On Fasting, Fried Cheese, Snickers Bars, and Charlatans

In 1908 Fasting for the Cure of Disease by Linda Hazzard hit the shelves. A self-described fasting expert, Hazzard had studied under Dr. Edward Dewey who wrote the book The No Breakfast Plan and the Fasting Cure. Spoiler Alert: It’s a book about not eating breakfast. It also recommends not eating when you’re sick, and if you must eat, to chew your food a lot.

If this woman invites you to dinner, you might want to eat a little something before you go. Linda Hazzard. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Obviously a star student, Hazzard took this suggestion a very large step further and suggested not eating at all. At her Olallia, Washington health institution the diet consisted of tomatoes, asparagus, and orange juice. Not much of them, either. And yes, people paid for her advice and medical supervision. While her patients starved, Hazzard subjected them to numerous enemas and deep, painful massage. Because health.

Fortunately today, more than a hundred years later, this kind of extreme health fad looks terribly alarming and we can all breathe (and eat) easy because we’d never fall for something like that.

Except that of course we might. Every year health books flood the market, tell us what to eat or not eat, and gain devoted followers. Some are written by physicians or otherwise credentialed experts. Others come from celebrities and/or charlatans. All should probably be read with a healthy dose of skepticism and caution.

nut juice
There were some parts of Whole30 that were somewhat intolerable. Like Almond milk. A friend told me the reason it’s called milk is because “nut juice” doesn’t market well. But make no mistake. That is, in fact, what it is.

I’m not usually a big follower of fad diets and health crazes, but I admit I recently tried one of the more popular eating plans of today. After seeing the numerous praises of several friends who had successfully completed the Whole30 plan, I decided, kind of on a whim, that I’d give it a try.

If you’re not familiar with it, basically it requires that for thirty days you strip your diet of dairy, soy, grains, legumes, refined sugar, most food additives, artificial sweetener, alcohol, and fun. I admit when I first read what it actually involved, I was a little skeptical that I could—or would ever want to—do it. But it didn’t appear to exclude any major nutrient categories and I like a challenge. Also, my husband said he’d do it with me. We looked at it as a way to alter how we approach food choices and to hopefully kick off a lifetime of healthier decisions.

Whole30 is workable, but it definitely takes some planning and prep. I like the food. The increased dish-doing, not so much.

And it kind of worked. The best part about the program that I’ve found so far is now that it’s over, and I’m starting to reintroduce some of these foods, I am discovering my taste for them has changed. I made it through about four ounces of my favorite diet soda the other day before I dumped the rest because it was gross and it made my stomach hurt, and I’ve definitely discovered that I feel better when I consume fewer grains. There probably will be some lasting changes to my diet as a result of the program, which is kind of cool.

But here’s the thing. I recognize that I might sound like some sort of crazy food disciple, and I’m really not. Because no one in all of human history, no matter how many celebrities have endorsed his or her bestselling book, has perfected the human diet. And if your first inclination is to run out and try the fad diet you read about on a history-ish blog then let me be the first to say to you, STOP IT.

If you enjoy stories about quacks like Hazzard and so many others, I recommend this book. It’s a deeply disturbing, light read that will make you grateful you live in the 21st century, but also wonder which of our health pursuits, in a hundred years, will be considered unimaginable.

We aren’t all the same, and we don’t all function best on the same diet. I do, however, think it’s fairly safe to say that we should all eat, at least more than the occasional tomato, asparagus, and orange juice. I might not even recommend skipping breakfast, but what do I know?

I’m a writer, not a healthy eating guru. And while I might be able to make a few bucks and gain a huge following with a book on the scientific principles and imaginary health benefits of the fried cheese and Snickers bar diet, I’d rather write about mummies.

It turns out Linda Hazzard probably shouldn’t have been anyone’s healthy eating guru either. In 1912 she was convicted of manslaughter. She only served two years in prison, though fourteen people died while following her fasting plan. Then in 1938, Hazzard herself became number fifteen, which I suppose is kind of poetic.

16 thoughts on “On Fasting, Fried Cheese, Snickers Bars, and Charlatans

  1. Oh wow! I need to read this ‘Quackery’ book. Also, I am amazed that you pulled off Whole30. I don’t think I have stuck to any diet in my life, like ever. Some dessert always finds a way to me 😀

  2. Hubby and I started a version of the keto diet recently to attempt to lower his blood sugar. Considering he was admitted last night after an out-patient procedure because his blood sugar was too high, I’d say the eating plan isn’t working so well for us. 🙂 So I had a raspberry cream cheese pastry with my coffee this morning. 🙂 But…I agree, Sarah, I do feel better (and think clearer) when I’m off the grains and sugar.

  3. Hahaha the last paragraph was it. I wish you luck on the Whole30 diet, certainly sounds like a challenge for one who loves lentils, but hey once you start with any program it does lose the initial sparks of scepticism. As for the fried cheese and snickers diet, I am all in. xx

  4. I agree about diet soda being yukky. Which is why I drink the REAL stuff with my McDonalds. Seriously though, I do (unfortunately) like food – and today being the Spring Equinox, we are having a feast!!

  5. Ah – the ‘chew chew’ diet: a fad of the time. I never did understand why chewing everything 400 times before swallowing was meant to be better, but apparently it was an Edwardian health thing.

    I can guarantee on my own experience that cookbooks and health books are absolutely the way to hit the top of the charts. They always dominate the top 5 here in NZ, only occasionally dislodged by a sports biography or political tell-all expose. A few years back I wrote a book on New Zealand’s engineering achievements which (incredibly) hit the top 5 for a few heady weeks. But I never dislodged the cookbooks. I did wonder about writing a cookbook, but alas, there are amoeba on Saturn that have better cooking skills than I do, and ‘Boiling Rice Then Throwing Frozen Peas In And Eating It – The Cookbook’ isn’t such a catchy title (also, it reveals the recipe on the cover…)

  6. I love this post! It is very true that we as a society are so obsessed with food. There is so much conflicting information out there and some of it is super dangerous. Especially having worked in the fitness industry I have seen a lot of crazy things. Whole 30 is one of the better ones out there though in my opinion, especially to kind of give your digestive system a bit of a break. Personally, though I think one Snickers every now and then does the soul some good 😉

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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