The Dukan Diet and the History of Dieting

We live in a nation of excess: McMansions, SUVs and  retail superstores. But with food this glut is unstoppable. “Overeating is an act of heroism,” says novelist, poet  and food lover Jim Harrison. Seventeen years ago, 33 percent of U.S. citizens were overweight. Now that figure has expanded to 40 percent — and an additional 30 percent are obese.  Yet diet products and weight-loss programs now total $33 billion a year. It”s a bursting-at-the-seams growth industry.  Here then is a tasty, lip-smacking, stomach-curdling tour of the modern history of dieting.

1830s, The Bland Diet.
Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham, following in the kill-joy footsteps of Puritans, counseled that by only denying the flesh would one”s spirits grow strong. Overeating caused sickness, sexual obsession and social chaos. He advocated bland foods such as his very own “Graham cracker” and avoiding meat, spices and stimulants. A case of the bland leading the bland, his program crumbled when adherents became weak and starving.

1863, First low-carb diet.
Obese British casket maker William Banting went to an ear, nose and throat surgeon named Dr. William Harvey who advocated no more starch and sugar, no beer and potatoes. Banting, who lost 45 lbs. on a diet of lean meat, fish, vegetables, dry toast, soft boiled eggs and a few glasses of wine a day, later wrote a self-published popular booklet called “Letter on Corpulence. Addressed to the Public” that stayed in print until 2007.

1909, Upton Sinclair”s Fasting Clubs.
Pioneer crusading investigative journalist and author of “The Jungle,” which took on the Chicago meat-packing industry, Sinclair wrote that periodic fasting was a cure for obesity.  Craze of fasting clubs resulted.

1910s, The Mega-Bite Diet.
Horace Fletcher, a San Francisco art dealer, became known as “The Great Masticator” for advocating chewing each bite at least 32 times and turning the food into liquid gruel. “Fletcherizing” supposedly led to weight loss and less of a desire for that other vice — alcohol.

1918, Counting Calories.
Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters” “Diet and Health, with Key to the Calories,” sold two million copies and was the first bestselling diet book. The formerly chunky physician said she lost 70 lbs. by counting calories — her diet was 1,200 calories a day. Peters” book included a list of food portions that contained 100 calories as well as suggested target weights. Written primarily for women, Peters also warned against the use of diet drugs, which often contained arsenic and mercury,

1930s, The Hollywood 18-Day or Grapefruit Diet
. A daily starvation diet of 585 calorie, with worship of grapefruit at its core. It was sponsored by the fledgling citrus industry, of course, but why this fruit? It was based on the unsupported claim that grapefruit contains a fat-burning enzyme.

1950, DuPont Diet.
DuPont hired Dr. Alfred Pennington to find out why the traditional low-calorie diets were not working, so he put the DuPont executives on a high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate unrestricted-calorie diet. Pennington theorized that people can metabolize fat completely but not carbohydrates. People get fat because they can”t fully break down carbohydrates and so most of them are converted to fat.

1952, Diet pills.
In 1952, three billion 10 mg Dexedrine tablets were sold. Truck drivers and college students trying to stay alert as well as housewives hoping to shed a few pounds used these “uppers.” Long-term use of this artificial stimulant leads to heart damage, strokes, kidney failure and psychosis.

1963, Weight Watchers
. In 1961, Jean Nidetch went to a New York City Department of Public Health obesity clinic and lost weight on a diet handed out by Dr. Norman Jollife. Sensing the emotional pain behind the weight gain, she turned her diet into a women”s support group and then started marketing the overall concept. In 1964, Weight Watchers did $160,000 in sales;  it is now a multinational corporation with revenues of $1 billion, and 25 million grads internationally.

1967,  Stillman Diet.
Dr. Irwin Stillman published “Dr. Stillman”s Quick Weight Loss Diet,” which advocated eating lean meat, poultry, eggs and low fat cheese. The theory was that proteins took more energy to digest and thus you could eat as much as you wanted and promised weight loss of 7 to 15 lbs. the first week and five pounds a week thereafter. But with little carbs, excess protein triggered ketosis, resulting in bad breath, constipation, nausea, and weakness. Stillman died of a heart attack in 1975, but not before 20 million followed his foul footsteps.

1972,  Atkins Diet.
In 1972, the Dr. Robert Atkins published one of the most influential weight-loss books of all time, Dr. Atkins” Diet Revolution.  He informed over 15,000,000 readers to cut back on the carbs, while devouring as many protein-laden dishes and fatty foods they could possibly stomach. Atkins claimed that the human body would burn its own fat if it had no carbohydrates to burn first. Not everyone agreed with this hypothesis, believing that this radical diet would not work beyond a few months, and that it could cause heart problems, blocked bowels, exhaustion and bad breath. In other words, Atkins dieters make for lousy dates and roommates. Right before he died in 2003 – the 72-year-old slipped on some ice near his office, conked his head and went into a coma — the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that “people on {his diet} lost weight because they consumed fewer calories, not fewer carbohydrates.”

1971,  Wild Foods.
As a frequent guest on “The Tonight Show,” country bumpkin Euell Gibbons looked the look, talked the talk and walked the walk as the father of modern wild foods. Before he became the best-selling author of Stalking the Wild Asparagus as well as pitchman for Post Grape Nuts cereal, he had spent a lifetime doing odd jobs that included being a cowboy, hobo, carpenter, surveyor, boat builder, beachcomber, newspaperman, school teacher, farmer and an educator. Organic groupies credit him with helping to launch the burgeoning back-to-nature movement. An unexpected heart attack at the age of 64 returned Gibbons back to nature in Beavertown, Pennsylvania.
1976, Pritikin Program. Dr. Nathan Pritikin believed that a very low-fat diet could reverse heart disease. John Travolta (he was “Saturday Night Fever” thin then) and Barbra Streisand signed up and millions followed the Pritikin diet which consists mainly of fresh and cooked fruits and vegetables, whole grains, breads and pasta, and small amounts of lean meat, fish and poultry, all coupled with a daily regimen of aerobic exercise. Pritikin founded the world-renowned Pritikin Longevity Center in 1976, but died nine years later from complications resulting from experimental drug therapy used to treat his leukemia.
1978, The Complete Scarsdale Diet. The late Dr. Herman Tarnower”s highly regimented program demanded that followers give up alcohol, butter, oil and subsist on as little as 700 calories a day of food with high levels of protein. If you wanted to snack, you had to stick with carrots and celery only. His rigid ideas and lack of co-credit on his popular book drove jilted lover and former headmistress Jean Harris to gun him down. Biting a bullet was not part of the Scarsdale Diet. A manslaughter conviction landed her into jail where she learned to survive on starchy prison food.

1981. The Beverly Hills Diet
. Judy Mazel, at age 30, said she heard voices telling her to pull off an L.A. freeway to get some cashews at a health food store, where she somehow arrived at the realization that enzymes produced by a combination of tropical fruits such as papayas and mangoes would create total digestion. All that fruit meant loose bowel movements?

1983, Jenny Craig.
When dieters sign up with Jenny Craig, they learn about portion control and eat specially prepared meals until they can”t stand it much longer. No salt, caffeine, tea, or alcohol. Once you are off Jenny Craig, the pounds can return with a vengeance.  Recent and former Jenny Craig spokesperson, actress Kirstie Alley gained 85 lbs., 10 more pounds than her pre-Jenny Craig weight after she stopped exercising and replaced her 1,400-calorie-a-day meal plan for chocolate treats and Chinese takeout.

1990s. Weight-Loss Surgery.
Radical surgery of stomach stapling and gastric bypasses are meant for the morbidly obese and are now done on 25,000 patients a year for $20 grand a pop. And yes, medical complications are common.
1991. The Zone Diet,  Dr. Barry Sears, co-author of the  best-selling book “The Zone” focused on the negative effects of high carbohydrate diet.  He advocated a balance diet of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, 30 percent fat. Too many high-glycemic index carbohydrates can cause high blood sugar, release of high amounts of insulin, He also suggested the consumption of  healthy monosaturated fats like olive oil.

1993, Life Choice: Eat More, Weigh Less.
New Agey Dr. Dean Ornish weighed in with a more spiritual content. His Life Choice Diet purported to heal emotional pain through meditation, yoga, regular exercise, and a low-fat vegetarian diet.

1993, Stop the Insanity!
, high school dropout, mother of two, former topless dancer, in her uniform of workout sweats, hard body and blond buzz cut,  claimed a 133-lb. weight loss with her high fiber and  low fat diet.  Powter flaunted her lack of credentials, claiming that she was “just a housewife who figured it out,” and her  infomercials advocated plenty of exercise. Her heaviest fuel seemed to be anger, and biggest lure was premise that you could eat all you wanted. Somehow along the way, she went bankrupt and late-night TV viewers were finally spared her half-crazed sales pitches.

1998,  Sugar Busters.
A few New Orleans doctors hit the bestseller list with a thin volume called “Sugar Busters.” Mind-candy for the masses, it preached that certain carbohydrates (heavy in sugar content) are bad for you since they raise your insulin levels which lead to increased body fat storage.  Pretty much the same message as the Zone Diet, but this was more like Dieting for Dummies.

1999, NutriSystem,
Following  bankruptcy, NutriSystem”s business model changed from marketing a liquid protein diet to selling packaged, portion-controlled meals via the internet and infomercials. The “send you the food” diet plan is designed to take the decisions out of cooking and dining. Currently using celebrities like Marie Osmond and NFL Hall of Famer Don Marino to pitch its message of convenience and weight loss, NutriSystem relies on low-glycemic foods and vegetables to keep your hunger at bay. The downside: a lack of variety and freshness in the dishes causes many people to leave the diet once they tire of eating the same food. The average customer stays on the program 10 weeks. Many soon regain the weight lost.

2002, Raw Foods,
With a passionate following more like a cult than a movement, raw foodies believe that foods cooked above 115 F lose much of their nutritional value and are harmful to the body. Heating food above  this temperature degrades or destroys certain valuable enzymes in food. The most popular raw food diet is a raw vegan diet comprising of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouted grains and legumes. Leslie Kenton”s book, Raw Energy-Eat Your Way to Radiant Health, popularized this diet in 1984, but a 2002 New York Times magazine profile of raw foodism put this austere diet on the national map. Detractors believe, however, that one can experience a nutritional shortfall and vitamin deficiencies if you eliminate some foods and consume only uncooked ingredients.

2003, South Beach Diet,
A super-strict eating plan designed by cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston and dietitian Marie Almon,  the original intent of this diet was to  prevent heart disease but word  quickly spread about its weight-losing efficacy. The diet  replaces “bad carbs” and “bad fats” with “good carbs” and “good fats.” It”s bye-bye to heavily refined sugars and grains as a way to eliminate food cravings. Some critics feel that the diet, while healthy-heart promoting, is challenging to follow in the early going and can cause dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and bad breath.

2008, Flat Belly Diet.
Want to lose the bulge, then you need to eat monounsaturated fatty acids (for example, olive oil) -and all without doing any exercise or giving up many of your favorite foods! This is the women-centric message of “The Flat Belly Diet!” a bestseller co-authored by Liz Vaccariello, editor-in-chief of Prevention and Cynthia Sass, the magazine”s nutrition director. With meal plans at only 400 calories, the goal is to eat every four hours to maintain energy levels and prevent hunger. The book contains a 32-day diet plan that the authors claim can help dieters lose up to 15 lbs. and several inches of belly fat, but  the science says otherwise: diets targeting specific body parts don”t work, and you will never keep the weight off without regular exercise.

2009,  Hydroxycut.
Famous for its before and after photos of dieters, which many  critics claim are doctored images, Hydroxycut is a line of herbal weight-loss products that supposedly increases your fat-burning metabolism and reduces hunger cravings. Its primary ingredients include substances from two Indian fruits, Garcinia cambogia, Gymnema sylvestre,  as well as chromium polynicotinate, caffeine and green tea. But in May 2009, the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers  to stop using Hydroxycut line of weight-loss products, citing reports of a death due to liver failure and other instances of serious health problems, including kidney failure and heart damage.

Present Day, The Dukan Diet.
With its beginnings in France, it”s now coming to America. A mash-up of the Atkins diet and Weight Watchers, Pierre Dukan created a diet that doesn”t involve calorie counting  like its counterparts and doesn”t allow an unlimited consumption of fat like Atkins. Dukan told the New York Times that Atkins was a legend in his time, but now, “Atkins is dead.” The Dukan diet involves four phases called attack (protein-rich foods only), cruise (add veggies), consolidation (add bread, cheese, fruit, with dessert twice) and stabilization (one day of strict protein and six days of anything). Americans will be able to get their hands on the book, The Dukan Diet in April. The book”s cover proclaims the diet as “The Real Reason the French Stay Thin.”


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