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Do other cultures diet?

From: Inspirational Health Junk,

Do other cultures diet?

Being overweight has long been a sign of wealth and status – a sign there is an abundance of food and not much physical labour being done. This concept has been around since man first stopped racing around skewering meals as he chased them across the plains and settled down with a cosy home, a good cook and food to spare. For hundreds of thousands of years most ordinary citizens would never be even close to overweight.

In some Polynesian countries the idea of size signifying wealth and status meant kings and queens ate enormous amounts to gain weight thus proving their worth as a ruler. In some African nations such as Mauritania and Banyankole in Uganda, young women were force-fed from a young age to make them attractive for marriage.

So some cultures revered weight as a positive symbol. But do other cultures diet by choice?

Mass dieting for beauty’s sake, is a relatively new phenomenon and one limited mostly to the western world. For hundreds of years, rubenesque women were highly desirable. In the first five decades of the twentieth century, women shucked off their corsets and started showing off their natural curves. Pin ups during and after the second world war were buxom and hour glass – think Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable. What happened next was a surge of almost boyish slimness hitting the catwalks in the 60s and 70s, with designers starting to create for a size 0. Women were disappearing before our very eyes.

The western world glorifies thinness and women especially face increasing pressures to match the impossible sizes of models. And yet paradoxically, we are getting bigger every generation.

You only need to look at China and Japan to see the effect industrialisation and prosperity has had on their populations. Although obesity rates are small (around 5%) these changes are recent and significant. The Japanese are so concerned they have even passed a law for a minimum waist size for the over 40 age group. Sumo wrestlers must surely be exempt...

Some cultures and religions restrict what their people eat and some require their followers to fast for certain festivals and ceremonies. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists all have rules about what can be eaten and when special foods may be prepared. These restrictions and celebrations are steeped in spiritual and religious lore and law, not aimed at losing weight to look good.

The ‘fattening up the wife to be’ practices are dying out in Africa more because of the health risks than necessarily a change in attitude, although more exposure through media to other ‘thin-loving’ cultures may have made a difference.

Apart from the fashion conscious then, it seems much of the modern world’s dieting has to do with health risks rather than vanity. Diet or die may seem a little harsh, but the Greeks and Romans knew that there was a line between being successfully and showily overweight and being dangerously obese.

So lock up your sons and daughters – in a gym – with an apple. It’s for their own good.

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