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Planning to Go on a Diet? One Word of Advice: Don’t.

Weight inched its way into the American consciousness around the turn of the 20th century. “I would sooner die than be fat,” declared Amelia Summerville, author of the 1916 volume Why Be Fat? Rules for Weight-Reduction and the Preservation of Youth and Health. (She also wrote, with a giddy glee that likely derived from malnutrition, “I possibly eat more lettuce and pineapple than any other woman on earth!”) As scales became more accurate and affordable, doctors began routinely recording patients’ height and weight at every visit.  Weight-loss drugs hit the mainstream in the 1920s, when doctors started prescribing thyroid medications to healthy people to make them slimmer. In the 1930s, 2,4-dinitrophenol came along, sold as DNP, followed by amphetamines, diuretics, laxatives, and diet pills like fen-phen, all of which caused side effects ranging from the annoying to the fatal.

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