What were women encouraged to eat years ago? (hint, SO much more than they are today…)

“People who love to eat are always the best people.” ~ Julia Child

I’ve been on many a diet in my life and non have been sustainable for more than a few weeks. You may be able to relate to reading a new diet book in the evening and feeling a sense of excitement at starting the new journey, which will be amazing and life changing.

Then a few days in, reality sets in and the promise of feeling lighter is squelched by my fatigue and hunger. For a long time I thought that maybe I didn’t have enough willpower but I usually have no problem with staying consistent with exercise and generally eating healthy. I really believe the calorie counts that we are given, as women, are completely unrealistic.

Recently, while flipping through one of my old cookbooks (old being circa 1945) I was amazed at the recommended calorie allowance for women. It was so generous compared with the typical allotments on diets for women of my size (usually 1500 calories/day)!

While there are no guidelines for what the definitions of activity levels are, I’m thrilled to see 3000 calories for a very active woman! (source: The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer 1945)

Similarly, the 1950 edition of the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book advises its audience (mainly women) on how to put together both adequate and complete meals. I can’t recall ever seeing robust suggestions like these in any meal plan I’ve read:

Note the recommendation under adolescents that “a few pounds overweight at this period is an asset for health.”

Of course I’m not saying that they had it figured out in the 1950s or that diets weren’t around during that time. However, these are some simple and solid recommendations for healthy eating. I think special diets have always been around in some form or another.

Who can forget Nancy Drew’s best girlfriends, George and Bess, cousins who were as different as two could be? Bess was always described as pretty and plump, with a penchant for sweets. George, in contrast, was athletic and loved to challenge the boys at every turn.

Food played an important role in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories (which were very popular during the mid 20th century) and a cookbook was published in 1973 to accompany the series. The recipes are a strange mix of seasonal favourites and mystery tie-ins (E.g. “Lilac Inn Consommé”) but I found it funny that George’s ‘contribution’ is “Get-in-shape grapefruit”, which is pretty far from clean eating with butter, sugar and maraschino cherries!

From the Nancy Drew Cookbook: Clues to Good Cooking, New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1973.

There are some interesting studies about the effect of pleasure on the way our bodies absorb nutrients and in how satisfied we feel. When we try to restrict our consumption of foods that we enjoy, this can have negative effects on not only our mood but also lead to bigger problems down the road: “…the rigid tendency to avoid liked food and the pleasure derived from eating may contribute to the development of disturbances in eating behaviour…”

Final Thoughts

In my experience, I’m happiest and think less about food when I’m not restricting calories. Reflecting on the cookbooks of years ago, I wonder why it is that many of us accept such small calorie allowances today?

  • Why is it so difficult to enjoy food, even when it’s not “clean” and healthy?
  • What if we adjusted our approach to NOURISH our bodies by enjoying everything from ice cream to roasted vegetables, instead of always thinking that we need to take things away?

Do you struggle with enjoying food? Do you feel comfortable letting go of calorie counts?Let me know in the comments!

Westenhoefer, J, and V Pudel. “Pleasure from Food: Importance for Food Choice and Consequences of Deliberate Restriction.” Appetite20.3 (1993): 246–249. Web.

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