try.  There were also fads with different types of "bathing," including air bathing (a favorite of Florence Nightengale, who was all for fresh air, no matter what the temperature) and sand bathing, which theoretically causes you to sweat out the calories while being buried in sand with only your head left exposed.

Episode four looked at the "great insides" and how the various groups attempted to manipulate their bodies into expelling, rather than turning excess calories into fat.  Some of the ideas introduced here included abdominal massage, saunas, vibrating belts, and colonic irrigation.  Phase five involved increasing the contestants' self-reliance and motivation.  The groups worked together in an orienteering challenge, which involved setting up a a camp and preparing wild game.  There are also some temptations set out to see if anyone will take the bait, and, not surprisingly, there are some cheaters . . .

The final episode shows some extreme measures that have been employed throughout the ages to try and achieve quick weight loss (some things never change!).  Some things that are demonstrated are "slimming pills," electric current, and hypnotherapy.  At the final weigh-in, we get to see which of the three diets was the overall winner based on the total weight loss of the teams.

It was quite interesting to see how diets and weight-loss ideas haven't really changed much over the years.  While the contestants were able to lose some weight, I doubt that any of them would want to stick to the regimes they were given during the program.  Still, I'm sure the overall ideas of nutrition and exercise were useful to them in the outside world.

A warning for those who might be interested in watching, this series contains some nudity, bad language and scenes of skinning and preparing wild game.

Final Verdict for Diets That Time Forgot: Three Gherkins, for being and interesting look at weight-loss strategies from days gone by


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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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