Not much has changed in 1900 years

Soranus believed that obesity was a chronic disease in immediate need of treatment. He suggests [sic] treatment with a combination of diet and exercise, baths, venesection, purging and a radical change in the way of living.

Soranus’s suggested treatments for obesity could have been written today. (Well, except for the bit about venesection or blood-letting. But I am sure some diet guru somewhere will recommend it to combat The Obesity Crisis sooner or later.)

But they weren’t.


Soranus of Ephesus lived from 98-138 AD.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Some of the other treatments recommended by physicians in the Ancient world referenced in the article are:

Celsus (circa 25AD):

… states [sic] that the body may be thinned “by hot water if one bathes in it and especially if the water is salty; by bathing on an empty stomach, by a scorching sun, by heat of all kinds, by worry, by late nights; by sleep unduly short or overly long, by a hard bed throughout the summer; by running or much walking or any violent exercise; by vomiting, by purgation, by sour and harsh things consumed; by a single meal a day; by the custom of drinking wine, not too cold, upon an empty stomach”.

and

Oribasius (325-400 AD):

… considers [sic] obesity as a pathological condition in need of treatment through emaciation and fat reduction. He suggests altering the “temperament” from moist to warm, because the warm temperament renders the body lean. Then, exercise, diet, medications, baths, massage and provocation of “mental anxiety” may dry the temperament up and emaciate the body.


Source: Greco-Roman and Byzantine Views on Obesity. The full article is linked as a pdf from the right-hand column (NB: this article comes from the Obesity Surgery journal, so please consider the source when reading it).

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4 Responses to “Not much has changed in 1900 years”


  1. 1 Moonchild Monday, 7 January 2008 at 6:36 pm

    Science has taught us nothing about dieting. Nothing.

  2. 2 fillyjonk Tuesday, 8 January 2008 at 2:55 am

    Um, I think these people have drastically misunderstood the original authors. Granted it’s been a long time since I did history of medicine, and I never read Oribasius or Soranus (hee). But hello, does ANYTHING Celsus says about the methods of thinning the body sound like a RECOMMENDATION? Violent exercise? Insufficient sleep? You’d have to be an “obesity researcher” (usually code for “diet/WLS pusher”) to think that sounded like a good idea.

    I just did a little research, and Soranus was unique in the ancient world in considering obesity a disease. Most people thought it was a good idea to be a little fat, partly since the alternative was HARD BEDS AND VOMITING. Well, and because you want your humors to be in balance.

  3. 3 fillyjonk Tuesday, 8 January 2008 at 2:58 am

    I’m reading the article now and they seem to read every single ancient physician as thinking obesity is a disease — and like I said, it’s been a while, but I just don’t buy it.

    But I do like how it dovetails with the “look at any old photograph, there just weren’t any really fat people fifty years ago” argument.

  4. 4 Fatadelic Tuesday, 8 January 2008 at 9:03 am

    Yes, I agree with your interpretation.

    They have read their own fat hatred into the source material (it is an Obesity journal so what can we expect) – even to the point of interpreting the dietary recommendations of the Greco-Romans as in support of the “Mediteranean Diet”. I’d like to know what other diet anyone in the Mediteranean would have been able to eat at that time since, aside from those with wealth and privilege, since most foods would be primarily Mediteranean produce.

    But what I also found interesting is that over 2000 years nobody has come up with a way to make fat people become and stay thin. Despite the fact that the authors of the article conclude that modern obesity treatments are based on what ancient physicians were practicing.


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