A couple of years ago, I wrote an article on this site in reference to a diet book I had read that was published about 80 years ago. I continue to find it fascinating how diet culture has evolved over the years: from the things that were true then which are true now and, of course, the things that are untrue and no longer hold up to scrutiny.
Recently, I came across a diet book that came out in the 60s and my morbid curiosity led me to read through it and share some thoughts on it in this week’s post.
“The Doctor’s Quick Weight Loss Diet” is exactly as it implies. Written and created by Dr. Irwin Stillman, who claims to have been helping patients lose weight since the 20s, the book is a breakdown of many methods of very low calories diets (VLCDs) that he found to be effective.
Let me get this out of the way first: if you want aggressive, fast weight loss, you’ll have to resort to aggressive methods. And, just because you CAN resort to them, doesn’t necessarily mean that you SHOULD do so.
When this book was published in 1967, it was the opinion of Dr. Stillman that a thinner body was a healthier body and a thinner body was a more attractive body. As such, the numerous options available in the book were to get rid of unwanted weight as swiftly as possible so that the reader could no longer be in the category of “overweights” (his term, not mine).
After reading the book, I hopped around on Google trying to find out more about Dr. Stillman and I didn’t put 2 and 2 together that his approach to dieting has been referenced as “The Stillman Diet”.
So, what exactly is The Stillman Diet?
Well, in essence, it is a high protein, low-fat, low-carb diet. It’s not keto, it’s not Atkins and it’s not the carnivore diet.
Nearly every weight loss option he gives in the book (and there are several), adheres to a calorie allotment of 1200 or less. Many of the options are 800 calories or less. They are not designed for a lifetime of adherence to. They are designed to shed weight quickly with some allowances and dietary luxuries filtered back in when the reader reaches their desired weight.
The initial prescription, if you will, is lean meats (fat trimmed-no pork), chicken and turkey (no skin), lean fish and seafood (no salmon), eggs, cottage cheese, non-calorie carbonated drinks, coffee and tea (nothing added), 8 (10 oz) glasses of water per day, herbs and spices, and a vitamin complex.
No butters, fats, dressings, mayo, mints, or gum. No fruits, no vegetables, no grains, no legumes.
Sound aggressive? It is.
Once you’ve lost at least 30 pounds on the diet, the ever-gracious Dr. Stillman allows artificially sweetened gelatin, plain yogurt and skim milk.
After you’ve reached your desired weight, it’s advised that you start tracking calorie intake and never exceed a 3 pound increase in your body weight lest you return to the habits that led to you being one of the “overweights”. You can start to add certain carbohydrates and fats back into the diet but only with careful consideration of your total caloric intake and certain foods do remain “off limits”.
Of note, Dr. Stillman does realize that VLCDs do create rapid fat loss, however, he also uses the book to demonstrate how there are many other ways to achieve rapid loss without following his diet in particular.
It is interesting to see that nearly 60 years ago, intermittent fasting protocols were being used (and en vogue), however, fasting in some variation has been used for centuries. Much like what we say about fashion: “What’s old is new again”, nutrition practices are not much different.
Here is a list of some other extreme diet practices in the book which can also promote rapid loss:
-Lettuce and tomato semi-starvation diet
-Cottage cheese and grapefruit diet
-Baked potato and buttermilk diet
-Egg and tomato diet
-Meat only diet (sorry Carnivore diet advocates, Stillman was way ahead of you)
-Fruit only diet
-All vegetable diet
-Bananas and milk diet
What Dr. Stillman correctly realized was that it really doesn’t matter what you adhere to, it’s that you can adhere to something and keep the calories very low. It stands to reason that his initial high protein offering was his particular leaning, however he wasn’t going to sway someone away from another method if it kept the calories low enough for fast results.
Stillman himself would pass away from a heart attack 12 years later at the age of 79.
Curiously (and sadly), an adopter of The Stillman Diet back in 1967 was Karen Carpenter (at the time at a height of 5’4 and weight of 145), who, despite abandoning the diet, would eventually lose her life to anorexia in 1983.
As a nutrition coach and someone who genuinely just wants his clients to find happiness and health on their terms, I can’t overstate finding a diet approach that makes sense in the scope of your life. Aggressive diets have been around longer than most of us realize and the very limited nutrient intake of the aforementioned diets can potentially wreak havoc on your system.
While it can be tempting (and sometimes advised) to utilize aggressive approaches, you also may want to consider what else is being sacrificed/compromised just to see a lower number on the scale.
And, my personal/professional opinion, your weight is not your worth despite Dr. Stillman’s belief to the contrary.