History and Benefits of Diets The Scarsdale Diet

About the history and benefits of the Scarsdale diet.

A BANQUET OF FAMOUS DIETS

The Scarsdale Diet

The Head Man: The son of a successful hat manufacturer, Herman Tarnower became one of the first U.S. cardiologists after receiving his M.D. from Syracuse University in 1933 and pursuing additional studies abroad. He developed a lucrative practice as head of the Scarsdale Medical Center in New York's affluent Westchester County, where he lived on a six-acre estate with its own small lake. Tarnower had been prescribing a two-week crash diet for his patients for many years before collaborating with veteran diet writer Samm Sinclair Baker on The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet (1978), which became an immediate best-seller. House Speaker Tip O'Neill lost 40 lb. on the diet, feminist Gloria Steinem tried it, and even Queen Elizabeth II was said to be on it.

A slender, balding bachelor with an upper-class disdain for celebrity and a dietary preference for truffles, Tarnower was rumored to be a "connoisseur of thoroughbred women." In March, 1980, he was shot to death by Jean Harris, his companion of 14 years and the headmistress of an exclusive girls' prep school, whose help had been prominently acknowledged in the diet book. "I have been through so much hell with him," she told the press, revealing that the 69-year-old diet doctor had an uncontrollable weakness for feminine charms. "He slept with every woman he could," she said. At the murder trial where she was convicted, 10 out of 14 prospective jurors said they had tried the diet.

Overview: The Scarsdale Medical Diet (SMD) is a closely monitored regime designed to rid persons of up to 20 lb. over a two-week period, under medical supervision. (Dieters wishing to lose more than 20 lb. must alternate two weeks on the SMD with two weeks on a more permissive "keep-trim program.") Rapid weight loss is achieved by limiting consumption to around 1,000 calories a day, composed of 43% protein, 34.5% carbohydrates, and 22.5% fats--compared with 40% to 45% fats in the average diet. By eliminating oils, butters, and other fats, the body is encouraged to metabolize existing stores of fat. The SMD also rules out sugar and alcohol but allows a varied menu of lunches and dinners. (Breakfast is set for the duration at half a grapefruit and a piece of dry wheat toast.) Sunday lunch, for example, consists of turkey or chicken with vegetable and fruit, while dinner calls for a broiled steak, salad with lemon juice and vinegar or diet dressing, and brussels sprouts, plus coffee or tea. The SMD can also be modified for vegetarians and gourmets, the latter enjoying Cold Poached Fish Natalia with Mustard Sauce Henri, or Borscht Suzanne.

Pro: If it's Tuesday, successive waves of Scarsdale dieters learned to anticipate, it must be fruit salad; on Friday, it's spinach. The SMD prescribes every meal for a week, which is then repeated for a second week. Thus the dieter is relieved of counting calories and making any confusing or tempting choices. It is also a practical diet in terms of eating out, many restaurants having learned to expect a run on roast lamb on Wednesday night.

Con: The SMD does not specify the size of portions, so a gluttonous dieter could conceivably consume up to 1,400 or 1,600 calories per day and fail to lose much weight. Some of Tarnower's preferences have been criticized--such as cold cuts, which are high in sodium and low in nutrients, or saturated fats (meat) over polyunsaturated oils. But in general the medical profession tends to approve of diets that cut down on fat as the SMD does. At best, however, the SMD is only a temporary solution to the problem of weight control, since most dieters eventually resume their previous overeating habits.

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