Learning from Diets Throughout History: Influence

“I hold that a strongly marked personality can influence descendants for generations.”
– Beatrix Potter

Influence is a strange phenomenon. It can be used for good, or it can make people down shots of vinegar. Either way, we can all agree that it’s a powerful tool, especially in the realm of health and weight.

It’s easy to see that power in social media, where specific diets or foods are almost always trending. But celebrities and influencers have existed long before we had phones in our hands, and their ideas and opinions have shaped the way the generations that came after them saw food and body image.

Wanting to lose weight and taking dubious – even unhealthy – methods to get there is nothing new. From eating copious amounts of grapefruit to counting the number of times a bite of food is chewed, people have sought ways to have a smaller bodies.  

We know fad diets don’t work, and even health experts at the times when these diets were popular criticized them. The difference is that now, we know more about how our mental and physical health are affected by these influences and diet trends.

For instance, it’s almost certain that if he were alive today, Lord Byron would have been diagnosed with eating disorders. His popularity and influence meant that his fans and young people, in general, started to emulate what he was doing. As a result, his negative relationship with food and body image didn’t stop with him – it transcended a whole other generation of people.

The same could be said for Horace Fletcher and the Hollywood stars who touted the grapefruit diet. All used language around weight and body image in ways that created a dislike (and even hatred) for being overweight. 

We also know that we can be influenced to eat foods that aren’t as nutritious and have a skewed relationship with food. For instance, research has shown that young adults were more likely to remember ads for unhealthy foods and that the common thread for many of those ads was that they had a celebrity promoting the product.

The good news is that influence’s power can be used to create positive change for ourselves and future generations. Our self-worth is not defined by our weight, and we deserve to enjoy all food in moderation. The more we take these messages to heart, the more we can create a generation that doesn’t have to recover from negative relationships with food.


[1] Kucharczuk, A.J., Oliver, T.L., Dowdell, E.B. Social media’s influence on adolescents’ food choices: A mixed studies systematic literature review. Appetite. 2022. (1) Pg. 164. 10.1016/j.appet.2021.105765.