The ‘Diet’ Meal in 1976

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I’ve mentioned several times that when I was a youngster, the “waist trimmer” meal served in restaurants was a burger patty with cottage cheese and tomato slices.  It was common knowledge (or a common belief, if you prefer) that bread, pasta and potatoes are fattening, so the way to lose weight was to cut those out of the diet.  I recall our high-school health teacher, who was also the wrestling coach, telling us in class that if we wanted to shed a few pounds, we should cut out sugar and starch.  (What the heck did he know?  He only helped hundreds of wrestlers over the years get down to their preferred weight categories.)

When I was channel-flipping late last night, I came across a movie I remember seeing in high school:  Silver Streak, starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.  It’s a comedy-murder-mystery set on a train.  Two of the incidental characters are big fat guys who are (of course) played for laughs.  In one of the early scenes, we see what they ordered for dinner.  Take a look:

There’s the waist-trimmer meal, along with a bottle of TAB, the forerunner to Diet Coke.  That’s what people considered a “diet” meal in 1976, when the film was released.  No pasta with fat-free marinara sauce, no hearthealthywholegrains, no vegetarian burrito.  It’s fat and protein.  The audience in 1976 sees that meal and has a little chuckle of recognition:  Oh, look, the fat guys are on a diet! By the time Seinfeld was the #1 show 20 years later, that meal would prompt a joke about arteries slamming shut.

Which is exactly why the “waist trimmer” meal is a thing of the past.  In Good Calories, Bad Calories, there’s a chapter titled The Fattening Carbohydrate Disappears.  Taubes describes how the common belief that breads, potatoes and pastas are fattening was pushed aside after the McGovern committee released its Dietary Goals For Americans.  Since fat was now the dietary devil, grains and other carbohydrates had to be rehabilitated as health food — after all, we have to eat something.  So fat became fattening, and carbohydrates became slimming … at least according to the USDA.

Since then, of course, we’ve all so gotten incredibly lean, the AMA decided to declare obesity a disease.

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116 thoughts on “The ‘Diet’ Meal in 1976

  1. Marilyn

    I was wondering what kind of sweetener was used in TAB. It was saccharin:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tab_(soft_drink)

    I never was too worried about saccharin myself. I just bought some saccharin tablets. Based on others’ suggestions, I mix different sweeteners. Just a bit of saccharin added to the mix works well.

    The first version apparently used cyclamates, before those were outlawed.

    Reply
  2. Joyce

    What a great post. Yes, I remember many times having a Tab with a burger/cottage cheese/tomato platter back in the days when I was younger AND slim!

    Too bad I got hooked into the low fat high carb thing as the 1970’s ended. It made me obese and it’s taken me many years to shake the “low fat”, “carbs are good for you” mantra that became so ingrained. But I’m there now!

    Better late than never, but I wish I hadn’t had to unlearn so much.

    Reply
  3. Pierson

    Tom, here’s a story about a man who slipped into a coma after eating 413 cheddar-bay biscuits from Red Lobster. Note how the first thing they blame is the butter, and not the astronomical amount of sugar he ate:

    http://www.rockcitytimes.com/local-man-coma-eating-413-red-lobster-biscuits/

    I say, how long before the guy from CSPI gets on them, and demands they start using ‘healthy’ seed oils? Never, I hope!

    Oh. My. God.

    Now take away the “biscuit” part of the biscuit and ask the same guy to eat those 50 sticks of butter. I doubt he could do it.

    Reply
    1. Elaine Cook

      The article was in a satirical newspaper — The Rock City Times, “Arkansas’ 2nd most unreliable news source” There is no truth to it. The man is alive and well…didn’t eat those buttery biscuits.

      Whew. I couldn’t imagine someone eating that many biscuits.

      Reply
  4. Marilyn

    I was wondering what kind of sweetener was used in TAB. It was saccharin:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tab_(soft_drink)

    I never was too worried about saccharin myself. I just bought some saccharin tablets. Based on others’ suggestions, I mix different sweeteners. Just a bit of saccharin added to the mix works well.

    The first version apparently used cyclamates, before those were outlawed.

    Reply
  5. Joyce

    What a great post. Yes, I remember many times having a Tab with a burger/cottage cheese/tomato platter back in the days when I was younger AND slim!

    Too bad I got hooked into the low fat high carb thing as the 1970’s ended. It made me obese and it’s taken me many years to shake the “low fat”, “carbs are good for you” mantra that became so ingrained. But I’m there now!

    Better late than never, but I wish I hadn’t had to unlearn so much.

    Reply
  6. Pierson

    Tom, here’s a story about a man who slipped into a coma after eating 413 cheddar-bay biscuits from Red Lobster. Note how the first thing they blame is the butter, and not the astronomical amount of sugar he ate:

    http://www.rockcitytimes.com/local-man-coma-eating-413-red-lobster-biscuits/

    I say, how long before the guy from CSPI gets on them, and demands they start using ‘healthy’ seed oils? Never, I hope!

    Oh. My. God.

    Now take away the “biscuit” part of the biscuit and ask the same guy to eat those 50 sticks of butter. I doubt he could do it.

    Reply
    1. Elaine Cook

      The article was in a satirical newspaper — The Rock City Times, “Arkansas’ 2nd most unreliable news source” There is no truth to it. The man is alive and well…didn’t eat those buttery biscuits.

      Whew. I couldn’t imagine someone eating that many biscuits.

      Reply
  7. Kevin

    I remember when I was 10 years old back in the early 70’s when my mother wanted to lose weight it was pretty easy. Breakfast was usually a cheese omelette and some cottage cheese. Lunch was a big salad with some sliced chicken with egg and even some bacon. Dinner pretty much like the pic above, hamburger patty with cottage cheese and a small dinner salad. Bread was a no-no, rice was a no-no, potatoes were a no-no and pasta was a no-no. Go to any typical doctor today and tell them this is your weight loss diet they will tell you that your going to die of heart disease or cancer.

    Reply
  8. Kevin

    I remember when I was 10 years old back in the early 70’s when my mother wanted to lose weight it was pretty easy. Breakfast was usually a cheese omelette and some cottage cheese. Lunch was a big salad with some sliced chicken with egg and even some bacon. Dinner pretty much like the pic above, hamburger patty with cottage cheese and a small dinner salad. Bread was a no-no, rice was a no-no, potatoes were a no-no and pasta was a no-no. Go to any typical doctor today and tell them this is your weight loss diet they will tell you that your going to die of heart disease or cancer.

    Reply
  9. cordell abernathy

    change the beef to a salmon or turkey patty and im game! i ate at a retro dinner with my bf yesterday and saw this on menu, would have gotten if no nasty beef. eww!☹ 250 cals tops! people in the 70s knew how to diet

    Reply
  10. cordell abernathy

    change the beef to a salmon or turkey patty and im game! i ate at a retro dinner with my bf yesterday and saw this on menu, would have gotten if no nasty beef. eww!☹ 250 cals tops! people in the 70s knew how to diet

    Reply

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