Sylvester Graham's Diet
The Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham (1794-1851) approached diet as moral education, combining his strict religious beliefs with themes common to the temperance movement of the 19th century.[1,2,3,4,5] He derived dietary principles from his interpretation of the Ten Commandments and envisaged the stomach as "the helpful minister of your body."
Graham's diet, launched in the late 1820s, is considered by some to be the first "fad" diet. It preached against the "overstimulation" of certain foods—specifically refined white breads and meats, which Graham believed to be the cause of immoral behavior, gluttony, and promiscuity. He proposed a plain vegetarian diet; replaced meat with wheat; and marketed a coarse wholemeal "Graham bread," which lead to the eponymous cracker.[2,3,4,5]
Graham travelled throughout the United States and wrote prolifically to promote his beliefs. His radical thoughts made him both a figure of ridicule and a famous man who inspired future diet creators (or "Grahamites"), including John Harvey Kellogg.
A "lecturer of singular charm," Horace Fletcher (1849-1919)—also known as "the Great Masticator"[1,8]—was a wealthy businessman and self-proclaimed nutrition expert whose diet became a social happening at the turn of the 20th century.[1,7,8,9]
According to Fletcher, food—to be eaten only when a person was "good and hungry"—necessitated prolonged mastication to avoid "intense putrification" in the gut and achieve weight loss. Foods turning into liquid and pooling in the mouth after 100-700 chews were to be swallowed, whereas solids were to be spat out. And although the diet did not restrict any types of food, Fletcher himself was drawn to vegetarianism (perhaps unsurprisingly, given all the chewing).
Fletcher was taken seriously by both the British and American medical professions and had a star-studded following, which included John Rockefeller and Franz Kafka. However, by the 1920s, Fletcherism fell from favor—perhaps through the pressure of time, boredom, and the diet regimen causing extreme constipation. After 5 years on the diet, Henry James, an early enthusiast, reported a "sickish loathing of food."
As an interesting footnote, a small recent study using electromyography to monitor chewing behavior showed that "higher chewing counts reduced food intake."
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Cite this: Extreme Diets: Fads and Facts - Medscape - May 21, 2018.