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A Short Breezy History of Diet Gurus Part 1

Posted Mar 18 2013 6:06am

The history of dieting is a fascinating subject, filled with some decidedly interesting characters. Some of these people devoted their lives to nutrition, and some accidentally stumbled onto it as part of their other lives. While you might not have heard of some of these people, many were the Dr. Oz or Dr. Phil of their times. I’ve done a lot of reading on the history of diets and dieting and below is an incomplete list of some of the ones that stuck in my head.

It is interesting to note their ages and compare to the diets they promoted, though you can’t read too much into this: longevity is based on a number of factors, some of which have nothing to do with lifestyle. Still fun, however.

Warning to lazy researchers: do not use this post as a reference! This is just a fun post dashed off from my own amusement and any ‘facts’ presented here might be wrong – I’m not doing any excruciating fact checking. Do real research.

To make absolutely sure no one confuses this with real research done by a real historian, I have added the subheading ‘Cheap Shots’ to each listing so that I could list unsubstantiated personal attacks by others as well as my own snarky remarks.

240px-Santorio_Santorio_balance

Summary:

biologist spends 30 years sitting on a scale and weighing everything that went in one end and out the other end. Concludes we eat more weight than we excrete.

Cause of Death:

I can’t find one listed.

Cheap Shots:

  • Couldn’t he have figured this out in – say – a few months?
  • I thought *I* was obsessive

Further Reading:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanctorius

William Banting 1796-1878 (age 82)

William_Banting

Summary:

Undertaker achieves international fame by publishing what was essentially the first low carb diet book.

Cause of Death:

I can’t find one listed.

Cheap Shots:

Read his Letter on Corpulance from 1865 and note the amount of alcohol this fellow packed away – he was one boozy undertaker.

Further Reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Banting

200px-Ilya_Mechnikov_nobel

Summary:

Nobel prize winner creates the science of gerontology and predicted he would live to 130 eating yogurt. Doesn’t.

Cause of Death:

Heart failure

Cheap Shots:

Seemed way too sure of himself from what I read – always a warning sign in my book. Apparently French doctors, at least up until the 1980s according to ‘ Medicine and Culture ‘ by Lynn Payer, would still prescribe yogurt to patients for the health benefits based on this gentleman’s research.

Further Reading:

250px-Horace_Fletcher_1

Summary: Rich guy famous as ‘The Great Masticator’ claims chewing your food 100 times per minute was the road to health and longevity. Didn’t seem to work out for him, though.

Cause of Death:

Bronchitis

Cheap Shots:

‘Fletcherism’ became a word. His notions were quite famous at the time and many celebrities proudly ‘Fletcherized’ their food. After he died, however, he was quickly forgotten – except as an example of absurdist food faddism.

Further Reading:

200px-John_Harvey_Kellogg_ggbain.15047

Summary:

You eat frosted corn flakes because of this man, though he wouldn’t approve of you eating them with all that damn sugar.

Cause of Death:

can’t find.

Cheap Shots:

I have a hard time picking on Dr. Kellogg. He certainly was a quack in the modern sense, stuffing yogurt up people’s rectums and removing large sections of their intestines because he thought them unnecessary and leading to ‘autointoxication’ – a popular fake disease at the time. Despite this, the man had a fascinating career spanning decades, wrote numerous books, and had a staggeringly high success rate in his surgeries at a time when surgical procedures were very risky endeavors. He most certainly wasn’t a dope, and probably would be one of the most interesting people to invite to a dinner if you could pick from anyone, living or dead, to invite. He was the main character in the historical novel ‘ The Road to Wellville ‘, which was a great read and an awful movie – Anthony Hopkins played him on the big screen.

Further Reading: 

stillman

Summary:

Promoted a low-carb, low-fat, high protein diet in the late 1960s.

Cause of Death:

Heart attack while playing bridge with friends at his home(2)

Observations:

Odd how little info there is on Dr. Stillman. Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for him – and this gentleman was on ‘The Tonight Show’ 28 times between 1970 and 1974. In those days, if you were on ‘The Carson Show’, you were sizzling.  None of those clips are on YouTube, either. He seems to be one of those people who completely disappeared after his death, the mantle of ‘low carb dieting’ passed to the very much alive Dr. Robert Atkins, who allowed fat in his diet and had a much less restrictive diet. I guess dropping dead of a heart attack can really impact your diet book sales.

His diet was essentially high protein and a lot of water. My dad would go on this diet and take off some serious pounds if I remember, but it was a pretty restrictive diet, and of course when he stopped the Stillman diet, he would gain all the weight back on his normal ‘beer and pasta diet’.

Cheap Shots:

“Known as an advocate for anorexia and shamelessly accusing the overweight of being lazy and gluttonous.”(1)

He doesn’t look like the kind of guy that would be on a top-rated talk show 28 times in 4 years, does he?

Further Reading:

(1) http://voices.yahoo.com/the-stillman-diet-lose-28-pounds-30-days-55987.html

(2)  http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1948&dat=19750828&id=uEkhAAAAIBAJ&sjid=uIAFAAAAIBAJ&pg=2159,3574233

Jerome_Irving_Rodale

Summary:

Early proponent of organic foods. Launched Prevention Magazine. Thought he would live to be 100. Didn’t.

Cause of Death:

Dropped dead of a heart attack on the Dick Cavett Show.

Cheap Shots

  • His grooming habits seem to me to be those of a person who held themselves in very high esteem.
  • Dropping dead of a heart attack right after talking about healthy living on a talk show is just so ironic that Alanis Morisette should have included it in her song.
  • This video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0srCWyai0oc

Further Reading:

cameron

Summary:

Famous aerial photographer and producer of numerous books of aerial photography craps out a book called ‘The Drinking Man’s Diet’ that becomes a bestselling diet book in the early 1960s.

Summary of Diet:

Low carb, high alcohol.

Cause of Death:

Can’t find – he lived to be 98 – does it matter?

Cheap Shots: 

None. This guy was flying planes into his 90s and considered alcohol a food group – he is my hero.

Further Reading:

Jack_LaLanne_51b

Summary: Self-professed sickly kid transforms himself into a household name through healthy diet, exercise, and by coming across as a genuinely decent person.

Summary of Diet: exercise and more exercise, along with a low fat diet of unprocessed foods. He also ate fish.

Cause of Death: Pneumonia

Cheap Shots: 

  • I’m not too sure he was ‘all there’ in those juicer commercials that ran until his death.
  • Supposedly said ”if it tastes good, spit it out.” 
  • Could come across as sanctimonious at times.
  • Other than that, Jack was OK in my book.

Further Reading:

pritikin

Summary: Developed a diet for his heart disease which worked for him for 30 years. During that time he created a diet program as well as weight loss centers.

Summary of Diet: super-duper low fat diet, along with aerobic exercise

Cause of Death: Suicide

Cheap Shots: The gentleman suffered from leukemia for over 20 years. When it came out of remission, he was in the hospital and asked everyone to leave the room. He then sliced open his arteries and killed himself. I have no snark for him though I don’t agree with his diet advice.

Further Reading:

Summary:

Overweight housewife loses 20 pounds. Starts support group with some fat friends and ends up starting Weight Watchers

Summary of Diet:

Depends on what plan you go on, but the main thing is the support aspect.

Cause of Death:

She’s not dead yet.

Cheap Shots:

The best I can come up with is her maiden name was ‘Slutsky’. I got nothing after that – check out this video – she’s adorable .

Further Reading:

DrRobertAtkins

Summary:

Fat cardiologist gets less fat after reading about a low carb diet in a journal, gives up cardiology to become a famous and always-controversial diet doctor in a career that spanned 30 years.

Summary of Diet:

Low carb, moderate protein, high fat diet

Cause of Death:

It depends on who you ask. The official version is that Atkins slipped on the ice walking to his office and struck his head, suffering severe head trauma. He died 9 days later in intensive care. The family did not allow an autopsy. It later came out through a vegetarian group who tricked the medical examiner into releasing papers on his death that Atkins had suffered a heart attack, congestive heart failure and hypertension before death, but it is impossible to know if the head trauma caused these to occur or their occurrence caused the fall.

Cheap Shots: 

  • When I asked Stunkard if he or any of his colleagues considered testing Atkins’s diet 30 years ago, he said they hadn’t because they thought Atkins was ”a jerk” who was just out to make money: this ”turned people off, and so nobody took him seriously enough to do what we’re finally doing.(1)
  • For physicians like Barnard and McDougall, Atkins was as near to evil as you could get in a white coat.(2)
  • His own wife called him ‘pugnacious’.

Further Reading:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Atkins_(nutritionist)
http://www.snopes.com/medical/doctor/atkins.asp
(1) http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/07/magazine/what-if-it-s-all-been-a-big-fat-lie.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/crime/rival-diet-doc-leaks-atkins-death-report
(2) http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/people/features/n_10035/index2.html

fixx

Summary:

Fat guy with 2-pack a day cigarette habit turns into fitness junkie through running. Writes book that is credited with starting ‘America’s fitness revolution’. Dropped dead of massive heart attack while running.

Summary of Diet:

I dunno.

Cause of Death:

Massive heart attack

Cheap Shots:

  • Extolling the benefits of running, then dropping dead while running means he was his own cheap shot.
  • If exercise is dangerous and lack of exercise is dangerous, I’ll take the lack of exercise.
  • As he also had a genetic predisposition for heart disease and was once fat and smoked, you would have thought his doc might have noticed that something was up – his autopsy showed huge blockages in 3 coronary arteries.

Further Reading:

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