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How did ancient Romans lose weight?

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman mosaic showing women playing a ball
Roman mosaic showing women playing a ball | Photo: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Many people ask themselves how to lose weight in an easy and fun way. The answer to this question is not easy. As it turns out, people in ancient times had similar problems. Let us ask ourselves: how did the ancient Romans lose weight?

Fortunately, we have historical sources that allow us to know the ways that ancient people suggested to people who wanted a slimmer body. Celsus, a Greek physician who lived in the Roman Empire in the 1st century CE, in his medical treatise De Medicina1 at the beginning says that each of us is different and we should know the nature and structure of our body. What were the different ways to lose weight?

  • by bathing in hot water, preferably salt water
  • by bathing on an empty stomach
  • by the scorching sun
  • by high temperatures
  • by despondency
  • by sitting late
  • by sleeping too short or too long
  • by sleeping on a hard bed all summer
  • by intense exercise and a lot of walking or running
  • by vomiting and purging
  • by eating one meal a day
  • by eating sour and harder things
  • by drinking cold wine on an empty stomach

So, as we can see, some of the advice is known to us and we know that it is working; however, throwing up and sleeping on a firm bed may not be very encouraging. Celsus points out, however, that vomiting is not recommended in people who are slim and have weak stomachs. If, however, we overeat and the stomach is unable to digest all the food, the rest of it should be removed by expelling or vomiting. Otherwise, the food in the stomach will “spoil”.

Celsus also realized that there are people who would like to gain weight. At that time, he recommended, among others light exercise, frequent rest, anointing the body with oils, bathing after a meal at noon, not too long sleep, eating plenty of sweet and fatty foods, eating meals often and in the right amount not to overeat and be able to digest.

Pliny the Elder, in turn, argued that one of the reasons for gaining weight (corpus augere) is drinking wine while eating. In order to lose weight (minuentibus), they should be left at the time of eating2.

  1. Celsus, De Medicina, I.3.13-19
  2. Pliny the Elder, Natural history, XXXIII.23

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