- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 22, 2005

Psst. Here’s a weight-loss tip. The Mediterranean Miracle Monkey Diet is just marvelous. Why, it’s almost as good as the Hollywood Angst Plan, the Eat Like a Child and Go to Your Room Program, the Doctor O’Bese Fat Buster Index, and the Alpha Male Anti-Ketone Meal Exchange.

Let us all enjoy a cookie and quietly observe that diets abound, each rife with big promises. Lose 20 pounds in three hours. Get svelte by tonight. Trim down with bacon bits.

Then there are the real diets. What follows are the current diets du jour, each with its own intricate weight-loss system, special recipes and esoteric food combinations.

For better or worse, there are the Grape Diet, Grapefruit Diet, Chocolate Diet, Cider Diet, Popcorn Diet, Caveman Diet, Bible Diet, Red Wine Diet, Raw Food Diet, Cabbage Soup Diet, Mono Diet, Negative Calorie Diet, Blood Type Diet, One-Day Diet, Three-Day Diet, Seven-Day Diet, the ever-popular 48-Hour Hollywood Diet and the Russian Air Force Diet, which does not specify whether the plan was formulated before or after the fall of communism.

There are the diets of Scarsdale, Cambridge, Stillman, Atkins and South Beach. There are Sugar Busters, Herbalife, Slim Fast, Cell-U-Loss, Jenny Craig, Zone, LA Weight Loss, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, E-Diets and the mystifying nutrigenomic diet, which is formulated around one’s DNA.

Only a single company has tapped into that newfangled idea so far: Colorado-based Sciona offers a DNA home test and diet regimen called Cellf, though maybe the Size 4 Genes Plan might resonate more with the public.

We have not always been calorically obsessed.

Aside from weight-loss claims made by health sanitariums and snake-oil salesmen around the turn of the last century, our ancestors were oblivious to diets — possibly because things like guacamole-flavored Doritos and curly fries had not been invented.

Oh, potato chips were around. An appropriately named chef, one George Crum, is credited with inventing the true potato chip in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 1853 to vex a particularly truculent diner. The first commercial chip did not appear for 42 years.

And while oyster fricassee, vol-au-vent and hominy croquettes were de rigueur, one simply did not dwell on the hazards of the menu back in the day.

“The corpulent should abstain from fat as well as sugar and starch,” was the spare advice administered by Mary Lincoln in the 1911 Boston Cook Book, along with nutritional suggestions for the “bilious,” the “gouty” and the “dyspeptic.”

But of course. The Mary Lincoln Corpulent Diet. Mary’s Top Ten Tips for the Stout and Gouty.

Needless to say, our culture has become one of dietary paradox. The siren call of food has never been louder — nor has the siren call to, well, be a siren. Or Praxiteles, perhaps. Male or female, one simply cannot eat from the brand-name smorgasbord of life and be slim.

“This is what most of the fancy diets hope you’ll overlook,” says Peter Ries, a law enforcement officer from Virginia who managed to drop 85 pounds in a year on his own despite a weakness for mint chocolate chip ice cream and bacon-and-egg biker breakfasts preferred by folks who favor Harley-Davidsons.

“Eat less, exercise more. You can’t get around it. Watch portions, don’t watch the scale,” Mr. Ries advises. “And when you eat, make it count. Eat power foods like kale and whole wheat, but have some ice cream every now and then. Yeah, go have a couple of Doritos. Worked for me.”

Needless to say, Mr. Ries is already at work on his own diet book. “Too many people are asking me how I did it,” he says. “Now they’ll know.”

But of course. The Cops and Bikers Impossible Diet.

The 45 million Americans who are on a diet may eagerly await such fare. They spend, incidentally, $40 billion a year on diet plans, weight-loss foods and fitness clubs, according to the American Obesity Association, which knows about such things.

In addition, 40 percent of women and 25 percent of men are on diets, though just a frustrated 2 percent to 4 percent maintain their hard-won weight losses. A recent poll taken by Spark, a marketing company, revealed that “emotional eating” was considered the biggest diet hurdle to 700 respondents, followed by “portion distortion.”

Meanwhile, the big fat diet paradox continues: so much food, so many diets. But let us clear the air and return to Mary Lincoln, or Mrs. Lincoln, as she was known in her day — who published her first cookbook in 1883, authored a half-dozen more and rivaled Fannie Farmer in popularity. Here is her advice for the reluctantly corpulent:

“A diet of whole wheat, milk, vegetables, fruits and lean meat will produce only a normal amount of fatness,” Mrs. L cautioned. “Those who digest fine flour, pastry, sugar and fats become loaded with fat, but are neither strong nor vigorous.”

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and the occasional dietary emergency for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at [email protected]washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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