Lucky Group of the Week

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rice cakesI have a feeling this week's Lucky Group is going to encompass a lot of people - if you've ever tried a fad diet, good news: you're in! The bad news: you probably didn't keep the weight off. At least, we haven't, and we've tried a lot here at the floss. South Beach, Atkins, Cabbage Soup, Medifast - and that's just one of us. But even if you didn't trim 10% off of your weight, you can take 10% off of anything you want in the store (except for items that are bundled). Leave us a comment telling us about your fad diet experience, then head on over to the mental_floss store and enter the not-so-top-secret code "diet" before checkout.

Bonus: this isn't just an offer for regular flossers. If you know someone who fits the bill and would look stunning in a "Praise Cheeses" t-shirt, send "˜em the facts below, and they can get the discount too. We like to be inclusive like that. But hurry - this offer ends Sunday, May 10, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. Now here are this week's facts:

What diet product was name-cursed when a disease became epidemic in the 1980s?
Ayds had been around since the 1940s, but via a series of television commercials and print ads, became particularly popular in the 19790s. The product was a chewy candy cube that came in flavors like chocolate and caramel, which were to be eaten before meals. The company had already faced some legal trouble in the past by claiming you could lose weight without dieting or exercising, that Ayds worked by reducing your desire for those "extra-fattening calories." The final blow, however, came with the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Suddenly ads that proclaimed "I lost 42 lbs. thanks to Ayds" were not good marketing strategy, and the product faded from store shelves.

In 1898, Horace Fletcher was denied life insurance coverage due to his weight. He gleaned his weight loss idea from former British Prime Minister William Gladstone, who believed that food should be chewed 32 times (once for each tooth) before swallowing. Fletcher went further and decreed that food should be chewed until it was liquid, and his method became known as "Fletcherizing." Fletcher (who lost 65 lbs. after adopting this regimen) was also the first "expert" to make personal appearances in a white jacket, to give himself an air of authority. At least one drawback of his method was his rule that anything that did *not* become liquid after chewing should not be eaten. This pretty much eliminated all fiber from the diet, and most of his followers suffered from significant constipation.

What diet craze of the 1960s was described as a "diet Dean Martin could love"? In 1964 Robert Cameron published a pamphlet entitled "The Drinking Man's Diet." It sold for $1, and within two years, he had sold 2.4 million copies in 13 languages. His method could be described as Atkins with a paper umbrella; it advocated reducing the carb intake, and, as luck would have it, what Cameron called "man-type foods" fell into that category: thick steaks and salads covered with Roquefort dressing. The kicker, though, was that gin, rum, vodka and brandy all contain only trace amounts of carbohydrates, and could be consumed by the dieter without gaining weight. He recommended a couple of martinis or highballs at lunch and dinner, followed by brandy after the meal. The Drinking Man's Diet was so popular that Allan Sherman (the Weird Al of the 1960s) wrote a parody song about it.

Fad dieting is not a modern craze; in 1087 William the Conqueror discovered he was so large he could no longer get up on his horse. He took to his bed and refused all food, living only on liquids (mostly alcohol). There is no record of how much weight he lost, but he was able to mount his horse later that year when he headed to France. Word had gotten back to the portly king that King Philip of France had described him as looking like a pregnant woman. William set off looking for vengeance, but died in an equestrian accident along the way.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, two-thirds of American adults are classified as overweight or obese. But most health officials prefer to use a different method of measurement - the Body Mass Index, or BMI - for their tell-tale data. This number compares the body weight to the body type, more accurately assessing those who are muscular or "stocky" versus those who are truly obese.

Estimates of the amount of money spent annually for weight loss in the United States approach $50 billion. Those hoping to succeed spend between $750 and $1000 on special food, books, pills, equipment, and gadgets.

Despite all the new research and technology, the majority of doctors still recommend a combination of a moderate diet and moderate exercise for the best weight loss results. Those who try a heavily-restrictive diet OR a difficult exercise regimen are likely to fail. The best results are seen with a gentle combination of both. The theory is that once you begin to see results, it becomes easier to stay the course. Success also provides the inspiration to increase the exercise and tighten the diet even more to ensure that weight loss continues.

May 4, 2009 - 11:27am
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