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The diet industry mines the deep seam of emotion that surrounds our eating habits to sell a precision-calibrated hope that morality, appearance, lifestyle, wellness—almost anything, really—can be improved if only we put different things in our mouth. Such advice usually nourishes insecurity more than it does the body. It turns out that the history of bad dieting advice is long and strange and full of charlatans out to profit from our gullibility. It’s also a perfect example of the old adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Harriet Fitch Little examines its evolution.

When I was working at a newspaper in Phnom Penh a few years ago, my Cambodian colleague went on a no ice diet. It was the hottest part of the year and our office ran on sweet iced coffees by day and iced beers by night. She refused both, as did many Cambodian women that year. Ice, she explained when asked, provided an unwelcome shock to the metabolism and therefore slowed it down.

When you encounter a fad diet whose logic you are unfamiliar with, its ridiculousness slaps you in the face. And yet at the exact same time as Cambodian women were sweating their way through the summer months, American and European media outlets were lending serious credence to another ice diet evangelist. According to the American gastroenterologist Brian Weiner, anyone hoping to lose weight shouldn’t cut out ice, they should eat enormous quantities of it. His logic, as reported by

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