Calories and Corsets: A History of Dieting Over 2,000 Years

Louise Foxcroft

Calories and Corsets: A History of Dieting Over 2,000 Years

Today we are urged from all sides to slim down and shape up, to shed a few pounds or lose life-threatening stones. The media's relentless obsession with size may be perceived as a twenty-first-century phenomenon, but as award-winning historian Louise Foxcroft shows, we have been struggling with what to eat, when and how much, ever since the Greeks and the Romans first pinched an inch. Calories and Corsets tells the epic story of our complicated relationship with food, the fashions and fads of body shape, and how cultural beliefs and social norms have changed over time. Combining research from medical journals, letters, articles and the dieting bestsellers we continue to devour (including one by an octogenarian Italian in the sixteenth century), Foxcroft reveals the extreme and often absurd lengths people will go to in order to achieve the perfect body, from eating carbolic soap to chewing every morsel hundreds of times to a tasteless pulp. 3.2 out of 5 based on 8 reviews
Calories and Corsets: A History of Dieting Over 2,000 Years

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Family & Lifestyle, Food & Drink
Format Hardback
Pages 240
RRP £14.99
Date of Publication January 2012
ISBN 978-1846684258
Publisher Profile
 

Today we are urged from all sides to slim down and shape up, to shed a few pounds or lose life-threatening stones. The media's relentless obsession with size may be perceived as a twenty-first-century phenomenon, but as award-winning historian Louise Foxcroft shows, we have been struggling with what to eat, when and how much, ever since the Greeks and the Romans first pinched an inch. Calories and Corsets tells the epic story of our complicated relationship with food, the fashions and fads of body shape, and how cultural beliefs and social norms have changed over time. Combining research from medical journals, letters, articles and the dieting bestsellers we continue to devour (including one by an octogenarian Italian in the sixteenth century), Foxcroft reveals the extreme and often absurd lengths people will go to in order to achieve the perfect body, from eating carbolic soap to chewing every morsel hundreds of times to a tasteless pulp.

Reviews

The Sunday Telegraph

Helen Brown

[A] slim and sensible history … Foxcroft is strong on the pressures borne by women throughout the ages. The “ideal” female form has been far more susceptible to fashion than the male. And other social pressures have made the attainment and maintenance of such a form increasingly difficult.

10/01/2012

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The Guardian

Kathryn Hughes

... Foxcroft does more than simply string anecdotes together for comic effect. She is, for instance, particularly good on the genealogy of diets ... But so pervasive is our diet culture, as well as our anti-diet culture, that Foxcroft never questions whether the "eat sensibly/exercise moderately/think long-term" approach is not in fact simply another cultural specific dressed up as an enduring truth. For what this entertaining book unwittingly reveals is that you cannot write a popular history of dieting without becoming part of the murky industry you are trying to critique.

14/01/2012

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The Literary Review

Joan Smith

Entertaining and occasionally stomach-churning … At the end of her book, Louise Foxcroft suggests that 'we can't, and shouldn't, remove the story of diets from the story of health, but we can do something about the weight of judgement and the smear of sin and temptation'. Her recommendations are eminently sensible, based on a long-term, balanced, low-carbohydrate approach which would have been familiar to the (healthy) ancient Greeks.

01/12/2011

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The Daily Mail

Jane Shilling

[She] takes a briskly sceptical, not to say didactic line on the global dieting phenomenon. ‘The present glut of self-loathing, shame and pointless misery of trying and failing to be the ideal creature of our society’s desire needs re-thinking,’ she urges. ‘We need to know about eating well, to dismiss the diet fads and gurus so that we can ditch the self-loathing and the shame.’

06/01/2012

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The Spectator

Cressida Connolly

Authoritative … The tone of such a history is important, requiring something between the flippant and the scholarly. Foxcroft occasionally suffers from sounding right-on, without actually making a point. So it is that she mentions that body-image can cause ‘issues around sex’, and uses ‘impact’ as a verb. She seems unaware that Swift’s A Modest Proposal is a work of satire ... Louise Foxcroft has researched her subject with great dedication and skill.

14/01/2012

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The Sunday Times

Daisy Goodwin

Calories & Corsets is an interesting if somewhat repetitive read. In pretty much every chapter someone, usually a man, loses weight and then makes a fortune telling other people, usually women, how they, too, can lose weight. The whole book is a testimony to the power of hope over experience, as nearly all dieters put back the weight they lose. The American Diet Association did a study that showed that after two years of dieting, two-thirds of the participants weighed more than when they started.

01/01/2012

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The Economist

The Economist

Less a banquet than a tasting menu (the tone is breezy, opinionated and occasionally rushed) … When it comes to diets, women occupy a perversely central place, argues Ms Foxcroft. They are condemned for their gluttony, criticised for their vanity, manipulated for their insecurity and also blamed for the flab on their husbands and children.

07/01/2012

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The Evening Standard

Katie Law

It's a catchy title and a great subject, so it's a pity Louise Foxcroft's history of dieting isn't more filling. Perhaps Foxcroft, who has published books about the menopause and opium addiction, isn't sufficiently obsessed by her own body, confessing at the outset to "feeling a bit of a fraud because I've never seriously attempted a diet". Or perhaps she just had too many facts and not enough room since much of the book reads like bits of research strung together in roughly chronological order without much analysis.

12/01/2012

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