FOOD: Transforming the American Table

On a Diet

Since the 1950s, significant numbers of Americans have dieted to lose weight or improve health. As the nation’s food supply expanded and included more processed foods, so did concerns about the relationship between food, body image, and health.

Food advice, based—often, but not always—on new scientific research, has come from diverse government and private sources. Over time, guidelines have also been contradictory, leaving consumers confused about what to eat and what to avoid. Various fad diets found fleeting favor in the late 1900s, but by the 2010s an underlying message kept emerging: if you can, eat more vegetables and fruits, fewer processed foods, and as Julia Child famously said, “eat everything in moderation.”

As attitudes about food, nutrition, and the body continue to change, many eaters have embraced the idea that good health also requires attending to mental and physical fitness.

Diet Spiral

Diet Spiral


Blood glucose meter, OneTouch II, around 2001

Gift of Bettee-Aynn Amsterdam Thomas

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Body mass index calculator, around 1995

Diet aid, Grapefruit Diet Plan, around 1993

Gift of Richard Peckman, R.Ph.

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Weight Watchers food scale, around 1992

Gift of Ashley Rose Young in memory of Sharon Rose Young

Weight Watchers member Sharon Rose Young used this scale to prepare recipes that fit within the program's dietary guidelines.

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Diet aid, Metrecal, around 1985

Gift of The Fournet Drugstore Collection

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100-calorie drinking glass, 1977

Gift of Nanci Edwards

The markings on this glass indicate the 100-calorie level for twenty-two popular beverages, from egg nog (two ounces) to tomato juice (ten ounces).

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Lose Weight! kit, 1965

Gift of Paula Johnson

This gag gift focuses on overeating and weight gain.

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