••KEEP••Lee Pitts Mug
Lee Pitts is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email them at leepitts@leepittsbooks.com.

People have been going on diets long before Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, or Oprah Winfrey. The first diet was probably William the Conquerer’s all-alcohol diet. Once morbidly obese, William lost so much weight he was able to start riding his much-loved horse again. Then he promptly died in a horse-riding accident. Proving that everything old is new again, in the 1960s, a couple of authors revisited the alcohol diet and wrote two books called “The Drinking Man’s Diet” and “Martinis and Whipped Cream.” My old man was on the same alcohol diet the entire time I knew him, and he eventually lost 200 pounds of ugly fat all in one day!

People are so desperate to lose weight they torture themselves with colonic cleanings, enemas, and gross green milkshakes. A friend of mine even hangs himself upside down every day to redistribute his weight, but now, instead of having 46-inch hips, he has a 46-inch neck. Another friend tried the no-white-food diet to prove he wasn’t a racist. His goal on January first was to lose 30 pounds in 2021. He only has 50 pounds to go.

Many doctors have gotten rich on diets they devised. In 1890 Dr. Edward Dewey came up with a no-breakfast diet about the same time Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a staff physician at the Battle Creek Sanatorium was promoting vegetarianism, pure food, calorie counting, colonic cleanses, and slow chewing. Dr. Kellogg was kinda weird, but he could afford to be because two products he invented, toasted flakes and granola, made him millions. Another 19th-century weirdo was a preacher whose nickname was Dr. Sawdust, and when I tell you his name, you’ll know why: Reverend Sylvester Graham. He preached that gluttony was a sin that led to the raising of unhealthy children. The Reverend advocated a diet of his Graham Crackers, vegetables, and water. I don’t think you’d actually live longer, but it would darn sure feel like it.

Dr. James Salisbury came up with a diet that included hot water and his minced meat patties, which would come to be called Salisbury steak. I actually like it if you drench it in gravy and eat it with a baked potato filled with butter. But I suppose that kinda defeats the whole purpose.


The “slow-chewing movement” was started over a century ago by Horace Fletcher, who was denied life insurance because he was so fat. He said you should chew your food until it was in a liquid state in your mouth. His idea came to be called “Fletcherism,” and Dr. Kellogg even wrote a slow-chewing song you sang between bites.

It’s been said that if you want a new idea, read an old book and many diet cookbook authors just recycled old ideas. One popular diet book in 1998 was called Lose Weight With Apple Vinegar, but Lord Byron first drenched all his food in vinegar in 1811, and he went from 194 pounds to 130 pounds but became an old sour puss in the process. You may think that Dr. Atkins came up with the high protein diet, but a London undertaker first promoted the idea in 1860! Selling diet books has been a get-rich-quick scheme for doctors ever since the first one from a commercial publisher was printed in 1950. This unleashed a torrent of such books, including The Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise, Sugar Busters, Protein Power, The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet, The Scarsdale Diet (written by a man who was murdered by his lover), The South Beach Diet, The Beverly Hills Diet, and Calories Don’t Count by Herman Taller who was found guilty of mail fraud for selling worthless safflower pills through the mail.

Some diet plans were downright dangerous. In 1976 osteopath Robert Linn sold drinks made from animal tendons and hides that killed an estimated 58 people. And the Cambridge Diet, which consisted of protein drinks sold through a pyramid scheme, killed 30 people.

I myself have toyed with the idea of writing a diet book and have a few ideas, including the If It Tastes Good Spit It Out Diet, The Keep Your Mouth Shut Diet, Eat All You Want of Everything You Don’t Like Diet, and The Lee Pitts’ Don’t Diet But Die Happy Cookbook.