Thursday, June 25, 2009

Early Dieting Fads, Explained . . .

I just finished listening to one of my favorite podcasts (I listen to about 15 of them in any given week so it is not too exclusive of a list, frankly) - the GQ Podcast and this "episode" is all about a new book written about this guy, Bernarr McFadden, who was born Bernard McFadden but changed it to Bernarr because it sounded more dynamic and later went on to call himself Mr. America.

Mr. America was quite the character, clearly. In his life McFadden . . .

- was America's original health guru (he cured his own tuberculosis)
- founded America's first health magazine (Physical Culture)
- opened the first national chain of health food stores (eat THIS, Whole Foods) with Teddy Roosevelt (yes, THE Teddy Roosevelt)
- he put the US Army on a "raw foods" diet
- founded the "body building" competition movement
- established a health/nudism "utopia" in New Jersey
- had his wife followed by a private investigator for almost their entire marriage
- founded a gossip newspaper that gave rise to future Mayor LaGuardia
- declared war on the "medicine monopoly" and the "barbaric" practices of mainstream medicine (like shots and surgery)
- trained 40 of Mussolini's (yes, THE Mussolini) cadets at his wellness camp pre-WWII
- helped, as a PR guru, to overcome reports of FDR's polio and what impact it might have had on his presidency (perhaps ensuring America its greatest president (please don't even bother to dispute my subjective opinion on this one (smile)) in the process) and hired Eleanor as the editor of one of the first parenting magazines in the US
- was the father of the 60s/70s "fitness" movement

While some of his "wisdom" was clearly okay and has stood the test of time (he was sure that Americans were too fat and just needed to cut back on their eating and they would be okay) but he took it a bit far, I think.

For instance he thought that less calories could/would cure ANY ill that possibly plagued us and he would REGULARLY walk to and from work in the morning. I know you're thinking that is not that nuts but - did I mention he lived TWENTY MILES from his office? Yep. He'd walk 40 miles in one day. Sorta' nuts, right? RIGHT!

It seems like McFadden was sooooo obsessed with fitness that he couldn't really concentrate on the rest of life. The stuff that really matters. Like managing money. Like trusting and loving your wife. Like having true, honest relationships with those around you. Like not working 40 miles a day to get to and from work. Like eating your cake, sometimes, and not just hating it. Like the joys of just being lazy when the mood strikes you.

Anywho - it was an interesting podcast and my initial research in to the guy (how have I NOT heard of this guy before today?) sort of suggests that he's straight up fascinating and I will likely have to get and read this new biography of him and his life.

A few things sort of sticks with me about him and his thoughts . . .

1 - Fitness advocates are always sort of nutty.
2 - Brilliance is not far from insanity.
3 - Very little has really changed about how we (as a people) think about, value and challenge our own bodies and our nutrition and health and approach to both despite great advances in just about every other aspect of our lives.
4 - A good book makes summer heat more tolerable.
5 - I can try to be healthy and I can work on my diet and I can exercise and I can strive for great physical health but I might never really get there because I'm just not truly passionate about it at this point. And that is okay (see point 1 above (smile)).

Check out the podcast (you can listen to it without subscribing) and feel free to learn more about Mr. America (you won't regret it if your brain works like mine) and please take your fitness and health and diet seriously . . . but not too seriously (smile)!

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