The ‘Diet’ Meal in 1976

      62 Comments on The ‘Diet’ Meal in 1976

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.


62 thoughts on “The ‘Diet’ Meal in 1976

  1. Merlin

    I remember one of the late, great and lamented burger joints in Toronto. It was called Toby’s, and they were one of the first upscale or gourmet burger joints. One of their menu items was a bunless burger for the dieters. No fries with it either.

  2. Dominique

    Clearly the government knows best though! They do such a super job of keeping the nation healthy, both in terms of citizens’ physical health, national finances, the educational system…

    Don’t you know that if ONLY we would all listen to them and eat MORE hearthealthywholegrains, we wouldn’t have this “obesity” disease?!

    As Thomas Sowell explained brilliantly in “The Vision of the Anointed,” the anointed never believe one of their grand plans failed because the plan was wrong. It was never implemented correctly, you see.

    1. Paul C

      It’s so ridiculous, the UK government have announced that we’re eating on average 600 calories less per day that we used to 30 years ago, yet we’re on average 30lbs heavier than we were 30 years ago. And they have to gall to claim that this is because we’re more sedentary that back then… come off it, it’s staring them in the face, the obesity wave started exactly when they started the war on fat and introduced the low-fat, heart-healthy wholegrains and vegetable oils diet.

      For the article on the announcement, look here:–weigh-30lbs-MORE.html

      They’ll jump through whatever mental hoops are necessary to cling to their paradigm.

    2. mm

      The vision gets even more anointy when you consider the hidden religious-like morality of high-carb diets.
      Cast off the worldly pleasures of fat for a monk’s bland fibrous diet, and grow saintly throught your sufferances. Turn away from the blood-drenched slabs of red murder, for in being tempted by the pleasures of the flesh, ye hath sinned.
      Grave is the crime of the paleoist, turning away from the sterile world of Man, City and Technology and debasing self down into the level of animals, killing and dying, eating and being eaten to survive as if ye were some part of some circle of life instead of transcending our flawed and sinful biology throught plant-based penance and food fakery.
      Let the meatatarian, the luster of ketones and the fat glutton, being heartless in their brutality against innocent but satanically delicious doe-eyed furry animals, be stricken by heart disease.

      1. Mike G

        Well put, mm. There’s a similar mindset when viewing the obese individual: they need to suffer. They have been gluttons and sloths their whole lives, and now they must be punished: eat less while moving more. The naturally thin people have no problem thinking this way.

        Some people eat what they know is a crappy diet. Their choice. But lots of people eat what they’re told is a good diet and get fat and sick as a result. They’re the ones who have my sympathy.

  3. Bob


    I was watching the movie, “Fatso” (yes, I watch movies other than, “Fat Head.”) Soon after his cousin’s funeral, Dom DeLuise has an argument with his brother during breakfast.

    Frankie: I told you, I don’t want all that bread. You made me too much bread. You always made me too much bread.

    … (just skipping to the relevant parts)

    Frankie: I told you I don’t want that much bread. Don’t you understand? I’ve been telling you that for a hundred years! You love bread! I don’t love bread, I LIKE bread. Don’t you understand I’ve got to watch my weight? Didn’t you learn anything from Salvator? 39 the man was. 39 years old and he’s dead, dead, dead, Dom. And THAT did it to him .

    But that was the 80’s, Tom. What did they know about nutrition?

    On a side note, thank you, Tom. I really enjoy both your movie, and your blog.

    Thank you, Bob.

    1. Liz

      I remember this movie, too. It’s amazing to me how quickly the public is trained to forget reasonable information. Our media and ways of communication have grown exponentially…which explain the “everyone knows” mantras :/

    1. Clint

      Mayonnaise contains canola oil and/or soy bean oil, that meal does not need mayonnaise.

      Agreed. I make my own mayo now.

      1. Kristin

        I love mayo and won’t buy the store versions anymore. I’ve been working on a recipe with good fats and still not quite getting there. My last batch was half refined coconut oil and half refined sesame oil. It wasn’t bad but tasted a bit flat. Perhaps just not enough salt? At any rate what oils and proportions do you folks find works?

        I used macadamia oil for my last batch. Tasted a bit nutty (duh), but I liked it.

        1. Brian Merryman

          I use high oleic acid safflower or sunflower oil. Tasteless and basically the same fat profile as olive oil (and pastured lard). I prefer the Hellman’s flavor and this is the only way I’ve found to replicate that flavor.

        2. Alyssa

          I use bacon fat for my mayo. I’ve tried macadamia nut oil and I couldn’t stand the nut flavour mixed with other foods. Avocado oil tastes not too bad, but bacon fat is still the winner.

          That sounds worth a shot.

          1. James Gegner

            There is a video on YouTube that shows how to make mayonnaise using a combination of extra-virgin olive oil and extra-virgin coconut oil. Here is the link:

  4. Ari Mendelson

    What’s on their plates? To me it looks like a hamburger without the bun, a tomato and a small pile of white rice. But that doesn’t sound right considering your (our) views on carbohydrates. What are you seeing?

    What you’re seeing as rice is a scoop of cottage cheese.

  5. Bob

    My OCD kicked in, so I typed up the diet Dom was told to eat in, “Fatso.” (1980)

    These are your dos and your do nots

    do broil all your meats
    do drink 8 glasses of waters a day
    do eat all the fresh green vegetables you want
    do drink 2 glasses of non-fat milk a day

    do not drink any alcoholic beverages
    do not drink soda pop
    do not drink -ades, or punches
    do not eat butter, margarine, oils, lard, or fat of any kind
    do not eat fried foods
    do not eat bread
    do not eat bananas, grapes, watermelon, or any fruit other than grapefruit, or cantaloupe
    do not eat canned fruits
    do not eat dried fruits
    do not eat noodles
    do not eat spaghetti, or macaroni of any kind
    do not eat pizza
    do not eat popcorn potato chips or pretzels
    do not eat puddings or custards
    do not eat ice cream, frozen custard, or frozen yogurt
    do not eat cookies, pies, cakes, pancakes, waffles or any baked goods
    do not eat chocolate, fudge, caramel, nougat, nuts
    do not eat syrup … and it fades out

  6. Ghost

    Where I’m from (Illinois) they always called it the “Low-cal pal” Though, it was the same meal. Tomatoes, cottage cheese, hamburger. My grandma would always order it saying how healthy it was because it was “Low Cal”

  7. Andrea

    I have some index cards from Grandma’s recipe file that detail meal plans from her early 70s diet. Liver was on the menu twice a week. Good thing we all learned how fatty and unhealthful liver is.

    Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor were an outstanding comedy team.

    They were great together. I liked them in “Stir Crazy” too. I believe that’s the film that put “Dat’s right, we bad” into the lexicon.

  8. Marilyn

    I used to order those because I liked them. The other meal that I liked even better was a “diet plate” which had a scoop of tuna salad, a scoop of egg salad, and a scoop of cottage cheese with a couple of wasa crackers or something.

    Ahh yes, I remember that one as well. It was melba toast in our area.

      1. Marilyn

        Yes, Shannon. Now that you mention it, there was a bed of iceberg lettuce leaves. The whole thing was a tasty lunch. It’s a bit of a fiddle for all those dabs of this and that, but I’ve been known to make something like that up for myself for lunch.

  9. Spinsei

    I remember this being the conventional wisdom. Cut out potatoes we were always told. Then that its not the potato that makes you fat, its the butter and sour cream and cheese that makes you fat 🙂 Oh, and by the way, we still get Tab in South Africa 🙂

  10. Galina L.

    Cottage cheese looks like a good complimentary side. I would add to it chopped fresh herbs, some garlic and a sourcream.

  11. Michael Fox

    love the T-shirt. Can we get it in any color but black. In Florida black t’s spell HEAT in the sun! Great though would love a lighter rendition or white? I’ll keep a watch out and order one if we can do that. Thanks ….. Again, my kids love the fat head for kids!!

    We let that product expire when sales slowed down. We have to order in large quantities to get the necessary discount, and we didn’t want to get stuck with a large shipment.

    The girls are kicking around ideas for a Kids’ Club t-shirt, however.

    1. Jeanne

      You need to put your designs on a Cafe Press storefront. That way you can have unlimited designs on unlimited products without any overhead.

      We looked into that, but they were pretty expensive at the time. Tag on a little profit margin, and I’m afraid the cost would scare away customers. Maybe worth another look.

      1. Iva

        A Kids’ Club shirt would be great. My husband happened to be looking over my shoulder when he saw your t-shirts in the margin. He was quite impressed. I wish there was a way you could create an order on demand without cutting into your profit margin, though.

        We’ll look into it again. It’s been awhile since we checked.

  12. Rebecca Latham

    In the mid 60s, my normal weight father got really fat. I think it happened because he quit smoking and was eating everything in sight. This was his diet: No breakfast or lunch, and for dinner he ate a big steak with butter, a salad and a bowl of sugar-free Jello. Mission accomplished. He lost the weight.

  13. desmond

    Add a couple eggs, and substitute coffee or tea for the TaB, and it looks like my breakfast. I actually used to drink TaB (a can every week or so) until recently — there was something honest about how they celebrate how artificial it tastes, rather than pretending it is almost like a sugar/corn syrup soft drink.

    I didn’t know TaB was still on the market.

    1. desmond

      TaB is in all the big stores in metro Atlanta. The *unconfirmed* story I heard is that some Coke executive’s wife insists on it being available. So either they subsidize it or (more likely) require stores to carry it if they sell other Coke products. It is a good story, even if it is perhaps false.

      Geez, can’t the wife just stock up at home?

  14. Cyborcat

    Interesting that there are no vegetables (well, okay, tomatos are considered vegetables, but there are no GREEN veggies, at least, and look how tiny the slices of tomato are).

    Nowadays, a “diet” meal would involve some kind of giant vegetarian sub.

  15. Firebird

    “Silver Streak” was one of my favorites as a teen. Just beginning to like girls, Jill Clayburgh was one of those actresses I liked to look at 😉

    The scene where Richard Pryor teaches Gene Wilder how to be black is a classic.

    “Who you looking for?”
    “White guy.”
    “If I see any, I’ll let you know.”

    1. Firebird

      “I can’t pass for black!”

      “I didn’t say I was gonna make you black, I said I was gonna get you on the train. Now we have to make those guys think you’re black.” (starts applying black shoe polish)

      “It’ll never work”

      “What’s the matter, afraid it won’t come off?”

      “That’s cute!”

      Still funny today.

  16. ShannonCC

    I remember as a child cottage cheese was considered healthy diet food. And it’s delicious 🙂 And then at some point (the 80’s? 90’s?) it was suddenly not healthy anymore because of the fat.

    I don’t eat it often because I lean more toward paleo (got issues with dairy) but it’s funny how things change like that. And I’m only in my early 40’s, so we’re not talking a huge amount of time.

  17. Justin B

    We have a local restaurant chain in South Florida called “Lindburgers”, which prides itself on having 30 different burger menu items. One of them is called “The Diet Burger”, and its a bunless burger wrapped in lettuce with a side of cottage cheese. I guess they never got the memo.

    On a sad side-note, Cracker Barrel finally got rid of their special low carb page in their menu. They still seem to carry all or most of the items though.

    Let’s hope they never get that memo.

    1. Iva

      I went to a Cracker Barrel in Jax, FL and they still had the lo-carb menu. My MIL, SIL, and I all ordered from the menu.

  18. Julie

    My husband and I had a laugh about this recently. We were both born in the 80s, so of course all we remember are the high-carb diets people were told to eat. But we both read your blog, and remembered you talking about the diet plate.

    So one day we were at an old fashioned diner in town, and amongst all the wraps and subs and sandwiches, there was a small diet section that included a bunless burger, cottage cheese, tomatoes, and… a piece of bread! We both laughed about that piece of bread. I guess they figured no one these days would think it was healthy without some healthywholegrains.

    A piece of bread? Yeah, that’s worth a chuckle.

    1. Walter Bushell

      But that bread was not, of course, whole wheat. Maybe we should make all restaurants serve only 100% whole wheat bread.

      The idea being that no one would eat it and burger customers would discard it.
      It’s horrible, I made some myself. Twice.

  19. Davida

    I have The Mary Tyler Moore show on DVD. First season diet plates looked like this. After the first season, things went lowfat… dry toast, one hardboiled egg, un-dressed salads.

  20. scott

    Darn if obesity was considered a disease a few years back I wouldn’t have had to waste $12 a bottle on those crappy diet pills my doctor prescribed me that failed big time. Nowadays if a wrestler needs to lose weight his coach would probally put him on a diet of Subway or lean cuisine dinners, then wonder why his performance is still lacking.

  21. scott

    Oh btw I loved Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder too, See no evil, hear no evil was the first R-rated movie I ever saw in a theater.

  22. Marilyn

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

    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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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:

    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.

    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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.