Belly Laughs at Early Fad Diets

Fletcher became a celebrated author, and spittoon sales must have skyrocketed, although you could hardly be surprised if he didn't receive many dinner invitations. Among his famous followers who wore their jaws out singing his praise and following his advice were novelist Henry James (whose dense writing is hard to digest) and oil baron John D. Rockefeller (whose business tactics some considered unpalatable).

Another proponent of "Fletcherizing" was John Harvey Kellogg, better known as the father of the corn flake. He ran a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Mich. (where cereal eaters would one day send box tops), and to inspire patients to Fletcherize, he wrote a "Chew Chew" song.

It was Kellogg's younger brother who added sugar to breakfast cereal, causing sales to explode, along with a few waistlines.

1917: Calorie Counting -- By the early 20th century, kitchen scales became commonplace, and Lulu Hunt Peters accurately predicted that "Instead of saying 'one slice of bread' or 'a piece of pie,' you will say '100 calories of bread,' '350 calories of pie.' "

Peter's landmark book, "Diet and Health, With Key to the Calories," sold more than 2 million copies, promoting a 1,200-calorie-a-day regime. While calorie counting is still the principal method of mainstream dieting, diet mavens would still argue over the proper amount of calories for weight loss and the proper food combinations for appeasing hunger. And, of course, there has always been a parade of contrarians.

1925: The Cigarette Diet -- In the age before tobacco advertising restrictions, several cigarette companies hailed the appetite-suppressing qualities of their products. One ad for Lucky Strikes urged smokers to "Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet."

1928: The Inuit Meat-and-Fat Diet -- The dietary preaching of arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson -- author of such books as "The Fat of the Land" -- could make the most ardent Atkins follower look like a vegetarian.

After living among the Inuit in the frozen tundra of the north, Stefansson raved about the salubrious effects of an all meat-and-fat diet. The Inuit still amaze anthropologists by their ability to live on a diet consisting of caribou, raw fish and whale blubber, with less than 2 percent of their diet coming from fruit, vegetables and other carbs.

To prove his point, Stefansson checked himself into New York's Bellevue Hospital in 1928, where doctors monitored his health for several months, and he claimed to have finished the year on his special diet.

While doctors still chew over the results, legions of protein proponents would sing his praise. Another pre-Atkins meat advocate, New York cardiologist Blake Donaldson advocated Inuit-style diets well into the 1960s, advising some patients to go to their butchers and ask for fat -- preferably kidney fat. His appropriately titled dietary tome was called "Strong Medicine."

Early 1930s: The Hay Diet -- Unfortunately, the Hay Diet, a Depression Era rage, didn't allow followers to eat like a horse without gaining weight. Dr. William Hay -- who developed his diet philosophy to cope with his own high blood pressure -- was the first to promote the virtues of separating your food, arguing that the human body couldn't adequately cope with combinations of proteins and starches at the same time, and warned of "digestive explosion."

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